As noted in previous articles leading up to the start of the 2020-21 season which is now only two days away for the Hurricanes, the upside for the Hurricanes rests not with off-season additions but rather with young players continue to reach higher levels.
In that vein, today’s Daily Cup of Joe asks what the ceiling might be for some of the Canes rising stars.
When the 2019-20 season was cut short, Sebastian Aho was only two goals away from reaching 40 with 14 games remaining, and he was on pace for his second point per game season by the age of 22. The most significant number might be that last one — Aho is still only 23 years old and could still have upside. The next step for him would be to truly join the elite players like McDavid, MacKinnon, Draisaitl and maybe a couple others who are the most dominant players in the NHL. That next level is roughly a 100-point pace over 82 games. The difference between where Aho is now and that level is pretty small and could just come down to a faster start. Aho has traditionally started slow and tallied only six points in the 12 games played in October in 2019-20. A full season of Svechnikov on his wing could also help though that seems unlikely to happen.
This might sound crazy, but I actually think Svechnikov’s ceiling is slightly higher than Aho’s. Whatever small amount he gives up in playmaking, he makes up for by having a couple extra options for finishing as a power forward and pure sniper. Despite starting in the NHL a year earlier than Aho age-wise, Svechnikov is tracking similar to Aho in terms of scoring. That trajectory would suggest a point per game pace for Svechnikov in his third NHL season, but I think his ceiling is similar in the rarified air of 100 points in a full 82-game season. How close Svechnikov gets to that in 2020-21 could largely depend on his utilization. He started the 2019-20 season as an offensive booster for Staal’s line. Svechnikov showed the breadth of his skill set being more of a playmaker/puck distributor on that line but it did tamp down his scoring a bit. If he spends significant time trying to be a catalyst for a second scoring line, his role might actually be more important, but his production would be slightly less than playing full-time with Aho and Teravainen. If he does stick with Trocheck, the watch point will be more so if/how much he can make the other players on his line better and more productive and less on a ceiling points total for 2020-21.
Teravainen finished 14th in the entire NHL in assists for the 2019-20 season, and that was spending most of the season without another wing on his line who was clicking. Just adding Svechnikov to the first line full time could be enough to boost Teravainen into the top five for assists in the entire NHL. Couple that wish solid two-way play and sometimes underutilized shot, and Teravainen is on the verge of being considered among the league’s elite. I think it just takes either a great or even just couple hot finishers on the opposite side of Aho.
With 20 goals in only 64 games as a rookie, Necas is the third of three budding stars, and only one season into his NHL career, he has the most room to grow. His ceiling is maybe a little more uncertain at this earlier stage of his development, but it would not surprise if before the 2021-22 season he looks like another player with scoring potential north of a point per game. I really think the cutover for Necas will be when he becomes just a bit more comfortable playing with the puck on his stick for longer stretches and working his way back to the playmaking pedigree he had when drafted. Couple that with the fact that he has already shown decent finishing ability, and his ceiling starts to look not that much different than Aho or Svechnikov. I am on record as believing that reaching his full potential could require a move back to center for Necas, but in only his second season at the NHL level, solid step-wise progress still at wing would be a positive.
Hamilton’s goal scoring pace for the 2019-20 season would have been tops in the NHL had he stayed healthy and maintained it. Can Hamilton repeat that performance? If so, he could be among the defenseman leaders for both goals and points while also playing tough minutes against the opponents’ best forwards. That level of play puts his ceiling in Norris Trophy range.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Is Sebastian Aho capable of taking one more step to reach the top tier in NHL scoring at a 100ish-point pace (for 82 games)?
2) What do you see for Andrei Svechnikov in 2020-21? Does he continue to make step-wise progress, or is he capable of quickly closing the gap on Aho for the team’s top scorer?
3) Can Dougie Hamilton match his torrid scoring pace from 2019-20, or is it more reasonable to expect a modest slowdown scoring-wise?
4) Do you see Martin Necas as following the trajectory as Aho and Svechnikov? Or is it more reasonable to project him a (still impressive) notch below them even when he catches up?