The 2015-16 headline Hurricanes stories of the 2015-16 season for the broader hockey world are Justin Faulk’s goal-scoring binge and Eric Staal’s contract situation. And for a small market team currently on the outside of the playoff chase, that seems to be all the news that the broader NHL community wants right now.
But past that, they are missing 2 great stories both tied to the Hurricanes future. The first is the rapid emergence of the Hurricanes young blue line that currently features 3 rookies. The second is Victor Rask. I have written in some detail about the young blue line, and today will highlight Victor Rask.
From everything that I read, Victor Rask yet to break onto the radar at a broader level, but Hurricanes fans who watch the team game-by-game are seeing it.
Built a solid defensive foundation in 2014-15
Rask burst onto the scene from a spot or 2 off the depth chart last training camp. When Jordan Staal broke his leg in a preseason game, Rask was forced prematurely up the depth chart despite having no NHL experience. He performed admirably when more or less parachuted into the NHL at 21 years old and with only 1 season of professional experience, all at the AHL level. What stood out right from the beginning was his ability to read situations correctly and play good positional hockey on both offense and defense and with and without the puck. That is the fancy way of saying that he was instantly qualified as a sound checking line center. He showed flashes of skill and offensive ability but put up a modest 11 goals and 22 assists in 80 games. When the 2014-15 season had ended, Victor Rask had proven capable of playing in the top 9 and built a strong defensive foundation.
The next step
Entering training camp for the 2015-16 season, Rask had already made an on-ice claim to already being a solid checking line center at a young age. But his 2014-15 offensive production left room to grow especially when considering his ice time, scoring-capable line mates and decent helping of power play minutes. He needed to do more offensively to be a difference-maker and more than a serviceable defensive center. There was reason for optimism in this regard. Rask was only 22 years old when the 2014-15 season ended and had taken an expedited path to a significant NHL role. He had scored at a decent clip at lower levels, especially juniors, but he needed to take the next step and transfer more of his scoring potential to the NHL level.
And that is exactly what he is doing. He is behind only blue scoring freak Justin Faulk in Hurricanes scoring rank right now. How many casual NHL hockey fans would guess that? He is also second only to Faulk in power play scoring with 10 power play points. He has 2 huge game-winning overtime goals to his credit has quietly grown to become the leading puck distributor for the Canes top power play unit. He has assisted on each of Justin Faulk’s last 5 power play goals. And he has quietly surged to a pace that puts him on pace for 60 points this season. Whereas the 2014-15 season marked the sudden arrival of Victor Rask as a sound defensive NHL center, 2015-16 is rapidly developing becoming an equally impressive season that sees his offense catch up with his defense.
Could there be more to come?
Victor Rask is still incredibly young at 22 years old. And only 110 games in his NHL career, he has room to grow. Even without any massive jumps, it is reasonable to expect that Victor Rask will be at least a slightly better player in 2-3 years than he is now. But I think the biggest potential upside to his game is in his skating. It is not that he is a bad skater. Partly because of how well he reads plays, he is capable of playing and playing well at an NHL pace. So if he never gains anything speed/quickness-wise, Rask can still be a good NHL player (already is). But if he could add a little bit of straight line speed and more significantly explosiveness/quickness, I think Rask could find yet another gear. How much fun would that be?
But while dreaming about even bigger possibilities for Victor Rask, I think it is important to appreciate and enjoy where he is right now. Rask has quickly become a solid 2-way NHL center at the age of 22 who is putting up scoring totals easily in the range of a second line center.