In the NHL, special teams play for, on average, 9:48 of a game or around 16% of it.
Teams deploy units for each specific situation and typically these units are almost always composed of different players. However, there are a handful of players that are regulars on the ice whether a man-up or a man-down.
There were only 32 players last season that played at least 100 minutes on the penalty kill and power play and the Hurricanes had two of them: Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.
Elite, complete players are a rare commodity in today’s game. Players like Ryan O’Reilly, Mark Stone and Brad Marchand are a breed all onto their own that change the complexion of games when they’re going.
It is even more telling when the majority of the NHL’s top talent is more strictly offensively minded, and for a bit, that was how the Hurricanes’ Finnish duo was too.
It had always been obvious that the pair was extremely talented in their offensive skill sets. For instance, Teravainen ranks third in his draft class (2012) in total points and Aho ranks fourth in his (2015). The two had also led the team in scoring for the past three years.
While among the entire league this year, the pair didn’t rank too high in terms of power-play production. Among those 32 skaters, Teravainen ranked fifth and Aho 10th.
There is also the case of the strength of the other teammates on the top power-play unit such as Dougie Hamilton and Andrei Svechnikov which can account for a more diverse power play point share.
And there is the case of the Hurricanes’ struggles on the power play, which I touched upon already.
Still though, the combination of Teravainen’s elite vision and passing skills, coupled with Aho’s positioning, shot and tenacity leads the pair to still be a constant threat when they take the ice on the man-advantage, which is shown by their crazy high expected goals percentages.
While offensive production is great, a one-dimensional sort of player is not something, however, that sits well with head coach Rod Brind’Amour.
What Brind’Amour wants more so is aggressive forechecking as well as backchecking and all with 100% effort, all the time. If not, then he is not afraid to let players enjoy the game from the bench or the press box.
It is with this philosophy that Brind’Amour has helped to make Teravainen and Aho into more complete players and quite a dangerous penalty-killing unit.
In 2017-18, Aho and Teravainen combined for less than four minutes of penalty-kill time. The next year, Brind’Amour was named head coach and the pair’s penalty kill-time increased to over 160 combined minutes. And now the pair each clocked over 100 minutes.
This year, the Finns operated with the team’s best penalty kill efficiency, with each having an efficiency rating of over 20 minutes of penalty kill per goal allowed, leading the rest of the skaters by a significant margin.
In part this is due to the two’s high hockey sense, awareness and stick handling. Their defensive highlights usually stem from stripping pucks from behind, anticipating passes or handling around opposing players.
They don’t just clear pucks, but instead carry them into the opposing zones and generate chances.
This is why the pair was also a scoring threat even when a man down, combining for five shorthanded goals.
For a more in-depth view on the pair’s penalty-killing abilities, check out this piece I wrote.
Aho and Teravainen have finally started to get a lot more deserved attention for their abilities, but something that hasn’t quite been touched upon is the defensive side of the game that is rapidly developing.
Many times, Brind’Amour has stated that your best players have to be your best players, but that doesn’t just mean producing on one end of the ice. For the team to be successful, Brind’Amour knows that his best players have to make an impact on every inch of the ice.
Luckily for him, he has two highly talented players who are not only willing to get better, but eager and excited to.