The Hurricanes have lofty expectations as they look to build on an impressive Eastern Conference Final appearance last spring. The team has traditionally lacked scoring, but not necessarily scoring chances. That changed last season to a degree — the Hurricanes led the league in expected goals for at 189.69, and they sat at 18th in the league with 160 goals. 18th in the league isn’t a much of an improvement over their 19th best 155 goals in the 2017-18 season, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Their below average goal total was heavily influenced by the bad start to the season that carried through the end of December. From January 1st onward, the team had 101 goals for — good for fifth in the league (interestingly, their Scoring Chances For dropped in the same time frame). The hope is that the Hurricanes can carry that string of strong offensive play into the new season. And with some key additions to the offensive corps, it may be easier than it was last year.
The Hurricanes lost Justin Williams and his 23 goals, but they added multiple forwards with 20+ goal histories. With that kind of firepower, it seems reasonable to expect that — barring the Hurricanes’ usual difficulty in converting expected goals to actual ones — the discrepancy between the two should be a bit smaller this season.
The highest profile offensive newcomer is probably Ryan Dzingel, who was considered one of the best UFA wingers this offseason. Dzingel is not the most defensively minded forward, but he can most likely be relied on to produce at a 20 goal pace slotting in on the second and third line. His career shooting percentage is considerably above league average (14.9 percent), which speaks to his ability to convert on scoring chances — something that the Hurricanes brand of hockey produces plenty of. Dzingel unfortunately rang one off of the crossbar on the breakaway last night, otherwise I could point to that as evidence of his scoring prowess.
Another big offseason acquisition on offense was Erik Haula, who showed us a bit of what he could bring as he potted the game tying goal in the third period. Haula is another blazing fast forward who had his breakout on the Golden Knights two seasons ago, putting up 29 goals and 26 assists. He’s a very solid two way middle six center who will help further compensate for Williams’ absence this year, and is very reliable on both ends of the ice. He may have over-performed a bit in his first season in Vegas, but it’s very realistic for him to reach the 20 goal mark here in Carolina.
Along with new offensive talent, it’s reasonable to expect offensive improvement from a few other Hurricanes. Most notably among those is Andrei Svechnikov, who is as good of a candidate for a breakout season as anyone in the NHL. Martin Necas has already made his presence felt in Carolina, earning first star honors last night in the team’s shootout win against Montreal.
Sebastian Aho is expected to step into a bigger role as a top line center, and Dougie Hamilton will likely be shouldering more offensive responsibility in his second season on the blue line. Jake Gardiner has picked up 82 points over the past two seasons in Toronto — his presence alongside Brett Pesce will surely act as an offensive catalyst.
The key for the Hurricanes this season will be continuing to build on a very solid second half of the season and playoff run. The key to their success will be converting on the wealth of scoring chances that the Hurricanes system produces. The team’s roster construction seems to be much better equipped for this than in seasons past.