Suddenly with only two days until the puck drops on the 2019-20 season, it is time to start into the usual season preview series.
Part 1 considers the 2019-20 roster as compared to the 2018-19 team.
One of the common Hurricanes’ themes over the summer was to rave about how deep the team is or how much it had improved. With the volume of changes, it takes some work to consider the changes in total and assess the 2019-20 roster. I think looking at it by position helps paint a clear picture.
The big change is that Curtis McElhinney is gone and is replaced by James Reimer. Reimer has the potential to be as good as McElhinney, but he is also coming off a down season at age 31. The question is whether he as a rebound in him. Behind Reimer, the Hurricanes have deep goalie depth with Alex Nedeljkovic now another year deeper in his professional career and coming off a strong 2018-19 season in the AHL. In addition, the Hurricanes also have Anton Forsberg (if he clears waivers) who also has NHL experience. I think it is also significant to note that Petr Mrazek enters the 2019-20 season with many fewer question marks than this time last year.
Netting it out: The Hurricanes enter the season with significant uncertainty in backup James Reimer. But to the positive, Mrazek is less of a wild card in his second season with the team, and the Canes will be four deep with potential NHL netminders if Forsberg clears waivers. I would call the goalie position even but still with risk.
The Hurricanes parted ways with Justin Faulk and Calvin de Haan and added Jake Gardiner, Joel Edmundson and Gustav Forsling. The return of Edmundson in the Faulk trade got the Hurricanes back to having five top 4 defensemen. Just like in goal, the Hurricanes have depth at the lower end of the depth chart
Netting it out: I go back and forth, but I would consider the changes to be a slight downgrade with a wild card and the potential for meaningful upside if Gardiner can jump start one of the two power play units. Though the personnel changed over, the depth is still there.
The forward position is arguably where perception and reality are farthest apart. With the addition of Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel, the offense seemed to get deeper and stronger. But the decision by Justin Williams not to return probably eliminated any gains. Now the team is minus Micheal Ferland and Justin Williams and is plus Erik Haula, Ryan Dzingel and possibly most significantly a few rookies with upside. Williams is may underrated in terms of producing offense. He finished third on the team in scoring behind only Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. In addition, Ferland was very effective playing with Aho and Teravainen in the first half of the 2018-19 season before being derailed by an injury and never really recovering. So while the Hurricanes did add two capable scoring forwards, the team also lost two.
The biggest upside at forward is the growth of young players and prospects. Sebastian Aho is still young and entering only his second year as a center in the NHL. Andrei Svechnikov is only 19 and entering his sophomore season. And Julien Gauthier and Martin Necas are both high ceiling prospects who could boost the team’s fortunes.
Netting it out: The skill sets vary, but I view the changeover of the veteran forwards as being in the neighborhood of an even swap. Haula and Dzingel need to settle in and bring some offense. As noted above, the potential of young players is by far the greatest upside for the Hurricanes.
Upside from within
The comparison of NHL veterans from 2018-19 to 2019-20 yields a different but probably close to equal roster. Gardiner has the potential to be an x-factor on a power play that mostly struggled last season, but otherwise the changes line up as fairly even one for one swaps.
But the greatest upside comes from the team’s youth. Andrei Svechnikov, Warren Foegele, Lucas Wallmark and Haydn Fleury are entering only their second year in the NHL. From the prospect pool, Martin Necas, Julien Gauthier, Jake Bean and Alex Nedeljkovic all have significant potential upside. To what degree that upside is realized will likely determine whether the Hurricanes take a step up and have a slightly easier path to the playoffs or if instead the team will again need to scratch and claw to pull out a playoff berth at the very end.
What say you Canes fans?
1) How would you rate the veteran talent level of the 2019-20 roster compared to the 2018-19 team?
2) To what degree do you think the young prospects currently at the fringe of NHL can/will boost the Hurricanes for the 2019-20 season?