Every off-season teams try to make improvements via trades and free agent signings. But the greatest upside, especially for young teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, is when a number of existing players together find a higher gear.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a quick look at a number of Carolina Hurricanes players who meet the criteria of being young and with upside but now having to NHL experience to leverage to potential make a leap upward.
Touted as a front-runner to compete for the Selke Trophy, Svechnikov had a so-so season at least based on those lofty standards. But along the way he did collect 20 goals and also show flashes of the skill set that had him pegged as a high-end scorer. No doubt, his ceiling is much higher than his modest 2018-19 production. Will one year of NHL experience serve as a spring board, or will Svechnikov develop gradually over a few years?
Foegele played like he was shot out of a cannon in preseason and then did so again under the brightest of lights in the playoffs. If pressed to pick a single player who pulled the Hurricanes back into the series against the Capitals after being down 2-0, I think Foegele gets the nod. But in the middle, Foegele played the part of a capable low-scoring fourth-liner and not much more. Will the playoffs be the beginning of Foegele finding a higher gear as a player who can regularly be a difference-maker? Or was that just a quick random burst?
Wallmark quietly had an incredibly solid even if maybe unspectacular rookie season. He first stepped into the lineup when Victor Rask was injured. And then at the midway point, he rose significantly higher in assuming much of Jordan Staal’s match up line responsibilities when Staal was on the shelf with a concussion. Wallmark ability to play competent two-way hockey that was well ahead of his experience level in itself was enough to make him a valuable depth forward. The question is whether with a year of experience he can find a higher gear offensively than his checking line-ish 28 points in 2018-19.
Necas would have made this same list last season, but after a slow start at the NHL level, it became evident that he just was not quite ready yet. His demotion to the AHL was a modest disappointment, but his rebound and strong play in Charlotte rejuvenated optimism and boosted him back onto a potential break out list for the upcoming season. What concerned me most about Necas NHL stint in 2018-19 was not the fact that he was a little rough around the edges defensively and without the puck. That was to be expected. What was concerning was the fact that he was also a non-factor offensively. His surge at the AHL level featured a move to wing where Necas could just attack with a little less responsibility. He figures to audition as a wing in preseason. Can he transfer his AHL success to the NHL level and have a break out season in round two during the 2019-20 season?
The 2017-18 season saw Fleury maybe in a bit over his head pushed up into the top 4 for a chunk of his rookie season. With part-time duty in 2018-19, Fleury settled back into a #6 slot, and that looked to be about the right level for him. He played a conservative brand of hockey that mostly steered clear of big mistakes but was also completely lacking in terms of any thing dynamic offensively or otherwise. As such, he was a competent #6 or #7 but not the type of player who was driving wins. Many say that defensemen need NHL run time before they can mature. Is it possible that Haydn Fleury has built a solid foundation and is ready to take a big step up in 2019-20?
Similar to Necas, Bean would be another player looking to extend a strong 2018-19 season in the AHL to the NHL level. The bottom of the blue line is a bit crowded with other players not being waiver exempt like Bean, so there is a good chance that Bean starts the season at the AHL level. But in the long run, NHL ice time is earned by level of play. In that regard, Bean has a ton of upside offensively and has the potential to boost a power play that struggled in 2018-19. If the Hurricanes hit some injuries, Bean is likely to garner some NHL ice time. When he does, will he be the type of player who seizes it and never relinquishes that role?
Per my Daily Cup of Joe from Friday, my best guess is that Alex Nedeljkovic will start the year in the AHL if everyone is healthy. But the team should have an incentive to get him a set of NHL starts in 2019-20 such that if he is recalled for an injury, the goal should be to get him some NHL action. Jordan Binnington with St. Louis is a reminder of what a young goalie can sometimes do as is Cam Ward from Carolina Hurricanes past. With no NHL track record yet, Nedeljkovic is a wild card, but his pedigree and strong 2018-19 season at the AHL offer potential for a break out season once he draws into the NHL lineup.
What say you Canes fans?
Which of these players do you think will have break out seasons in 2019-20?