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FutureCanes MailBag: Vol. 2

Answering questions from the Canes fanbase.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the second installment of FutureCanes MailBag, the first ever playoff edition. I figured with excitement continuing to brew around the team after taking a 2-0 series lead in Raleigh, it would be the perfect time to ask fan questions with the question marks surrounding the team heading to Boston.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

I think I want to see how the remainder of the postseason plays out before I can rightfully answer this. I mean, I’m a huge fan of Pyotr Kochetkov but his sample size has been extremely small, despite showing good results. There isn’t really enough of a body of work right now to be able to comfortably move one of Freddie Andersen or Antti Raanta to make room for him, especially considering how they’ve both played.

Obviously, if Kochetkov emerges in the playoffs and makes a case for the crease that can’t be denied, then we can re-evaluate in the offseason. But as of now, Andersen and Raanta have both been superb and are both signed at very reasonable cap hits for the 2022-23 season, so I’d be surprised if that tandem doesn’t return next season.

In last week’s Mailbag, I wrote the following about a similar question:

Personally, the priority is Nino Niederreiter and I don’t think it’s particularly close. The heaviness he plays with and the 25-30 goal production that he offers are just too vital to the success of the group. He’s been able to produce and have an effective impact with any combination of line mates that he’s been deployed with, which is extremely important versatility for the group.

After two playoff games, my stance remains the same. Niederreiter has been an absolute game changer, and should be brought back at all costs. I’d love to see Derek Stepan brought back as well, but would not be surprised to see him look elsewhere.

I’ve been the ultimate Jake Gardiner defender over the past three seasons since his arrival to Carolina, and will always be a fan of him. His puck moving ability is elite, and his transition play makes a major difference when he’s in the lineup. The PP2 has also dearly missed him this year … imagine him on that unit with Necas, Jarvis, Kotkaniemi and Niederreiter?

As far as his status, I have no idea. The Canes have been very hush on any information regarding him, although I do believe he had surgery and is in the recovery process. He’s still signed for next season, so bringing him back is always an option — but I’m not sure the Canes will be comfortable with commiting over $4M of their cap space to a defenseman who hasn’t played in over a year and is coming off back surgery.

As much as it pains me to say it, I think we’ve seen Gardiner’s last game in a Canes jersey. Never say never, I guess. But I’d be stunned if he plays here again.

There’s a lot to like, right? They’ve matched the Bruins’ intensity and answered the call physically — and have even been the aggressors in games. They haven’t back down at all, and have really taken Boston’s identity from them. It’s been awesome to watch.

My standouts include Antti Raanta — who was playing some career-best hockey before the injury, and Nino Niederreiter, who’s been just an absolute beast in every facet of the game. There really hasn’t been many bad performances at all, and the group looks extremely confident and well-deserving of their contender status.

For me, I’m going back to Antti Raanta. His Game 1 performance was absolutely sensational — undoubtedly one of the best games he’s ever played. His confidence is sky high and he was moving as fluidly as I’d ever seen him, which is a strong endorsement for an already mobile goaltender. He followed that performance up with an extremely impressive start to Game 2. He made 6 saves early in the first period, a couple of which were very high quality — and in the process managed to bail out the Canes for their slow start in front of him.

That said, I was also very impressed with Kochetkov and would not have any reservations about him playing, should Raanta be unavailable. For a rookie who speaks no english and had played in just 3 NHL games, his demeanor was cold as ice. He didn’t look nervous at all, he made some fantastic saves and he even tried to fight Brad Marchand. I mean, talk about checking off all the boxes. This kid’s future is brighter than the sun.

The heart, the belief in themselves, and the strong depth at key positions. They also have the star power to match any team they may face.

I love Stepan, and I think that he’ll be a useful player at some point of the postseason if the Canes hope to make a long playoff run. But for right now, you just cannot mess with a winning lineup. The current forward combinations have had a ton of success, and I just don’t think it’s wise to mess with a group that’s clearly firing on all cylinders.

This is a really great question and one that is honestly pretty difficult to answer. I mean, Raanta has been spectacular during the time that Andersen has missed, and Kochetkov has began to emerge as a legitimate option as well who’s already in prime game shape.

Andersen is obviously considered the #1 goalie with the Vezina-level season he had, and he’s a veteran pro. But he hasn’t played in three weeks, and he’s still in recovery according to RBA. And with a knee injury, it’s always difficult to gauge how difficult the transition will be getting back up to game speed. If his mobility is hampered at all, it could be a recipe for disaster.

Because of the risks, I’m assuming that the Canes will wait until Andersen himself feels that he’s 100% ready to go. I’m really not sure I’d expect him back before Round 2, and he could potentially start off as the backup if Raanta continues his world class play.

Ask me that again after win 16. :)

As always, thanks for reading, and a huge thank you to everyone who submitted questions this week. If you missed out, don’t forget to follow me @FutureCanes on Twitter to submit your question(s) for the next installment!