Oftentimes, the development of young players comes with growing pains. There are flashes of brilliance or a run of strong play that suggests a player has arrived. And then just when it looks like the player is ready to hit and stay at the next level, a setback occurs. The Hurricanes roster is full of young players with high ceilings pretty much all of whom have had bursts of strong play but as of yet have not strung together a full season of playing at a higher level. With Francis prioritizing internal development over external help, the next leg up for the Hurricanes will likely need to be driven by at least some of the Hurricanes young players reaching a higher level of play.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a look at some of the players who have shown flashes of playing at a higher level but as of yet have not been able to sustain it for the long haul.
Arguably as much as any other player on the Hurricanes, he projects to be a top-tier scoring forward. And he has been exactly that for short stretches of hockey. Aho’s 24 goals and 49 points in his rookie season as a 19-year old in 2016-17 were impressive in their own right when considered “for a rookie.” But across the NHL and not adjusting for potential, I would consider 49 points to be high end depth scoring and not truly in the top tier of NHL scorers. And just like in 2016-17, Aho started slowly in 2017-18 at least in terms of goal scoring. He did reel off a goal-scoring streak once he finally broke the ice with five goals and five assists in five games, but his production has been modest on either side of the quick burst. His current 59-point pace would be a step up, but I think the real question is if he can find more of the high end bursts and push to 70 or 80 points.
Teravainen has been the team’s best offensive player in a number of games. He has also been nearly invisible in many others. I said awhile back that the the next level from Teravainen would not be reached by him scoring more when he was playing well but rather by him learning how to do more and be somewhat productive on the quieter nights. Teravainen still leads the team with 24 points in 32 games for a 61-point pace over 82 games, but he is not pointless in four straight games and goal-less in 13 straight games. At the same time, Teravainen has staked out a case for just being too streaky to be a top-end scoring forward and also a case for being a player on the verge based on who good he was during his hot streak.
I have raved regularly about Noah Hanifin’s growing offensive game. He is easily the Hurricanes best offensive defenseman through 32 games. With six goals, Hanifin is currently on pace for 15 which would be a huge number for the third-year defenseman. But while his offensive is growing by leaps and bounds, the defensive part of Hanifin’s game is still a work in progress. Awhile back he slid down into the third pairing which seemed to benefit his offensive game. In that slightly lesser role, Hanifin has generally been good despite still having propensity for the occasional “train wreck” game. The latest was the Canes’ debacle in San Jose that saw Hanifin right in the middle of the big ‘oopses’ that cost the Hurricanes in that game. The question for Hanifin is whether he can boost his level of play and consistency on the defensive side of the puck to match his burgeoning offensive game.
Suddenly 325 games into his NHL career, veteran Elias Lindholm has yet to find and maintain his higher gear. He did have an extended run that started in December of the 2016-17 season and carried through the end of the season. And his start to the 2017-18 campaign has not been horrible. But in my opinion, Lindholm has yet to reach the high level that he played at in 2016-17. That said, his point total is respectable at 18 in 32 games, he has pretty consistently been going to the front of the net and he has shown flashes. As such, he is is sitting on the fence between “serviceable” and “difference-making.”
Perhaps the dark horse and most intriguing of the bunch is Brock McGinn. I am on record as being impressed with his play in 2017-18 and underestimating him before the season started. McGinn’s 39-point pace is only that of decent depth scoring, but when one considers that he has thus far been limited in terms of ice time and is barely over 100 games played, is it possible that his step up thus far in 2017-18 is only the beginning? Or is he just reaching a solid but not top tier ceiling?
Rask burst onto the NHL scene ahead of schedule after a strong prospect camp and Traverse City tourney that carried right into preseason. When his scoring increased from 33 points in his rookie season to 48 points in his second season, Rask seemed to be on an upward trajectory. But in his third season in 2016-17, he lost his way and dipped from 48 points to 45 in addition to just not playing great hockey for most of the second half of the year. He also started slow in 2017-18 and ultimately found his way to the press box. But upon being reinserted into the lineup, Rask has been better. The decision-making and strong positional play that is the core of Rask’s game is a nice foundation for an NHL center, but the burning question is whether Rask can find a higher gear offensively and climb above the level of being a serviceable third-line forward who brings decent but not great depth scoring.
If the next leg up for the Hurricanes must be driven from within, I think these six players have the widest range of possible outcomes in terms of providing reasonable depth scoring versus taking a step or two higher and becoming a high-end scorer.
What say you Canes fans?
Which of these six players is ready to break through on a permanent basis? Which are destined to just continue to be inconsistent depth players?