For those catching up on Canes reading heading into the weekend…

Part 1 looked at the roster transition from 2015-16 to the opening day roster for 2016-17.

Part 2 identified 5 keys for the Hurricanes to improve upon the 2015-16 season.

Part 3 of my 2016-17 Carolina Hurricanes season preview goes player by player and identifies role and goals for each player.


The core foundation

With a young roster and so many players still trying to play their way up to their full potential, there are likely to be setbacks, lulls and maybe even failures with some of the young players. That makes it even more important for Coach Bill Peters to have a few veterans who are steady and solid on a nightly basis and can eat up minutes when he needs to down shift a bit on the youth. If the key veterans lack consistency, I think it will certainly drip into the overall play of the team and make it really hard to play the consistent brand of hockey necessary to avoid droughts and consistently collect points.

Jordan Staal

He needs to do exactly what he did from early December through late February which is to lead a #1/#2 line that can log 20 minutes per night, take as many of the tough match ups as Peters can get them into (easier at home) and at least break even on the night. He was the Hurricanes best player when they were winning in 2015-16, and he needs to be that again in 2016-17. I actually do not get too bogged down with Staal’s scoring totals, but it is impossible to break even playing against great scoring lines by 100% shutting them down. There does need to be an element of attacking them back. In 37 games from December 5 through February 25 (which is when Nordstrom/Staal/Nestrasil was put together through when Nestrasil was injured), Jordan Staal had 11 goals and 30 points in 37 games for an 82-game pace of 24 goals and 66 points. Something like 20/60 would be fine if it importantly includes driving possession and shutting down the opponent to the tune of a positive goal differential.

Justin Faulk

Just like Jordan Staal is the young gray beard at forward, so too is 24-year old Justin Faulk on the blue line. Faulk’s scoring surge on the power play in the first half of the 2015-16 season was nothing short of sensational. He was easily the Hurricanes best player or the first couple months of the season and did all he could to keep the ship from sinking despite taking in plenty of water in October and November. But along the way to becoming a scoring sensation, the defensive side of Faulk’s game was just okay. He was not horrible, but too often he was on the screen or part of the action when the other team scored. He at times looked like a player who was a competent first pairing defenseman but not yet a great one. If I take the high points of different areas of Justin Faulk’s game he is an elite defender. The key is for him to put it all together at the same time. That makes him an elite defenseman on any given night. The other key ingredient is to be able to play through the lesser stretches of hockey, avoid short stretches of very bad and at least offer steady and generally sound even as a low point. With so many young players who will likely have some ups and downs, it is critical that Faulk put it all together and be an every game steady anchor and minute eater on the Hurricanes blue line. Something in the neighborhood of 50 points would help the Hurricanes boost scoring, but more important is every game steadiness.

Cam Ward

At least a couple years have now passed since Cam Ward strung together a solid season from end to end. And at this stage of his career at 32 years old, I do not think it is reasonable to expect him to be an elite goalie. But for the Hurricanes to match and ideally improve upon the 86 points that they earned in 2015-16, the team will need to receive at least league average goaltending from some combination of Cam Ward and Eddie Lack. Ward was up to that challenge and maybe even slightly above it during the Canes run from December through February, and it made a huge difference. The key is that with a young roster and little margin for error trying to push up in the standings, the Hurricanes need for goaltending to be good if not great on a consistent basis for the entirety of the season. Eddie Lack could play a role in this equation too but as the incumbent starter and the better of the 2 in 2015-16, Ward will get the starting nod to start the season during the all-important effort to get off to a better start. The key for Ward is not so much a specific save percentage of goals against average. Rather, he needs to avoid bad goals and bad efforts that directly cost the team points in the standings and be steady and sound enough to give his team a chance to win games or at least collect overtime loss points on a nightly basis. With roster and scoring depth still a work in process and so many young players in the lineup, I do not see an equation in which the Hurricanes compete for a playoff spot without receiving at least average NHL goaltending. That challenge goes to Cam Ward.

Ron Hainsey

At 35 years old, Ron Hainsey’s role is gradually decreasing as the young guns rise up. At least to start the season, Hainsey will cede his first pairing role next to Justin Faulk to young Jaccob Slavin. But Hainsey is still a critical part of the effort to both go with youth, upside and the ability to skate and attack on the blue but still be sound and steady. Especially if he keeps his season starting slot next to Brett Pesce in the top 4, Hainsey has a quiet but significant role just clicking off shifts with sound play and staying out of trouble. The pairing of John-Michael Liles and Brett Pesce was by no means the star of the 2015-16 mid-season success, but their ability to eat up shifts and minimize high-quality chances against was a key foundation to the Hurricanes staying in more games and collecting 2 or at least 1 point in many of them. Critical for Hainsey is to be a bit of a chameleon and adjust his game a little bit based on who he is playing with. Playing with Pesce, it is critical that he play the same heady 2-man puck moving/support role that Liles did. If Hainsey later finds himself with Murphy or Hanifin, being a stay-home backstop when they gallop up the ice will be more important. He will also play a role on a penalty kill that has been among the league’s best the past couple seasons. Hainsey does not need to be spectacular. Rather, he needs to be steady and sound as a foundational piece of the blue line.


The role players

Across a roster of 20-23 players not all are expected to be the drivers of success. But in a sport where 19 of 20 players have a role in every game, it is important for the depth/role players to make a contribution in some way. Especially for a team like the Hurricanes who are still working to build their depth at the forward position, having a few role players step into higher slots and outperform their natural slot via some combination of chemistry or fit with line mates or even just hot streaks plays a key role in winning. The Hurricanes have a few players who are arguably playing above their natural NHL slot for the Hurricanes and are in very important roles that will decide hockey games.

Andrej Nestrasil

Andrej Nestrasil along with Jordan Staal and Joakim Nordstrom was part of the greatest 1+1+1=7 chemistry story for the Hurricanes in 2015-16. Bookended by 2 depth players who figured to compete for bottom half of the roster ice time, Jordan Staal found a rhythm and a consistent, repeatable formula for success once he started playing with Nestrasil and Nordstrom. The line was easily the team’s best in the best part of the season. One might figure the solid play would be measured in a scoring surge. Jordan Staal did see a production uptick, partly from his strong play on the power play, but Nestrasil’s modest 23 points in 54 games (with slightly higher production rate for time on Staal’s line) was not the best way to measure Nestrasil’s role. The line’s combination of defensive zone acumen, speed carrying the puck through the neutral zone from Nordstrom and Staal and a strong cycling and puck possession game in the offensive zone from all 3 fueled the Hurricanes possession game and the wins that came from it. If Nestrasil stays on Jordan Staal’s line, a scoring boost would obviously be a positive but priority 1 is getting that line back to where it was at center of the Hurricanes success in 2015-16.

Joakim Nordstrom

His story reads a bit like Andrej Nestrasil’s. Joakim Nordstrom started the 2015-16 season injured and then shuffled in and out of the lineup and across different lines early in the season when nothing else seemed to work either. He then fit perfectly with Jordan Staal and the rest of that history is chronicled above. Nordstrom did see a slightly greater uptick in scoring than Nestrasil. His 8 goals and 9 assists in 37 games projects to 18 goals and 37 points which is obviously not high-end scoring but is borderline enough for a player who also helps suppress scoring against. More significant than his scoring total was his subtle but important contribution to the line’s puck possession in his role providing puck support through the neutral zone and retrieving it when dumped. Nordstrom’s speed made it possible for Jordan Staal to zip through the neutral zone 2-wide which prevented the defense from converging on him. In addition, in the situation where the defense did double up on Staal puck possession was often as easy as then throwing the puck into the offensive zone to a place where Nordstrom could win the race and retrieve it. For a team that needs to boost scoring, one would hope for a little bit more from Nordstrom on score sheet if he continues to receive significant ice time on a second line with Jordan Staal, but the fact that he gets virtually nothing for power play ice time makes his 40ish-point pace from the middle of 2015-16 acceptable. As a 2-way player who can skate, Nordstrom would have a similar role defending and winning pucks if at some point he falls to a lower line.

Bryan Bickell

When he was obtained as part of the trade with the primary goal of adding a good young player in Teuvo Teravainen, the possibility existed that Bickell was simply a financial write off as part of the Tervainen acquisition cost. Making any final judgement on Bickell (or any player for that matter) before the season even starts is obviously premature, but early indications are that Bickell could be a factor at the NHL level. For a team that leans small and has long lacked a consistent net front presence for the power play, Bickell has a unique skill set that could boost the team even if his minutes are limited. If he can play a physical body-banging style of old school fourth line hockey and chip in at least average fourth line depth scoring, he will be outperforming the low end of what might have been expected from him over the summer. If he finds his way onto the second power play unit and fills an important role creating chaos in/around the goalie crease, he could become a big positive even if in a smaller role.

Viktor Stalberg

When the Hurricanes decided to keep Jay McClement, part ways with potential wing or center Riley Nash and add only wings for depth players, Ron Francis made a bet on Jay McClement being a better C4 in 2015-16 and that a good fourth line could be built around McClement. More or less, Francis bet that the problem was not so much McClement as the other players who cycled through the wing positions on the fourth line. All of those players are gone, and Viktor Stalberg is the most direct replacement. I am on record as preferring to go new school NHL with more of a skating, skill and scoring fourth line, but in the current scenario that sees the team build around Jay McClement, Stalberg has a critical role. Stalberg needs to do only 2 things to be a valuable role player. First, he must prove to be part of an equation to solidify a fourth line that was bad in 2015-16. Second, he must step into a penalty killing role and help the team maintain that as a strength. If Stalberg does only those 2 things, he will be a success in a limited role.

Jay McClement

As noted in the comments about Bickell and Stalberg, the Hurricanes fourth line struggled in 2015-16. The wing position on that line was a revolving door, but the once constant was Jay McClement as the center. I am one of many who thinks that the Hurricanes can build a better roster with Jay McClement pushed down to the #13 slot and out of the lineup. Bill Peters watched the same hockey the rest of us did last season, and at least to start the season has McClement still centering a fourth line. I think the rationale is to recognize the lack of true top-end ready NHL depth and try to build something safe and sound from the fourth line in addition to netting 2 of the needed 4 upfront penalty killers. Theoretically, this is what McClement does well as a defense-first fourth-liner, experienced penalty killer and strong face-off man. A good 2016-17 season for McClement would simply be leading a fourth line that is stable and not a negative and playing a key role on a good penalty kill unit. If he does that, it solidifies a fourth line that was a negative in 2015-16 and pushing the decision on wins/losses up to the top half of the lineup which is where you want it to be.

Jakub Nakladal

With summer signee Matt Tennyson not working out in preseason, and Ron Francis making the prudent decision that Roland McKeown was not quite ready, Francis reached to the leftover list from free agency and also the waiver wire to gain blue line depth. It is unclear who is #6 and who is #7 (and it might change over time) between Dahlbeck and Jakub Nakladal, but there role is similar. Whichever of them is in the lineup will at least start the season next to Noah Hanifin. In that role, the key is to provide support defensively and be a bit of a stay-home type when Hanifin pushes up the ice. More so than any statistical goals, the key for the #6 is to quickly build chemistry with Hanifin and help him continue to grow his game. The job description for #7 is the challenging task of being ready to play at all times despite sometimes seeing minimal actual game action. Best guess is that Nakladal who is a right shot wins the #6 slot and Dahlbeck slips to #7, but that is subject to be determined over the course of the next few weeks likely with both receiving a chance to show what they can do in the lineup.

Klas Dahlbeck

See write up above on Nakladal. It is just a matter of who wins the #6 slot and who falls to #7.


Next up in part 3B either Friday night or otherwise Saturday, I will profile the other half of the Hurricanes roster player by player.


Go Canes!

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