I have said many times recently that the simple fact that the Carolina Hurricanes are still playing games that matter is in itself a huge success for the 2015-16 season, even more so when you consider the loss of James Wisniewski from a blue line that was light on veteran depth.
Aside from the overarching success of the team at least relative to modest expectations, here is a quick list of great stories from the first 50 games of the season (not in any particular order):
1) Noah Hanifin makes the team out of training camp and even better does not look to be in over his head as an 18-year old defenseman playing in the NHL.
2) Brett Pesce rises up from off the depth chart to step into a top 4 role in James Wisniewski’s spot and looks ready to play at that level despite the huge jump from very recently playing college hockey just last season.
3) Jaccob Slavin makes it a trifecta when he too jumps any reasonable development schedule and hops into the NHL lineup and goes back and forth between the second and third pair based on how the coaching staff wants to play minutes and match ups for a given game.
4) Jeff Skinner goes on the best scoring spree of his career (which is saying something) with a whopping 9 goals in 6 games in mid-December.
5) Justin Faulk roars out of the gate to the tune of 12 goals, all on the power play, in the first 30 games to climb to the league lead in goal scoring on the power play and for defensemen.
6) Victor Rask surges out of the gate playing with the same defensive acumen as the 2014-15 season but with more offensive production added.
7) Brock McGinn makes his NHL debut on the top line and breaks into the NHL in a big way with 2 goals (including 1 on his first shot) and 1 assist.
8) Phil Di Giuseppe gets into the NHL debut mix stepping onto a line with Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask and finds some early chemistry with Jeff Skinner during his scoring streak.
9) Elias Lindholm is elevated to the top line when Coach Bill Peters decides to balance the top 3 lines and finds some combinations that work.
10) Daniel Altshuller gets the goalie position into the youth movement by earning a promotion to replace an injured Cam Ward after Altshuller moves up from the ECHL and immediately catches fire at the AHL level.
11) Joakim Nordstrom, who is ‘the other guy’ in the Kris Versteeg trade is not to be outdone and finds chemistry and a key role on Jordan Staal’s elite checking line (that scores too) which has been the team’s best line during its run of winning hockey in December and January.
There are others who could be added to this list, but it was put together with the purpose of highlighting the key roles and growing promise of the youth of the team. Each of the 11 players noted is 23 years old or younger and the collective group which makes up about half of the Canes roster averages about 21 years old.
The future of the Carolina Hurricanes continues to look bright.