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Carolina Hurricanes 2019-20 Season Preview: Defense

The Hurricanes bread and butter has a few new faces and will feature a new leader, but expect the defense to be just as good as ever.

Jamie Kellner

Known for their defense, the Carolina Hurricanes will head in to the 2019-2020 season once again with one of the best defensive groups in the NHL. With four mainstays returning, two new faces in the mix, and two high end prospects nipping at their heels, the Hurricanes are loaded with talent on the back end. With lingering questions in goal, the defense will once again need to be the best group of players on the ice for the Canes and there is no reason to believe they can’t be just as good, if not better, than last year.

Jaccob Slavin

  • Age: 25
  • 2018-2019 Totals: 82 GP, 8 Goals, 23 Assists, 31 Points
  • Career Totals: 309 GP, 23 Goals, 92 Assists, 115 Points
  • Acquired: 4th Round (120th Overall), 2012 NHL Draft

Being the number one defenseman on one of the best defensive teams in the NHL says a lot about your ability as a player. For Jaccob Slavin, his abilities are just as smooth and beautiful to watch as they come. An extremely underrated player league-wide, Slavin finally got the national attention he deserved during last seasons playoff run. Paired with Dougie Hamiliton for most of the year, the duo would shut down Washington and the Islanders offense showing why teams hate to play against them.

Slavin will see a much greater responsibility this year as the leader of the defenseman with Justin Faulk now gone. This should be easy for Slavin as he wore an A last year while Jordan Staal was out. It also would come to little surprise if he gets a permanent A this year.

On a personal note Slavin and his wife Kylie adopted a child this past spring and have settled themselves as cornerstones in the community. Often seen at any Hurricanes function or local churches on his days off, Slavin has become not only a great player on the ice, but a genuine great person off the ice as well. Things will only get better for the Hurricanes and Slavin as he is signed through 2025 to a very team friendly deal.

Dougie Hamilton

  • Age: 26
  • 2018-2019 Totals: 82 GP, 18 Goals, 21 Assists, 39 Points
  • Career Totals: 505 GP, 82 Goals, 177 Assists, 259 Points
  • Acquired: Via trade with Calgary on June 23rd, 2018

Paired with Slavin for most of the year, Dougie Hamilton overcame a slow start to become not only a fan favorite, but a stellar top-pairing defenseman as well. For the first time since 2013-2014 Hamilton failed to reach 40 points. Most of that was because he was fighting through a hand injury early in the season and his scoring did not take off until mid-year. But once it took off, it really took off. Notching 18 goals, Hamilton set a new franchise record for most goals by a defensemen in one year and his hot streak was key in the playoffs.

It is expected that the mullet-wearing, pig-naming, floss-dancing, Hamilton will be paired with Slavin once again giving the Hurricanes an elite top pairing that can shut down offenses and then add points as well. As a unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2020-21 season, do not be surprised to see Hamilton continue to elevate his game even more this year in hopes of a big payday.

Brett Pesce

  • Age: 24
  • 2018-2019 Totals: 73 GP, 7 Goals, 22 Assists, 29 Points
  • Career Totals: 289 GP, 16 Goals, 68 Assists, 84 Points
  • Acquired: 3rd Round (66th Overall), 2013 NHL Draft

The New York native Brett Pesce enters his fifth season with the Hurricanes looking to move back to his natural side after being forced to play on his off-side last year. Expected to be half of a formidable second pairing, Pesce provides solid stay at home defense. The one thing that did begin to improve for the 24-year old last year was his offense notching career highs in goals, assists, and points.

After filling in wherever the Canes needed him last year, Pesce should move back to his natural side this year with Faulk’s departure. This will allow him to play more relaxed and more focused on his game instead of worrying about being out of position. The interesting question for Pesce this season is will the increased offense continue? Potentially pairing with Jake Gardiner could mean more offensive opportunities for Pesce and as he showed last year, he does have the skill set to finish those chances.

Jake Gardiner

  • Age: 29
  • 2018-2019 Totals: 62 GP, 3 Goals, 27 Assists, 30 Points
  • Career Totals: 551 GP, 45 Goals, 200 Assists, 245 Points
  • Acquired: Signed as a free agent on September 6th, 2019

For the Hurricanes, the big splash in free agency had to wait this year. Just over two months after free agency opened up they inked Jake Gardiner to a four-year deal which realistically made the Justin Faulk trade possible. Without Gardiner the Canes would have needed Faulk to keep their elite defense, but with Gardiner signed, Faulk became a 3rd pairing defenseman who just did not fit in.

After having a slightly down year last season that was plagued by an injury, Gardiner will look to try and get back to the 50 point plateau he reached in 2017-18. As a compliment to Dougie Hamilton, Gardiner will see a fair amount of time on the power play and should help the Hurricanes in one of their weakest areas.

Defensively Gardiner can be known for his mishaps much like Faulk was, the key difference between the two is that Gardiner is a left shot and he was willing to sign a very friendly contract. The Hurricanes are taking a low-risk high-reward gamble on Gardiner and that he can help them improve the power play, but all signs point to this being one of the best steals of the 2019 off-season.

Trevor van Riemsdyk

  • Age: 28
  • 2018-2018 Totals: 78 GP, 3 Goals, 11 Assists, 14 Points
  • Career Totals: 315 GP, 14 Goals, 47 Assists, 61 Points
  • Acquired: Via trade with Vegas on June 22nd, 2017

After recovering from shoulder surgery, Trevor van Riemsdyk is expected to fill one of the bottom pairing spots on defense. Entering his third season in Carolina van Riemsdyk is the very definition of solid. He is not flashy nor the most skilled player but he gets the job done night in and night out. On a lower quality team he could easily be a second pairing guy but with the Hurricanes depth the right handed defenseman makes up half of a very fine third pairing.

So far this preseason van Riemsdyk has not played or participated fully in drills so it seems far fetched to expect him to be completely ready for opening night but he should be ready some time in October. As a former Stanley Cup champion, van Reimsdyk brings veteran leadership and quality play that often goes unnoticed. He is one of those guys that you do not noticed at first but if he wasn’t playing you would see a noticeable gap in the play of his replacement. Being in a contract year and with so many talented prospects behind him, this could easily be his last season in Carolina but one should still expect his same quality of play as a shut down third pairing guy that goes under the radar.

Joel Edmundson

  • Age: 26
  • 2018-2019 Totals: 64 GP, 2 Goals 9 Assists, 11 Points
  • Career Totals: 269 GP, 13 Goals, 39 Assists, 52 Points
  • Acquired: Via trade with St. Louis on September 24th, 2019
2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Seven Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

For months there have been rumors surround Justin Faulk being traded. Most of which involved a forward or just prospects coming back in return. The question that raised was who fills the number six spot on defense should a Faulk deal occur? Well we all got our answer when the Hurricanes finally did trade Faulk to St. Louis and instead of just getting a forward or a prospect, they got an NHL defenseman plus a prospect in return.

That NHL defenseman is Joel Edmundson and he will slide right in to the bottom pairing with van Riesmdyk. Everything we know so far about Edmundson says he is a bigger and more physical version of van Riesmdyk. There is nothing flashy about his game and he will make a mistake from here to there, but the important part is he is a stay at home defenseman with a nasty side. This is something the Canes were lacking as of late and something they haven’t really had since Ron Hainsey was around. For as great as the Carolina defensive group is, the one knock is they aren’t physical. They play fast and skilled, not tough and rugged.

Edmundson will help out in this role and fit perfectly on the bottom pairing. At 6’4” and 215lbs, it won’t be easy for opponents to get past him - plus he’s not afraid to drop the gloves having earned 10 fighting majors during his four NHL seasons. Rounding out the expected six defensemen, Edmundson should provide insurance should there be an injury above him in the depth chart given his playoff experience and history of playing at the highest level.

Haydn Fleury

  • Age: 23
  • 2018-2019 Totals: 20 GP, 0 Goals, 1 Assist, 1 Point
  • Career Totals: 87 GP, 0 Goals, 9 Assists, 9 Points
  • Acquired: 1st Round (7th Overall), 2014 NHL Draft

At just 23 years old it’s hard to call this a make or break year for Haydn Fleury but it may just be that when it comes to his future with the Hurricanes. The former first round draft pick has been given ample amount of time to develop for a top ten pick and has yet to be able to stick in the NHL. When Fleury was drafted there was a clear need for defensemen within the Hurricanes organization but that hole was filled by the rising Slavin and Pesce who passed Fleury on the depth chart easily.

After spending much of the 2017-18 season with Carolina, Fleury was sent down to Charlotte last year only being called up to fill in for injuries. While he played well for the Calder Cup winning Checkers, he has yet to show any reason that he deserves a full time NHL job. While it is likely he may start the season as a seventh defenseman or as a replacement for van Riemsdyk until he is healthy, will he stay in Raleigh or end up back in Charlotte once again? There is another defensive prospect that seems ready to pass Fleury on the depth chart which has to add some pressure and unless he does something to prove himself this year he may lose out on an open roster spot next season should the Hurricanes let Edmundson or van Riesmdyk walk.

Jake Bean

  • Age: 21
  • 2018-2019 Totals: 2 GP, 0 Goals, 0 Assists, 0 Points
  • Career Totals: 2 GP, 0 Goals, 0 Assists, 0 Points
  • Acquired: 1st Round (13th Overall), 2015 NHL Draft

That very prospect who is nipping at Fleury’s heels is Jake Bean. Another former first round draft pick, Bean is pushing to make the NHL likely next year when one of those roster spots opens up. Bean made his NHL debut last season playing two games and while he didn’t get on the scoresheet, he didn’t look out of place. While he will spend most of the season in Charlotte, it would seem likely that Bean gets some NHL games this year.

Putting up 44 points last year with the Checkers, Bean appears to be adjusting to the professional game faster than Fleury has. It will be interesting to see how things play out between Fleury and Bean and if Bean can jump up in the depth chart this year. Either way, expect both guys to get NHL games this year at some point and next off season may be a very interesting one for the duo.

Scoring Projections

Jaccob Slavin: 82 GP, 10 Goals, 27 Assists, 37 Points

Dougie Hamilton: 80 GP, 17 Goals, 32 Assists, 49 Points

Brett Pesce: 82 GP, 5 Goals, 21 Assists, 26 Points

Jake Gardiner: 77 GP, 9 Goals, 38 Assists, 47 Points

Trevor van Riesmdyk: 70 GP, 3 Goals, 12 Assists, 15 Points

Joel Edmundson: 73 GP, 2 Goals, 9 Assists, 11 Points

Haydn Fleury: 23 GP, 0 Goals, 3 Assists, 3 Points

Jake Bean: 6 GP, 1 Goal, 1 Assist, 2 Points