To push up into the playoff chase either this year or next, the Hurricanes will need to be better than what they have been in recent years and what they have been through nearly half of the 2018-19 season.
Part of that will likely need to come in the form of adding a player or two to bolster the offense. But part of that will also need to come from the current players becoming better.
Right now, the Hurricanes have a number of young players who are capable at the NHL level but with ceilings that are much higher if they can continue to develop despite being established at the NHL level.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe picks out a couple young leaders for the next generation of Canes hockey and identifies next steps in their development.
Aho posted 65 points during the 2017-18 season. Right now, he is on pace for 84 points during the 2018-19 season. If he hits that level and simply maintains it, he will be a legitimate first line center and a huge plus in terms of building a winning hockey team. To be clear, that would be enough. But at the same time, there is one more level with two components possible for Aho’s development as a 21-year old still with upside. First, the truly elite NHL scorers right now push up to a 100-point pace. The gap is not huge, but there is a bit more for Aho to reach that level. And related, ideal would be if he could translate his offensive ability into being a power play catalyst. It is no secret that the Canes power play has struggled through most of this season. Aho’s ten points on the power play lead the team, but I still think there is another level for him to do more as a puck distributor who generates more scoring chances for his unit. Again, the current version of Sebastian Aho is more than good enough, but if he can take one more step up offensively, he puts him self in the top group of offensive players in the entire league.
After some ups and downs with the forced pairing with Dougie Hamilton, Slavin seems to be settling back into his normal role alongside Brett Pesce. I go back and forth on whether his ice time is best used on the penalty kill, but when he is playing well, he is top-tier defensively at even strength. But his offensive game has not developed to the same level yet. Even with a regular helping of power play ice time, Slavin has only 13 points with only three of those coming on the power play. In a league where top defensemen are almost always great offensively in addition to being sound defensively, Slavin still has room to grow in this regard. This season, he has shown a newfound knack for getting his head up early and finding/making stretch passes out of the defensive zone. That is one significant step forward offensively. He has also shown a greater knack for finding and exploiting seams and carrying the puck from end to end. Power play aside, I think the next possible level for Slavin offensively is if he can learn to convert his gallops up the ice and the back-peddling defense in front of him into more scoring chances. Elite offensive defensemen like Erik Karlsson have speed which exploits openings, but the other subtle but critical ability is understanding how to generate passing lanes and scoring chances off the rush. The next step is not just gaining the offensive blue line but rather doing so and then immediately converting that into an offensive chance while the defense is still retreating. Slavin has the skating ability to do so and has also demonstrated a growing ability to assess the entire rink past simple first-level passes. If he can meld the two of those, the volume of chances he will create off the rush will grow significantly, and his point total could go from 25-30 to potentially double that.
As the nearly consensus top forward in the 2018 NHL Draft, Andrei Svechnikov was labeled as a can’t miss. Most figured it was just a matter of time until he was a 30 goal scorer at the NHL level. Out of the gate as an 18-year old in his rookie season in the NHL, Svechnikov offered glimpses of what made him the #2 overall pick in the draft, but he did not hit the ground sprinting. But more recently Svechnikov has stuck a few sniper-variety goals into the back of the net. And he continues to also go to the front of the net which is obviously a great place to score goals. The question is how quickly Svechnikov can put things together. To be a true difference-maker, he will need to push up above his current 40-45-point pace and push up to a higher pace scoring-wise. As noted above, his receive/shoot scoring seems to be advancing suddenly. More a work in progress are his ability to finish around the net and his ability to come up with a couple moves that consistently beat NHL goalies off the rush. As we near the midway point of the 2018-19 season, I will be watching for next steps in these other scoring areas for Svechnikov to see if he can very quickly adapt and play his way up into the top tier of NHL goal scorers.
I chose these three players intentionally because I think they have the greatest potential to play up to a higher level personally and boost the entire team in doing so.
What say you Canes fans?
1) If you were to add 1-2 more players to a short list of young players with significant upside that could help push the Canes up into the playoffs, who would they be and what do you see as their ‘next steps’?
2) Of Aho, Slavin and Svechnikov, which player do you think will realize the next step up offensively first?