After their Cinderella run to the Eastern Conference Final in May, the Carolina Hurricanes saw a lot of turnover on their roster over the short offseason.
Justin Williams, Justin Faulk, Micheal Ferland, Calvin de Haan, Curtis McElhinney, and others are all playing hockey on different teams this season (or, in Williams’ case, not playing hockey at all... for now, at least), so the Canes were forced to go out and try to not only replace those losses but also build on the roster that they had a season ago.
So far, it certainly looks like they did a good job.
The Hurricanes are off to their first 3-0-0 start since relocation, and while all of them required third-period comebacks, it’s still a rather impressive achievement for a team that has had to rely on so many new faces.
Here, we’ll take a look at those new faces and grade their first impressions through three games with the Hurricanes this season.
The controversial decision was made at the end of training camp to send Julien Gauthier down to the Checkers and keep Necas in Raleigh with the NHL club, despite the very impressive training camp from the 2016 first-round power winger.
A week later, it looks like Carolina made the right call.
Necas started opening night on the team’s fourth line. All of two periods and a power play goal later, he was moved up to the third line with fellow new guys Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel and he hasn’t looked back.
Martin Necas caps off his first shift on the first NHL power play unit with a deflection goal. Dougie Hamilton with the shot. 2-0 Hurricanes. pic.twitter.com/KsUoJCEkAm— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) October 4, 2019
While he hasn’t cracked the scoreboard since his opening night tally, he has sported a 55.59% corsi rate and a 61.16% expected goal share (both rank third among Hurricane forwards), so his play is there and he’s doing the right things thus far. Now, it’s just about finding the scoreboard on a consistent basis, which is necessary if you’re going to play the skilled game that Necas does play.
Beyond that, the little things are being worked on. Playing a defensively conscious game was a concern entering the year, and while he has work to do still, he’s shown maturity in that area. Other things like being hard on pucks, learning when to pass up a pass for a shot, and gaining chemistry with his line mates are works in progress.
Through three games, it’s very apparent why he made this team out of camp - he’s dynamic with the puck on his stick and an absolute pain to defend. He could have upwards of three or four points already if things go just slightly different (i.e. Jordan Staal ripping a shot off the post after an excellent centering pass from Necas on a power play on opening night and Holtby making a key save on his breakaway attempt in D.C.), but we’re seeing the potential of this player on display and it should continue to get better from here.
It’s tough to get off to a better start with a new team than Haula has in his first three games with the Hurricanes.
Haula has scored a goal in each of Carolina’s first three games this season, all of which have been scored on or as a result of a power play. He’s been the net-front guy on the Dougie Hamilton-led unit that has been unstoppable thus far.
Svechnikov to Hamilton to Svechnikov to Teravainen to Haula. Beautiful power play goal. pic.twitter.com/adAKhWOGid— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) October 6, 2019
Based on these first few games, Haula’s 29-goal year in Vegas two seasons ago doesn’t look like a fluke. His hands around the net are smooth and he seems to have a knack for reading passes and shots well and finding rebound opportunities. He’s not a huge guy, but he’s strong on pucks and hard to move around. (I believe there’s a Twitter account that can probably explain why he’s hard to move.)
Erik makes the crowd Haula. Haula's first goal as a Hurricane comes in his first game. Ryan Dzingel gets an assist, his first point as a Hurricane. Dougie Hamilton gets his 2nd assist of the night. Beautiful stuff. Tie game. pic.twitter.com/ykh5i8VB2z— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) October 4, 2019
Haula has been strong at 5-on-5, for the most part, but his biggest contribution has come on the man advantage. He has scored some extremely valuable early-season goals - goals that we might look back at as season-changing once April rolls around.
Instead of bringing back Curtis McElhinney, turning over the backup-goalie reins to prospect Alex Nedeljkovic, or giving the nod to preseason breakout performer Anton Forsberg, the Hurricanes decided to go with Reimer (the return in the Scott Darling trade with Florida) as their back-up option to starter Petr Mrazek.
Reimer had a fine, albeit unspectacular, preseason, but his first regular season start as a Hurricane in Washington on Saturday was fairly remarkable.
The veteran stopped 32 of 34 shots on the road and kept Carolina in the game before they came back from a 2-0 third-period deficit to win in overtime against the Caps and starter Braden Holtby.
Reimer deserves a whole lot of credit for how he played in a hostile environment against a very good team. It’s just one game, but it was a darn good game, so technically I have to give Reimer a good grade. We’ll see if that changes after his second start in Florida on Tuesday.
Dzingel was a matter of inches away from stealing “first Canes goal of the year” honors from Lucas Wallmark on opening night after he beat Carey Price and sent a breakaway shot off of the cross-bar during the first period against the Habs.
Since then Dzingel has still yet to find the goal category, but he has a pair of assists on goals scored by Haula.
Dzingel, like Haula, is a great skater who moves up and down the ice well, but it’s still a work in progress for him to fully mesh into this Carolina lineup. His 52.35 corsi rate is right in the middle of the pack among Hurricanes forwards.
While he tries to find a role for himself in the 5-on-5 group, you can be confident that he’ll continue to be a good slot guy on that red-hot power play unit. He has played a big role in puck retrievals and setting high screens.
The surprise early-September signing was brought in to be the power play quarterback that the Canes desperately needed.
Then, the Canes finally discovered that Dougie Hamilton is the power play quarterback they desperately needed.
Jokes aside, having two uber-talented power play quarterbacks is better than having one, and Gardiner will be a big part of what the Hurricanes do this season. They need two good power play units, and with Gardiner manning the original top unit with Sebastian Aho, Martin Necas, and others, they should be able to provide some quality chances when they do get the opportunity.
The first unit has yet to score on the man advantage (Necas scored, but he was on the ice with all of the second-unit players when it happened), but that isn’t necessarily all their fault as Brind’Amour has been rolling with the hot hand over the past game and a half or so.
Gardiner missed the second half of preseason with injury, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s off to a somewhat slower start than the rest of the new additions, but it’s not like he’s playing poorly by any stretch - his 56.52% corsi rate ranks third among Carolina’s d-men. Expect him to get more comfortable as time goes on and he gets more chances on the power play to show off his skill set. He should end up being a great fit in the Hurricanes’ system and he has shown glimpses of that already.
Until then, we’ll have his overtime snipe in D.C. that sent Carolina home with a 3-2 win in their 2019 first-round playoff rematch.
Jake Gardiner's first goal as a Hurricane caps off Carolina's comeback - the overtime winner. Canes come back from down 2-0 in the third to win it 3-2. Hurricanes start the year 2-0-0. pic.twitter.com/GRX4KiCEnO— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) October 6, 2019
Edmundson’s name was far from the headliner in St. Louis’ swap with Carolina for Justin Faulk a couple of weeks ago, but he has probably been the biggest pleasant surprise among the Hurricanes’ group of new guys.
Through three games, Edmundson has a 59.37% corsi rate, which ranks first among all of Carolina’s blueliners and he has already showed why he’s such a valuable asset on the penalty kill with his willingness to block shots and play the body.
The most surprising part of his game has been his decision making with the puck and reads in the transition game. He makes good, high-percentage passes (excluding his blind pass in Washington that led to the game’s first goal) and he isn’t afraid of pinching in the offensive zone to keep possession of the puck or join in on the rush to help create a scoring chance or cycle.
On top of being the hard-nosed, stay-at-home guy that the Canes needed to replace Calvin de Haan, Edmundson has proven that he is capable of being a versatile player on the back end. He should look pretty good next to Trevor van Riemsdyk on a third pairing.
*All corsi and expected goal stats are at 5-on-5 and score/venue adjusted, from NaturalStatTrick.com.