After a solid win on Monday in Columbus that was one of the team’s soundest of the season even if not as spectacular as a few other wins, all seems right in the Caniac Nation again. The dip was overstated anyway with only three losses and two of those being decent or better efforts that netted an overtime loss point.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers an eclectic set of musings on the current state of the Canes.
The importance of buy in from young players
Getting young offensive players up to at least a competent level in terms of defense and attention to detail is critical to a team’s success. Jeff Skinner is the textbook example of a player who enters the NHL at a young age at an incredibly advanced level offensively but deficient defensively. Not all players like that are destined to round into near-Selke form defensively, but at the same time it is absolutely critical that players like that make steady progress defensively. If they do not, it is completely possible (and happens regularly) that high end scorers can still manage to be a negative in terms of winning hockey games.
In that regard, I think Brind’Amour’s single greatest strength as a coach is getting talented young players to buy in. Each of Sebastian Aho, Andei Svechnikov and Martin Necas entered the NHL with exactly the imbalance I mentioned above where they were NHL-ready offensively almost out of the chute but were nowhere close to that same level defensively. The early version of Aho had a tendency to float a bit in the defensive end more so covering a general area than marking a specific assignment. Version 1.0 of Svechnikov was prone to far too many obstruction type penalties using his stick when he failed to react and move his feet soon enough. He also had a tendency to make a high volume of ‘probably work’ passes in his own end and the neutral zone. Necas just looked to be in a bit over his head in terms of sorting things out behind the forecheck as a center at the NHL level.
But fast forward to today and all three players have made progress. Sebastian Aho has rounded into form as a competent two-way center who is not a risk or liability against other teams’ best scorers. Andrei Svechnikov, while not perfect, has cut down on his stick infractions and has made good strides in terms of managing the puck. And Martin Necas has learned that his skating ability is a defensive ability to backchecking and providing support for defensemen.
By no means is Svechnikov or Necas’ rounding out complete, but what stands out to me more than anything else is both players’ buy in and willingness to do the work. Both are smart hockey players with more than their fair share of skating ability and other skills. Combined with their willingness, both players are better than they were initially and figure to be even better down the road. That is a credit to them as players, but I also think a subtle but yet critical element of Rod Brind’Amour’s success as a coach who is excelling at the people management/relationship part of his job.
And when you have young superstars buying in already, it becomes that much easier to get future young players to fall in line without a struggle.
The rise of Martin Necas and the lineup options it creates
While admitting that there are other candidates, I think Marin Necas have said that Martin Necas has a reasonable claim to being the team’s best offensive forward in March. His unmistakable chemistry with Sebastian Aho has been something to watch. The two are clearly on the same page and their combination of speed and skill is problematic for defenses even 2-on-2 on the rush. In a season that has seen Vincent Trocheck launch as a Hurricane, Nino Niederreiter refind his power forward scoring gear and Jordan Staal find a significantly higher gear offensively, Necas is maybe most significant. Right now, the lineup is a little bit thin with Teuvo Teravainen out and Vincent Trocheck’s absence taking away a scoring line, but when at full strength Brind’Amour suddenly has a bunch more options. As much as Aho/Teravainen have chemistry, Aho/Necas right now seems more potent. Could that free up Teravainen to play with Trocheck? Once the team has two scoring lines again, could Brind’Amour move Niederreiter around a bit riding hot hands to maximize his scoring chances and production? If Aho/Necas are enough to drive high-end scoring on their own, how would a team also defend Teravainen/Trocheck/Svechnikov behind them?
The shorter version is that the healthy version of the Carolina Hurricanes is suddenly so much deeper than only a year ago. I count seven forwards (Aho, Necas, Niederreiter, Trocheck, Svechnikov, Teravainen, Staal) who are legitimate top 6 forwards offensively in 2020-21 (given Teravainen credit for past years’ work). With Fast, McGinn and Foegele bringing a different element and chipping in good depth scoring, the Hurricanes are suddenly much deeper. The Hurricanes have reached the point where the real proof comes int he playoffs when scoring is more difficult, but the situation looks promising.
The silver lining in Andrei Svechnikov’s (temporary) struggles
On a team where things are obviously going well at the top level (the standings), Andrei Svechnikov has hit a little bit of a rough patch at least in terms of scoring with only seven points in his last 15 games. After tracking at or above a point per game pace during the front part of the season, Svechnikov is now on pace for a more modest 61 points in an 82-game season. The difference between 80 points and 60 points could be significant for Svechnikov’s next contract to be inked this summer. Before signing his second contract for $8.5 million per year, Aho had collected 83 points. Svechnikov figured to be in line for a similar deal or possibly even more when he was flying high and seemingly bound for at least 80 points. If he instead finishes with an impressive but significantly more modest 60-65 points, could his next contract be within a range of $7 to $8 million? With the Hurricanes now a salary cap team, every dollar matters in terms of being able to keep the current group together and ideally still have a small amount of wiggle room available to add a depth player or two if needed.
So in that regard, the perfect storm might actually be a tamped down regular season by Svechnikov offensively with him finding a higher gear in the playoffs when it really matters.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Is it fair to say that at least early indications suggest that Aho’s chemistry with Necas might actually be greater than with Teravainen or Svechnikov?
2) With so much more higher-end scoring options all of a sudden, how would you build the forward lines if/when the team gets healthy and has everyone available?
3) To what do you credit the buy in of the Hurricanes’ young scoring forwards? How would you divvy up credit between the character of the players themselves, Brind’Amour’s coaching/people management and the scouting team getting character to go with talent?
4) Is Svechnikov due to find a higher gear scoring-wise any day now and claw back to a point per game pace, or might the Hurricanes luck out a bit in that his modest scoring increase tamps down the price of his next contract?