The Hurricanes are at an interesting juncture in the team’s development having reached a certain level of success as a team now expected to make the playoffs and even win a round or two. That means that the team has made significant progress after being a draft lottery entry for a full decade, but it also means that it is more difficult to make significant improvements. The team now has a good number of legitimate top half of the roster players and also much better depth than in years past. In addition, the team is up against the salary cap like most other top teams. The challenge then is figuring out how to improve to take next steps without budget to just go buy higher-end players.
Beating the same drum I have beaten since last off-season, the most significant gains still to be had can and probably need to mostly come from the team’s young stars taking a next step, especially in the playoffs. But there is also an element of becoming deeper and more difficult to match up against and play against at the bottom of the roster. The headlines go to the stars, but Tampa Bay’s transition from good enough to win it all to winning it all (twice) came when largely as a result of revamping the bottom portion of its roster with veterans who were difficult to play against making them a much deeper team.
For the Hurricanes, I see two significantly different paths to trying to make upgrades and take that next step.
The first is to similarly find the right mix of veterans. Trying to go in that direction, the Hurricanes parted ways with a couple young middle/bottom of the half regulars in Brock McGinn and Warren Foegele and added a veteran fourth-line center in Derek Stepan and also Josh Leivo and Stefan Noesen who could compete for ice time. Stepan could quietly prove to be more significant than maybe first thought finally putting a regular into the fourth line center slot to build around. That slot has been a revolving door for a few years now with Morgan Geekie and Steven Lorentz doing stints, Jordan Martinook playing there when there was no one else available and others also taking shots. The bigger dice roll that the Hurricanes took this off-season was signing Jesperi Kotkaniemi for a price arguably double what he was probably worth salary-wise based on his 2020-21 season. That has the potential to make the top half of the roster deeper. But looking at the bottom half, it is hard to see how adding Derek Stepan and depth NHLers in Josh Leivo and Stefan Noesen to replace Brock McGinn, Warren Foegele and Morgan Geekie significantly moves the needle.
But maybe is better. The next wave of Canes forward prospects is just starting to ripen. Is it possible that the team adds a couple third line forwards in the form of young players with ceilings potentially higher than that. Jack Drury and Jamieson Rees received a ton of ice time in all situations in the first two preseason games. Ryan Suzuki is also a player who could be getting closer. My early read on Seth Jarvis is that he is still a little ways off even he does stay for a short audition before returning to juniors. Drury and Rees are both interesting in that they have a bit of that all-around/could be difficult to play against element to their game. Could one of both of them slot into a complementary slot like McGinn and Foegele did but find a higher gear offensively? With limited budget to add help without trading away salary to do so, help at least in terms of reinforcements might have to come from this route.
With a healthy roster, there is not much room for any of these players, but I would be watching the rest of training camp and preseason for two things. First is injuries that make room. Second is any of these players being auditioned in what look to be NHL slots. So far all of Drury, Rees and Suzuki have played on what one could term AHL lines. For Drury or Suzuki, seeing one of them move to a wing slot on a line centered by one of the four NHL centers would be a sign that Brind’Amour is at least considering what could be possible. For Rees too, ice time on an NHL-centered line would be a big chance for him to make Brind’Amour think different than going vanilla with the NHL veterans.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you see any of the young guns making a case for and earning an NHL roster slot maybe ahead of schedule?
2) Do you think that the Hurricanes can somehow take a next step with third line type depth with the current veterans or possibly outside additions, or do you agree that this next step might need to come from within?