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Quick Whistles: Andrei Svechnikov Back on Track, Hurricanes’ Best Defensive Pairings, and John Klingberg?

Svechnikov is back to producing for the Hurricanes, who are looking to regain the top spot in the NHL standings.

NHL: Calgary Flames at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Andrei Svechnikov got off to a remarkable start to the 2021-22 season.

A two-goal, three-point opening night performance kicked off a torrent offensive pace through the first five weeks, accumulating seven goals and 18 points in 14 games and setting himself up for a real breakout year after what was, from all accounts, a disappointing 2020-21 season.

As has been the case for much of his young NHL career, the thing that held Svechnikov back was an extended cold spell offensively. In the 12 games following his 14-game run, he scored just two goals and added a single assist.

Ups and downs have been a common theme so far for Svechnikov, and again, he broke his slump and has returned to north-of-point-per-game production since the beginning of 2022.

Over his last six games, he has scored three goals and added four assists. Puck luck is turning in his favor again, and when that happens, the Hurricanes are a significantly more dangerous team.

As of late, his success has come on a line with Vincent Trocheck and Martin Necas. That trio scored twice in less than four minutes early in the second period of Carolina’s 4-1 win over the Canucks on Saturday.

While Seth Jarvis has established himself as a great fit with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, Svechnikov and Necas have combined with Trocheck to round out a top-six with tremendous upside.

Through it all, Svechnikov has constantly proved that, even when he isn’t racking up points, he is a constant source of high-danger scoring chances. According to Corey Sznajder’s 2021-22 tracking, Svechnikov has generated the third-most high-danger shot assists/60 at 5-on-5 among all NHL forwards, only trailing established superstars Johnny Gaudreau and Connor McDavid.

He is an elite offensive player both at 5-on-5 and on the power play, and it’s not just because of his shot. Though, Svechnikov is scoring at his individual expected goal rate at 5-on-5 for just the second time in his career.

Svechnikov leads all Hurricanes forwards in 5-on-5 on-ice expected goals for at 24.89.

Andrei Svechnikov year-over-year metrics.

He has experienced a sizeable jump in his on-ice metrics this season compared to last, especially in his play at 5-on-5. He was already a top-tier offensive generator, but his defense is slowly rebounding. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in that area, but improving his finishing rate will help him in a big way. If he could even get himself to slightly below league-average in on-ice finishing, he would probably be a top-ten forward in the league.

Of course, the most annoying aspect of his game continues to be his rampant minor penalty problems. There is an argument to be made about how he is officiated compared to a lot of other top players, but the fact remains that he is still too loose with his stick in the defensive zone, and it often leads to trips and hooks. His penalty rate has gotten even more troublesome this season, and that takes a toll on his ice time and his ability to be out there as much as he should be. It hurts him and the team.

On the whole, it’s promising to see some scoring touch coming back to his game as of late. It’s crazy to think that he is still just 21 years old despite having so much experience at the NHL level.

Best Defensive Pairings

Last week, we took a long look at the Hurricanes’ best-performing forwards lines this season. Today, we’re shifting our focus to the blue line.

While there were some surprises up front, the results we see from the d-pairings are more straightforward and expected.

Hurricanes Defensive Pairings 2021-22

Pairings TOI CF% GF GA GF% GF/60 GA/60 xGF% xGF/60 xGA/60
Pairings TOI CF% GF GA GF% GF/60 GA/60 xGF% xGF/60 xGA/60
Skjei-Pesce 327.6 53.9 20 15 57.1 3.66 2.75 52.2 3 2.75
Slavin-Bear 208 56.2 12 6 66.7 3.46 1.73 54.2 2.77 2.34
Slavin-DeAngelo 177.4 53.3 9 6 60 3.04 2.03 55 3.18 2.6
Slavin-Cole 130.7 61.4 7 7 50 3.21 3.21 61.9 3.21 1.97
Cole-DeAngelo 123.2 55.7 10 3 76.9 4.87 1.46 51 2.53 2.44
Cole-Smith 101.1 57.6 2 3 40 1.19 1.78 57.6 2.02 1.48
Skjei-DeAngelo 80.6 51.1 5 2 71.4 3.72 1.49 42.3 3.05 4.17
Skjei-Chatfield 80.2 54.7 4 2 66.7 2.99 1.5 68.1 3.67 1.72
Cole-Bear 72 59.4 4 3 57.1 3.33 2.5 57.1 3.33 2.5
Smith-Bear 62.7 52.4 1 4 20 0.96 3.83 20 3.83 3.83
Hurricanes 2021-22 defensive pairing statistics as of January 17, 2022. (Stats from NaturalStatTrick and MoneyPuck)

The Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce pairing has been the lone staple among Carolina’s d-corps. Aided by Skjei’s surprising offensive outburst as of late, their offensive numbers have been rising year-over-year, but they are still getting out-performed by their teammates defensively, though matchups do play a role in that.

The most shocking revelation from this list is how well Skjei played with Jalen Chatfield. A 68.1% expected goals-for rate across 80 minutes is awe-inspiring, and Skjei’s underlying numbers were at their best with Chatfield.

Jaccob Slavin has bounced around a lot, which I wrote would likely be the case before the season started. His best results have come with Ethan Bear in terms of real production. That duo was used a lot at the beginning of the year, and they doubled their opponents in 5-on-5 goals.

Bear’s stint on the COVID list has seemingly derailed an extremely promising start to the season. Since coming back, he hasn’t looked the same, which is a real shame given how well he and Slavin meshed.

Since then, we’ve seen more of Slavin and Tony DeAngelo, and the results have been mostly good. They’ve been a fair bit weaker defensively, but that has been made up for in more offensive chance generation thanks to DeAngelo’s high-end skill and ability to work around the offensive zone.

Slavin and Cole were used in tandem for a time, mainly during the team’s COVID issues. Their metrics were outstanding, but the actual results didn’t follow. That pairing allowed more goals than the Slavin-Bear pairing despite playing 70 fewer minutes, but their expected values were better.

You can look to goaltending and matchups to help explain that one.

Cole has played almost identical minutes with DeAngelo. That, again, was mainly at the beginning of the season, and they feasted on weaker matchups to the tune of a +7 goal differential. They were an excellent combination.

I believe the team was at its best when they rolled Slavin-Bear, Skjei-Pesce, and Cole-DeAngelo while bumping DeAngelo up when the opportunity presented itself offensively. The numbers back that up, but Bear’s COVID bout and its lingering effects on his game threw a wrench into that setup.

The Hurricanes have sorted things out nicely, though. We’ve seen that there is a great deal of flexibility in the lineup, and a lot of praise should be heading Slavin’s way as a result. He has had a rotating door of d-partners this season and has stepped up in a big way.

John? Klingberg?

Alright, so this is interesting.

Throughout this season, there have been reports about the future of Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg. The big right-handed defenseman has been in the rumor mill, and the Hurricanes are constantly brought up as a favorite to land him as recently as today, according to Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman.

This is puzzling for many reasons.

For starters, Carolina boasts a deep blue line. Bear had a great start to the season, and DeAngelo could end up being in the top-10 or so of all NHL defensemen in scoring this season. Cole has been mostly solid in a depth role, and Brenden Smith has been surprisingly competent when called upon.

Beyond that top-six, we’ve seen the likes of Chatfield, Maxime Lajoie, and now Joey Keene come up and do more than hold their own at the NHL level.

So, where would Klingberg even fit on this team?

His game revolves around offense, but he has been steadily declining over the last three seasons.

John Klingberg’s regression since 2018-19.

He has gone from being one of the most potent offensive defensemen in the league to a slightly above average producer from the back end with horrible defensive numbers. He is a right-shot defender who is set to hit unrestricted free agency this offseason, and he will turn 30 before the start of the 2022-23 season.

There is then the obvious issue of his $4.3 million cap hit on a team at the ceiling.

If acquired, he will be one of three right-handed defensemen scheduled to hit free agency this offseason, joining DeAngelo and Bear. They are both pending restricted free agents with arbitration rights.

If the goal here is to add depth for a playoff run, I suppose that does make sense, but that’s quite a target for a depth role.

Whenever the Hurricanes get into these kinds of rumors, it’s safe to assume that they aren’t just thinking about this season, which leads to speculation about what their plans are this upcoming offseason.

I have a hard time agreeing with any notion that they should move on from Bear. Yes, he has not been the same player since returning from the COVID list, but you’re then throwing out how well he played before that and how well he played in his last year in Edmonton. He’s also just 24 years old.

DeAngelo has been fantastic offensively, much better than Klingberg has been over the last two seasons. So barring something negative happening, I can’t imagine that they view Klingberg as an upgrade there, either.

Based on on-ice performance, I’d consider both Bear and DeAngelo as better bets moving forward, so Klingberg doesn’t strike me as sensible addition in the long-term. On the other hand, perhaps the team is just simply focusing on this year, and if Bear continues to struggle to regain his form, Klingberg could give them a good safety net.

I’m never against adding talent to a good team, but there’s something weird about this one. If they weren’t willing to give Dougie Hamilton a long-term deal, it would be surprising that they’d be willing to do it with Klingberg, even if his cap hit will come in a bit lower. If the goal is to push your chips in for this season, it does make more sense.

Either way, these reports are intriguing.