The Carolina Hurricanes entered the 2019 NHL Playoffs with a roster heavy on players with little or no playoff experience. The lack of experience proved to be a non-issue, and the young group rose up to defeat an experienced adversary in the Washington Capitals and then win another round before hitting a wall in the Eastern Conference Finals.
One might assume that the Canes young guns hit the ground running in post-season play which is what catapulted the team eight wins and three rounds deep in the 2020 playoffs. But if one can get past the exhilaration of the success, the first time in the playoffs was actually a mixed bag for the young group.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at key players who could/should have room to improve from their 2019 playoff performances.
By no means did Sebastian Aho or compatriot Teuvo Teravainen have a poor playoff campaign last spring. Aho’s 12 points in 15 games represented a 66-point pace over 82 games, and Teravainen’s 10 points a 55-point pace. Though definitely not maxed out, the numbers by themselves are respectable. But lost in looking at scoring totals is the fact that the best forwards on the opposing team were significantly more productive in both the Washington and Boston series. Aho tallied a relatively quiet five points in the Washington series. Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin tallied nine points in that series. Against the Bruins, Bergeron’s line (including power play success) was the best in the series and dictated the outcome. Was Sebastian Aho’s 2019 playoff performance a flop? Not at all. But at a time when teams’ best players very often drive outcomes, was he better than the top players on the opposing teams. I do not think so. Now toting 15 games of playoff experience, does Aho have a higher gear this time around.
A bit like Finnish partner Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen was by no means a playoff flop. But at the same time, he was not a regular driving force either. Courtesy of his time with the Blackhawks too, Teravainen has now logged 40 NHL playoff games. His style of play lends itself to often being an under the radar kind of good, but especially if paired with Aho and Svechnikov could he be a playmaking catalyst for a top line that can outplay the best in the NHL under the bright lights of the playoffs?
As a 19-year old rookie, Andrei Svechnikov’s NHL playoff debut started auspiciously enough with two goals in game 1 and an assist in game 2 of the series. But then an ill-fated fight with Alexander Svechnikov derailed the strong start with a concussion. Svechnikov returned midway through the second round series against the Islanders but never really got back on track registering only a single goal and assist in six more games. No doubt the ceiling for Svechnikov is higher. Can he find it as a still young but now more experienced 20-year old?
After playing a vital role in the Canes second half surge to climb up and into the playoffs, Dougie Hamilton entered the playoffs with a head of steam. From that starting point, Hamilton had an up and down playoff campaign. He registered six points in the Washington series but also managed to play his way out of the top 4 partly due to intermittently shying away from contact. Hamilton registered only a single point in the latter two series. Maybe a bit like Aho, he was not bad, but he was not a noticeable difference-maker on a regular basis either. When Hamilton is holding his own defensively and clicking offensively, he brings a different dynamic to the Hurricanes offense. Hamilton was different than the youngsters in that he entered last spring with 23 games of playoff experience. But still the 2019 playoffs left some room for more/better heading into his second playoffs with the Hurricanes.
After arriving via trade and playing like he was shot out of a cannon for the playoff stretch run, Niederreiter had a quiet playoff campaign. As a big body who could finish around the net, Niederreiter’s game looked like a good fit for often rugged playoff hockey. But after starting the playoffs alongside Aho and Teravainen, he ultimately played his way down the depth chart and into a random mix of slots. Niederreiter scored only one goal in 15 playoff games, added three assists and was never really a significant factor. With some struggles during the 2019-20 regular season, could his results flip flop this year such that the playoffs are his time to shine?
This group of players with theoretical upside from the 2019 playoffs is an interesting one. Aho, Teravainen and Svechnikov figure to start the playoffs as the team’s top line. Their ability to click and thrive in the playoffs could well determine the overall success of the team. In the regular season series, top Rangers Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad were by far and away better than the Canes best players. Hamilton is another player who brings significant upside to the Canes ability to score. If this group of players all find a higher gear, the Hurricanes suddenly have a top part of the lineup that can match up with anyone. If the group is decent but not better, the Canes could be vulnerable to a team whose top players thrive.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you disagree with my assessment that this group of players despite not being bad last year could have more to give in the 2020 playoffs?
2) Are there any players that you would add to this list?
3) Despite the fact that hockey is a game where all 18 skaters play a role in success, what do you think of a statement that says that the playoff fate of the Hurricanes in the 2020 playoffs lies with how well the Teravainen/Aho/Svechnikov line plays?