The Carolina Hurricanes are a team defined by their youth, and after a quietly productive rookie season, Martin Necas has firmly placed himself in the middle of a group that is expected to lead the way for this team for years to come.
At the age of 20, he broke into the league on a full-time basis and was the team’s best point-producer upfront outside of their star-studded top line, and his 16 goals ranked third among all Carolina skaters. He did that while seeing just 14:10 of ice time per night.
That number is expected to go up now that he has a full NHL season under his belt, and with an increased role it becomes imperative that he builds on the offensive output he generated as a first-year player.
The key to unlocking that next level is confidence.
“Just naturally, you’re going to get better,” Rod Brind’Amour said about Necas last week. “Being confident, being around the league, being more confident in your own ability.”
The same was true for Andrei Svechnikov when he blossomed into a star from year one to year two. In all likelihood, Necas isn’t going to score at a 30-goal pace or produce at the near point-per-game rate that Svechnikov did as a second-year player, but it’s fair to expect him to take his own version of “the next step”.
The addition of Vincent Trocheck at the trade deadline helped beef up the Hurricanes’ center depth, taking some of the weight off of Jordan Staal’s shoulders and hopefully bringing more offensive upside to the middle-six.
Necas started the season on Thursday with Staal as his center, but he will certainly play a significant portion of his season on a line with Trocheck and perhaps even Svechnikov.
That opportunity isn’t granted lightly by this Carolina coaching staff, and the expectations are rising for Necas.
“I’m hoping that we see that steady progression,” said Brind’Amour. “I don’t know if he’s going to get much more skilled. I don’t know if he’s going to skate faster or shoot the puck harder than he can now, but he can be more confident with it and more aware of his surroundings - finding open ice, things you get an understanding of the more you play at this level.”
With growth comes comfort, and we’ve seen young players break into the league and take years to develop the willingness to shoot the puck. Teuvo Teravainen is a very obvious example of someone who just doesn’t like shooting the puck - and that isn’t a knock on him because it’s part of who he is as a player.
Necas’ puck-moving ability certainly precedes his shooting acumen, but it’s something that could start to change this season.
“Sometimes coaches tell me that I have to shoot more,” Necas said. “When I can shoot the puck, I’m always looking for a better option, but sometimes there’s not even a better option, I just try to find someone. My shot isn’t bad, so I need to shoot a little more. I feel like I’m a playmaker who can score as well.”
Through the first two games of the season, the Czech forward has six shots on goal. He averaged just 1.38 shots on goal per game as a rookie but he scored on 18.2% of his shots. He absolutely has the ability to pick corners and unleash powerful shots (even if he falls down while taking most of them).
That’s an area where he can be even more lethal. We saw glimpses of it last season.
More importantly, though, the natural progression that Brind’Amour spoke on has a lot to do with who you’re surrounded by. The leadership group of the Canes plays a big role in shaping these young players, and Necas experienced that last season, as well.
“It’s all about little details here. In my first year in the AHL, I was getting used to the North American ice. Then last season, at the beginning it was a little hard, then as the season went on, with every game it was a little easier. Just learning from those guys like Jordan Staal. Those little details - they all help you. Once you just build your confidence, everything is better.”
Last season, we got a taste of what Necas can be at the NHL level. He has tantalizing speed and skill that can dice up opposing defenses, but how much better can he get? With the rising confidence and maturity in his game, it looks like he’s just getting started.
“Last year was my rookie year, and it was good. Everyone wants to just get better.”