This week, I hope to post more in-depth evaluations of various aspects of the Carolina Hurricanes 2015-16 season now just past one-fourth complete. This post focuses only on positives and takes a quick ad hoc look at individual player results so far.
Justin Faulk’s scoring. When he took a big jump up to 49 points last season, I would have guessed that he was starting to push up against a personal scoring ceiling. Nonsense. Through 23 games, he is on target for 24 goals (versus 15 in his breakout 2014-15 campaign) and 64 points (versus 49 last season). That is an incredibly impressive pace.
Victor Rask’s offensive jump. He was the break out rookie of the 2014-15 campaign parachuting straight in the NHL and stepping into a higher slot when Jordan Staal was lost long-term to injury. He performed admirably and was especially strong without the puck. But his scoring was modest for his minutes, decent power play helping and line mates at 33 points in 80 games. Right now, he is on pace for a nice jump to 50 points with a goal-heavy 50/50 split between goals and assists. This is very solid output for a third line center and puts him in range of what you would hope for from a second line center.
Brett Pesce’s solid defensive play. Of the youth, I think he has been the story of season at this early checkpoint. Jumping straight up to the NHL early in this season was ahead of schedule. Stepping into the top 4 was an enormous challenge. Doing it successfully and looking like belongs there is astounding really.
Eric Staal’s stats-light but impressive start. To a casual observer, Eric Staal’s 2015-16 campaign has not been that impressive thus far. His 50-point pace is actually below the 54 points that he scored last season in 77 games. But he has been a difference-maker in terms of driving possession in the offensive zone and also leads the team in figuring in goals because of a screen that does not get on the score sheet.
Kris Versteeg’s playmaking. I predicted before the season that Versteeg would beat his career high of 31 assists. Right now, he is on pace for 43 assists and 50 points. The 43 assists would in fact be a career high, and the 50 points is in range of his career high of 54. All in all, he has been a solid addition offensively.
Noah Hanifin’s readiness to grow at the NHL level. Stepping into the NHL as an 18-year old is a big challenge. Stepping into the NHL as an 18-year old defenseman is even harder. Noah Hanifin has managed to start his development at the NHL level without being in over his head in terms of level of competition.
John-Michael Liles steady play as a top 4 defenseman. Liles does not bring as much in terms of generating offense and pace as he did in his prime, but he is quietly having a solid season as a sound top 4 defenseman. Through a transition from Wisniewski to Jordan to Pesce, he has played solid hockey. He is helping the Canes young defensemen right now (played a significant role in Pesce’s quick settling in) and might also be on a path to provide future help. He is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and his stock should be rising as a veteran #5ish defenseman for a playoff contender come late February if the Hurricanes are out of the hunt.