First to be clear, the aim of this article is not to say that the Hurricanes are in perfect position now 52 games into the 2018-19 season. I would actually say that the team is a 4-6 points off the target since that is roughly how far it is out of a playoff spot. But the team is at least at the edge of the playoff hunt and trending upward, so I think it is fair to identify a few players who have most significantly impacted the positive of where the team is right now.
Where would the Carolina Hurricanes be without _____?
1) Sebastian Aho
The team’s depth scoring has been a bit better of late, but the team can still be challenged offensively. Without Aho driving a legitimate top scoring line, where would this team be right now? My fear is that without Aho to at least make one line go, the scoring valleys would be even deeper, and the team would have a significantly worse record.
2) Curtis McElhinney
The team entered the 2018-19 season with two question marks in goal which is a tough enough starting point by itself. But then when Scott Darling was injured, the team suddenly had a single rebound project to man the nets. Then the Hurricanes claimed Curtis McElhinney off of waivers. While the team was trying to get its feet under it with a new, rookie head coach and a number of new players, McElhinney reeled off three straight wins in early October to help the team launch successfully into the 2018-19 season. Then in November when the Scott Darling reclamation project was reinitiated, McElhinney posted a five-game point streak to keep the team treading water until Darling was jettisoned to the AHL. In total, McElhinney is five games above .500 at 11-6-1 which means that the Hurricanes are a game below .500 without McElhinney in net. That difference would have the Hurricanes more or less out of the playoff chase.
3) Justin Williams
Maybe not surprisingly, the transformation of the team’s mentality and culture has been gradual and is still a work in progress. And in the end, the proof is in the pudding which is measured by the standings. But in my opinion, I think Justin Williams as captain has been a success thus far. His approach of using media interviews to pitch to his team seems to be yielding results. And my hope is that his wisdom is wearing off on Sebastian Aho who I think is destined to become the next Hurricanes captain.
4) Lucas Wallmark
When Victor Rask was lost for the front part of the season, Lucas Wallmark was given a chance to play center at the NHL level. He capitalized on that opportunity and did a great job filling in in a depth role. By the time Rask returned, Wallmark had carved out a role as a solid two-way center actually similar to how Rask initially earned his NHL ticket. Wallmark’s emergence became even more significant when Rask mostly failed to launch after returning from injury. Then more recently, Jordan Staal exited the lineup with a concussion. Climbing another rung up the ladder, Wallmark was pushed up into Staal’s challenging duties against the other teams’ best. And for about a month now, Wallmark has been doing a one heck of a Jordan Staal impression eating up many of the hardest match up minutes and has been successful in that role. Without Wallmark’s emergence, might the team’s lack of NHL-capable center depth have doomed the season already? I think that is a fair question to ask.
What say you Canes fans?
1) How would you rank the five players in terms of how much worse the current season would look without them?
2) Are there any other players that you would add to this list?