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Breakout and Bounce Back Players: 2020-21 Canes to watch for

The Carolina Hurricanes will need more players to step up their games if they want to reach that next level and luckily there are a few that may be poised to do just that.

Dallas Stars v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Karl DeBlaker/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2019-20 season featured a few Carolina Hurricanes players with strong breakout seasons. Andrei Svechnikov, Dougie Hamilton and Warren Foegele were just a few that were already past or on new record paces.

While those players are expected to carry those performances over to next season, there are a few names that may be able to join them in helping to carry the Hurricanes’ next season.

Mostly last year’s newer faces, these players can be expected to either have a bounce back or breakout year of their own.

Nino Niederreiter

The Swiss power forward was one of the most important parts of the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2018-19 playoff appearance. However, there’s no fooling anyone that his 2019-20 campaign was not one fraught with disappointment.

Niederreiter had 11 goals and 29 points in 67 regular season games— 3 goals and one point shy of the total he reached in just the 36 regular season games he played with Carolina during the previous season.

We won’t even mention the historically lackluster playoff performances, but that hasn’t been an area he’s excelled at before.

At $5.25 million for the next two years, Niederreiter’s cap-hit, in a flat-cap world, is a huge burden if he isn’t playing up to that value.

According to CapFriendly, Niederreiter’s five closest cap comparables— which are all within a 90% match— are J.T. Miller, Ondrej Palat, Jason Zucker, Teuvo Teravainen and Tomas Tatar.

That range of players includes those with a strong two-way game, playmakers and scorers but the overall scoring averages run around 20 goals and 40 points.

So that’s the baseline for Niederreiter: reaching 20 goals and around 40-50 points to make his contract worth it.

To be fair, Niederreiter is fully capable of having a bounce back year. He seemed like one of Carolina’s most snake-bitten players with what seemed like handfuls of “sure” goals stopped by astounding saves, the unluckiest shot placements or other bizarre events, which helps explain his final 9.6% shooting percentage.

He is a physical player that is great at puck retrieval and grinding along the boards. He can find those soft areas and if he can get a bit more puck-luck he should be fine.

Ryan Dzingel

Another example of expectations unmet, Dzingel’s eight goals and 29 points were a far cry from what fans expected from the speedy winger.

A 23-goal and 41-point campaign in 2017-18 and a 26-goal and 56-point season last year showed signs that Dzingel had more room to grow or at least carry on at the same level, but this season hit him hard. A common healthy scratch, Dzingel just couldn’t keep a spot after a really hot start.

He has an additional year at $3.375 million so he isn’t hurting much, but there shouldn’t be much worry of him dragging the team down.

For one, like Niederreiter, Dzingel suffered from a lower shooting percentage than previous seasons. In fact, Dzingel’s shooting percentage at 8.2%, while being the lowest in his career, was also less than half of what he achieved each of the previous two seasons.

He had formed strong chemistry with Martin Necas at the start of last season and while he cooled down past the first quarter, Dzingel’s speed and playmaking ability should make a great complement to Necas’ if he can get his game back on track.

Vincent Trocheck

Trocheck has the skill set to be a great number two centerman for the Canes.

Everything he does as a player, head coach Rod Brind’Amour loves. He’s great in the faceoff dot, back checks hard, is hard on the puck and has a lot of talent in the offensive zone. The key for him will be putting it all together.

The biggest area will be scoring. The former Florida Panther is coming off of two straight seasons of poor shooting percentage — 6.3 and 7.8 — and by all means, it should find its way back up as shooting percentages never tend to stay drastically low or high, usually finding a happy medium.

Carolina really needs scoring depth and Trocheck will be in the most vital role as 2C.

There hasn’t been enough time to really judge his performance with having played in only seven games after being traded and then appearing in nine bubble playoff games.

Trocheck had mentioned how difficult it was for him to adapt to Carolina’s systems, which Brind’Amour had echoed, when he first got here. So with a full season, there’s no reason he shouldn’t relax into his role and bounce back as the player he can be.

Jake Gardiner

Okay, so Gardiner has been a polarizing figure for many after a long string of seemingly never ending gaffes that saw his playing time and spot fall, but I’m on the side that he isn’t nearly as bad as the reputation he seems to carry.

In fact, he posted a career best 56.1% Corsi For percentage and had a tremendous decrease in total giveaways from his years in Toronto. His offensive numbers were also on the rise and there is a good chance that he can have a strong showing if he continues to quarterback the second power-play unit next season.

I like to think about what we saw from Dougie Hamilton in the 2018-19 season.

It’s no secret that Hamilton struggled when he first got to Carolina and that it took him a while to turn his game around to the Norris-caliber paced season we saw this year.

Gardiner is no Norris trophy defenseman, but the flip in his game from the first half of the season to the second was noticeable.

He saw a significant decrease in his average time on ice this season, but he has shown he may be able to be trusted with more come next year.

Martin Necas

Necas had a really strong rookie campaign— four fewer goals and only one less point than Andrei Svechnikov in 18 fewer games— and all signs point to him being able to build on that success.

His skating only got better as the season went on and it is looking like it can be one of his greatest attributes that can set him apart from his peers.

His edgework and speed will help put him in a category with other elite players if he can develop his playmaking and shot even more with it.

There is a feeling that he may see a hit to his scoring as he shot at an 18.2% success rate — the tenth best in the league — but his playmaking prowess should make up for that if he finds stable producing linemates.

He also needs to add a bit more muscle, but that’s traditionally to be expected from a more skill-based rookie.

Necas has shown high-level playmaking and vision and, in an elevated role, he should be able to capitalize on it. Like Svechnikov had a breakout sophomore season, I believe that Necas will have the training wheels lifted for next season and will explode onto the league.

Morgan Geekie

Probably one of the most surprising additions to the Hurricanes’ roster was how well Geekie slotted into the fourth line center role.

We all know how he is the NHL’s all time leader in points per game, but what was truly impressive was how he was able to work seamlessly with the high energy and retrieval roles of Brock McGinn and Jordan Martinook.

The line just ran teams into the ice and it was impressive to watch the young center make the transition. He’s a gritty player who can work around the crease and has shown flares of brilliance that should come out more and more next year.

There is a learning curve to be sure with finding success at the NHL level, but Geekie seemed to make a lot of those steps in his limited time with the club. There is no question in my mind that he will be on the roster come opening night. If he will prove to be a steady producer is another question, but one I’m still feeling confident in.

Obviously the offseason is unpredictable, and trades do happen. In fact, a few of these players are more than likely on the trading block. But if they are back next season, there is a good chance their seasons could bounce back.