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Carolina Hurricanes 2021-22 Season Preview

The 2021-22 season is almost upon us, so let’s take a look at some of the storylines and expectations for the Carolina Hurricanes this year.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Carolina Hurricanes - Game One Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

The Carolina Hurricanes are returning home to the Metropolitan Division for the 2020-21 season and should be able to finally — knock on wood — play through an entire 82-game season once again.

While the team retained the majority of its core, the Hurricanes were one of the more aggressive teams in the offseason, bringing in a plethora of new faces to supplement the group.

After three straight seasons with mostly the same roster, the Canes knew they needed to change something up to take the next step as a club and we’ll see if the decisions they made were the right ones.

So what can we expect from the Carolina Hurricanes this year? There’s going to be plenty of interesting things to watch.

Storylines to Follow

Handling Heightened Expectations

The biggest thing that will be expected from the team this season is having continued success, something that has become the expected norm from the new regime.

While the Canes had been seen as the scrappy underdogs ever since snapping their nine-year playoff drought, that is simply no longer the case.

The Canes finished at the top of the Central Division last year, marking their third straight playoff appearance. They are expected to be one of the top teams in the league and not just a wild card or bubble team.

But the big question is if they can live up to those heightened expectations? Most NHL players will tell you that they don’t buy into any outside narratives, but frustrations can start to build up if internal expectations don’t go as anticipated.

The Backend

The Hurricanes are pretty set in terms of offensive production up front, but with a fairly large turnover on the backend and a complete overhaul at the goaltending position, the question remains to be seen for what the Canes’ backend ends up looking like.

One of the questions for the defense is if they can find a way to replace Dougie Hamilton’s offensive production or at least diminish the impact of his departure.

Hamilton was a top-end offensive talent and you don’t just replace him, but Carolina has multiple options that should hopefully mitigate the loss.

While the blueline offense may take a hit, the defensive side of the blueline should be just fine for Carolina. The Canes’ top-four will be held down by Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, two of the best defenders in the entire NHL, and Brady Skjei, who has turned into a reliable, indefatigable defender with the Hurricanes.

But question marks do begin to rise with the new acquisitions. It has been a noticeable trend with most new defensemen in Carolina — Hamilton, Skjei, Edmundson, Gardiner — that it takes a good amount of time to become comfortable in the system.

So will it take some time for Ian Cole, Ethan Bear and Tony DeAngelo to settle in or will they snap the trend and help the Canes get a strong start to the season?

While shot and high-danger prevention may be in good hands with the blueline, it would all be for naught if the goalies can’t answer the bell when called upon.

Hurricanes fans are very aware of how poor goaltending can sink a team, and with both of Carolina’s netminders being new to the team and coming off of injury riddled seasons, there’s a lot to be concerned about.

But along with the risks is a lot of promise as well. Frederik Andersen has been one of the most successful goaltenders since he entered the league and Antti Raanta has outstanding athleticism, able to make improbable saves.

It all depends on how their health plays out.

Staying on Track

Last season saw a few Hurricanes put up big numbers for the team such as Jordan Staal, Vincent Trocheck, Nino Niederreiter, Martin Necas and the ever consistent Sebastian Aho.

The Canes need those players to be consistent producers again, even if not at quite the same pace as last season, but they can’t be carrying the burden alone.

If the Hurricanes want to go anywhere this year, they are going to need a bounce back season from a few players and none more so than Andrei Svechnikov.

After the Canes signed Svechnikov to an eight-year, $62 million deal, the expectations were significantly raised for the young Russian winger.

He has the the potential to be one of the best scoring talents in the league, he just has to take that next step.

Teuvo Teravainen is another player looking to have a better season than last after he missed the majority of the 2020-21 season due to injury. He’s such a key part of Carolina’s game, responsible in all three zones and one of the best transitional facilitators on the team.

If the Canes can get those two premiere talents going, it will be a very good year for Carolina.

Players to Watch

Jesperi Kotkaniemi

The offer sheet acquisition has a lot to prove to both the team and himself about whether or not he can be a top player.

While his defensive game has been stable, he has struggled to be consistent offensively. A few things can be pointed out in Montreal that could have led to his struggles such as rushed development and inconsistent playing time and linemates.

Now, moved to the wing for this season, he’ll have more of a chance to be a dynamic player with less responsibilities than that of a center.

The biggest question right now for him will be whether he’s getting the chance to play with a more offensively minded center like Trocheck or a defensively minded center like Staal. Regardless, removing the burden of responsibility as a center from him should do wonders for his ability to be dynamic and create in the offensive zone.

Kotkaniemi has also been getting power-play time on the second unit, which should allow that unit to find more success with an additional playmaker.

His development in Carolina should be one of the most interesting things to watch this season as he has the potential to become a part of the Canes’ core for a long time if everything works out.

Quick Season Predictions

  • Jesperi Kotkaniemi finishes the season with 50+ points.

Since he’s the player to watch, let’s stick with him and give a bit more of a raised stakes prediction. Kotkaniemi has all the talent in the world and a very high hockey IQ.

With the move to the wing, playing time in the top-six and power play deployment, Kotkaniemi has all the opportunities he needs to become a highly effective offensive player for the Hurricanes.

  • The Hurricanes start slow but finish the season with the best second-half record in the league after the Olympic break.

With so many new faces on the team, it only makes sense that there will be some growing pains as they learn and adapt to the Canes’ systems. But with the core of the team returning, the Hurricanes should see quick returns and promising growth.

  • The Hurricanes eclipse the 100 point mark.

Book it.