Hello, Canes fans. Most of you probably remember me from my week in review pieces. Matt and I decided to transfer me from those to some more in-depth type of feature pieces. This will be the first of those, and an interesting one: I’m going to project the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes opening night roster. There will be some familiar faces, players in the system, and perhaps an external add or two. I’ll note, I’m by no means a capologist, so re-signing players and such I’m not going to speculate salaries. This is my attempt to put together the best team. I’ll also say that by 2019-20 I think the Canes will have a new local owner and not be bound by quite so many budgetary constraints. All that being said, let’s get started.
First line: Jeff Skinner-Matt Duchene-Julien Gauthier
Skinner, who is the Canes’ current best natural goal scorer and left winger will truly be entering the prime of his career entering his age-27 season here. He figures to continue to get big, first-line minutes with the role of filling the nets for the Canes. He will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-19 season, but the Canes would likely try to resign such a strong homegrown player. On the right side, you’ve got the Canes’ second first-round pick in 2016, Julien Gauthier. Gauthier (profiled in ‘Back to School’ article on September 22) has impressed in Canes camps and in the World Junior tournament this year as a big, goal-scoring power forward, a big need for the Canes. He should challenge for a roster spot next season, and really be starting to come into his own at age 22 entering 2019-20. Even if he does make the team next season, Gauthier would be entering the final year of his entry-level contract in 2019-20, looking to secure a big payday in a contract year.
Who’s that in the middle, you say? Yes, I’m projecting the Canes will get the big fish that’s been all over this season’s trade rumors , and one they’ve been speculated to be interested in. (Matt wrote a series of articles coveting Duchene back in early January.) He will even stick around past the two seasons remaining on his current contract. As a skilled, top-six level center, Duchene is an obvious fit for the Canes, and this would be a tremendous top line for the team. You have a natural sniper in Skinner, a skilled center to get him the puck in Duchene, and a big, mobile power forward to crash the net and create space for his skilled linemates on the forecheck. Now, who did the Canes give up for Duchene? You’ll find out when we get to the defensemen.
Second line: Sebastian Aho-Jordan Staal-Elias Lindholm
Keeping the Canes’ current top line together long term should be relatively simple. Staal is signed through 2022-23, and Lindholm and Aho both have RFA status coming up before this season, making it easier to keep them through team control. This line is so effective because of Staal’s ability as a powerful two-way center, Aho being such a dynamic scoring talent even at the age of 19, and Lindholm also being a strong two-way player. Aho and Lindholm will both be 25 0r younger, so not even coming into their primes yet. Staal too should have plenty of good hockey left ahead of him at 31. At the moment, keeping the Canes’ big line together for the long haul is a no-brainer.
Third line: Janne Kuokkanen-Victor Rask-Teuvo Teravainen
This line features two current Canes in Rask and Teravainen. Rask is signed through 2021-22 and, while in a bit of a slump right now, is an important piece for the Canes. He’s a big two-way forward and solid secondary scorer for the Canes with the potential to be more. Teravainen is an RFA after this season, and the Canes shouldn’t have much issue locking him up. He is a very skilled player who has potential to add more production with first-round pedigree, and keeping him around long term would be very beneficial.
Kuokkanen (recent ‘Midterm’ check in HERE)is a talented offensive prospect who was drafted in the second round last year. He will look to follow in the footsteps of fellow Finn Aho and add a further spark to the Canes’ lineup. If this is the team’s third line in 2019-20, the Canes will be in very good shape.
Fourth line: Brock McGinn-Nicolas Roy-Lucas Wallmark
This line only features one current Hurricane. McGinn has played a higher role in this year’s lineup, and has a nice skill set as a gritty winger with some offensive skill, and a good penalty killer. With some more depth added up front in the form of Duchene, Gauthier, and Kuokkanen, he becomes an excellent fourth liner for the team.
Roy (profiled in ‘Back to School article on October 6) is a big-bodied center drafted in the fourth round of 2015. After sliding down the draft board, he bounced back nicely last season, leading the QMJHL in goals. As a powerful, big center, he would be an excellent fit anchoring the Canes’ fourth line. A fourth round pick in Francis’ first draft in 2014, Wallmark (1 of the 3 stars in Jordan Futrell’s Checkers update last week) is a solid two-way player as well. He impressed me in camp this year, and I even thought he might merit a look in a fourth-line role. Playing his first season in Charlotte this year, he should be well-ready to earn a spot by 2019. This would make for a very strong Hurricanes fourth line and round out a very deep forward group.
Jaccob Slavin-Brett Pesce
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. These two strong, skating defensemen have been excellent as the Canes’ first pairing this season. They have shut down the opposition’s top players on the regular in their sophomore season, and play big minutes in all situations. Both are RFAs following 2017-18, but locking down the top pairing should be priority number one for Francis and the Canes.
Noah Hanifin-Roland McKeown
Hanifin, the Canes’ 2015 fifth overall pick has, admittedly struggled a bit this season, but still has plenty of time to grow and develop, as he is only 20. Defensemen can take a long time, and we should see Hanifin’s skating, the strongest asset of his game, allow him to develop into a very good to great top-four defenseman by 2019.
McKeown, acquired in the Andrej Sekera trade with the Kings, has shown promise as a solid two-way defenseman. He looked good in camp this year, and actually made the team when Ryan Murphy was injured in camp, but did not play a game. McKeown is playing his first pro season in Charlotte this year, and should be more than ready for big league top-four minutes by 2019.
Haydn Fleury-Jake Bean
Fleury, Francis’ first draft pick as general manager at number seven in 2017 has been billed as a strong, skating defenseman who leans more of a shutdown role. Fleury turned pro this year, and looked like a man among boys at the Canes’ development camp last summer. As with McKeown, he should have had plenty of time to grow and develop into a big-league player by 2019.
Bean, the Canes’ first round pick in 2016 (recent ‘Midterm’ check in HERE) that saw Francis continue to load up on a strength is a dynamic offensive player, and the book on him was that he needed to add size and grow defensively. He should have plenty of time to do that over the next two years, and at least be ready to play third-pairing minutes while helping out the Canes’ power play.
Since taking over as general manager, Ron Francis has stockpiled good young defensemen, making it a priority. By 2019-20, the fruits of that labor will be paid off, as the Canes will have perhaps the best d corps in the NHL. This will be despite parting ways with a current leader on the blue line. Yes, you have probably by now noticed the absence of one Justin Faulk. That’s the move: Faulk for Duchene. Francis will realize you have to give talent to get it, and you don’t get a player like Duchene without giving up something that hurts. He will take an opportunity to leverage the team’s strength on d to add a great piece up front. His Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen, or Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall. Losing Faulk will hurt, no doubt, but with Carolina’s depth on d, it would be worth it to add a player like Duchene.
Arguably the biggest question mark here, the Canes have a number of options here with both Cam Ward and Eddie Lack’s contracts up after next season. 2014 second-rounder Alex Nedeljkovic is the front runner here. He turned pro this season, and while his season in Charlotte has been a bit disappointing, he has another two years to develop before this target date. Or perhaps one of 2015/2016 picks Callum Booth, Jack LaFontaine or Jeremy Helvig will fast track to the big leagues. If not, the Canes may need to look to external options to fill what has been an achilles heel for the team in recent years.
Since taking over the general manager job for the Carolina Hurricanes, Ron Francis has stockpiled draft picks and young talent to build for the future. By the time we get to year six of his regime, the end goal of that long-term plan should be realized, with the Canes possessing a deep, talented lineup built to be competitive for the long haul.