Let me start by saying that as we sit right now I am cautiously optimistic about the 2018-19 season. Through 29 games, the team is roughly where it started the season which is at the playoff cut line with a number of other teams and needing at least one burst of really good hockey to push above that line. Further, it is possible to make it to the playoffs and further with balance and not a ton of elite talent.
The winning formula
But all of that said, the most common formula for regular success in the NHL is to have a core of elite players. The good version of the Blackhawks a few years back had exactly that in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith. The Penguins have long lived and died by the ability of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to lead two great lines and put the team on their backs when necessary. The Washington Capitals have Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. The rising leaders of the current NHL are no different. Toronto is led by a collection of young guns in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and newly-added John Tavares. Tampa Bay features Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman. The Winnipeg Jets have Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele. And the Calgary Flames have Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk.
The commonalities are twofold. First, these teams have two or more top-end offensive players capable of driving scoring lines. Second, these teams have been able to add such players largely through the draft.
The Hurricanes inability to match up
In terms of reaching this level, the Hurricanes fall short in both regards.
As far as top-end offensive players, I would count only Sebastian Aho as being in this category. Jordan Staal who would have a case for being the team’s second best forward is a good and valuable player, but he just is not a pure scorer or offensive catalyst. And though the upside might be there, I would not consider any of Teuvo Teravainen, Micheal Ferland or the promising batch of young players to be in this category yet. As such, the Hurricanes are light on top-end scoring talent.
The previous hope 2013-15
In addition or I guess possibly related, I think one could argue that where the Hurricanes ultimately come up short is converting top draft picks into true top-end difference-makers. The team has had good success with middle round picks in the past 5-6 years converting Sebastian Aho (2nd round), Jaccob Slavin (4th round) and Brett Pesce (3rd round) into top half of the roster players. But the team has been unable in recent years to convert first round draft picks into catalysts for winning like the teams on my list above. The team did land Jeff Skinner with the #7 overall pick in 2010, but since then the team has been unable to find much for difference-makers in the first round. In 2011, the team took Ryan Murphy who never worked out and now seems to have a somewhat verified ceiling of a fringe NHLer. In 2012, the Hurricanes did not have a first round pick. The the next generation of hopefuls included Elias Lindholm at #5 in a deep draft in 2013, Haydn Fleury at #7 in 2014 and Noah Hanifin at #5 in another deep draft in 2015. As things stand now, the trio became only trade bait and a single depth defenseman.
Cross referencing those three draft years with the list of rising teams above is interesting. Toronto landed Mitch Marner one slot before Hanifin, William Nylander one slot after Haydn Fleury and Auston Matthews in the 2016 draft that saw the Hurricanes net Jake Bean and Julien Gauthier who are still developing in the NHL. Calgary selected Sean Monahan after Elias Lindholm and also landed Matthew Tkachuk in the 2016 NHL Draft. Winnipeg netted Patrik Laine with the #2 overall pick in the 2016 draft. Mark Scheifele is a bit earlier but was a Jets first-rounder in 2011. The story is much the same for the Penguins, Lightning, Capitals and Blackhawks who used a handful of early draft picks to find elite players who became the foundations of their success.
The next try
With 2013 and 2015 first-rounds Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin already out of the organization, the team turns to the next generation. Jake Bean and Julien Gauthier are now in their fourth season after the draft. The schedule has not been speedy, but both players still have the potential to emerge. But more significantly, the next try lies with 2017 and 2018 first-rounders Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov. Necas rose rapidly after being drafted 12th overall. His development faced a minor setback when his first try at the NHL level was ‘meh’ and rightly saw him sent to develop further in the AHL. He has since found a higher gear such that there is talk of an NHL return. Svechnikov continues to show the potential to be the perennial 30-goal scorer that he was labeled as entering the 2018 draft, but the v1.0 reality is that as of right now Svechnikov is a decent third-line forward who provides depth scoring. There is nothing wrong with that as a foundation for his ongoing development, but for a team that desperately needs a second or third top-end scorer, a Patrick Laine or Auston Matthews like boom out of the box would have been lovely.
As I said at the outset, I do think the potential is there for the current iteration of the Carolina Hurricanes to push up above the playoff cut line for the first time in what is almost a decade now. But the easier path to being above the fray comes from having a draft pick or two become home runs. As such, the development of Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov is something to keep a close eye on.
What say you Caniacs?
1) Am I being too harsh on the Hurricanes draft/development ability with first-rounders in recent years?
2) Despite so many examples to the contrary, do you think it is possible to build a perennial playoff team with more balance and minus much for top-end scoring?
3) Do you think that Martin Necas and/or Andrei Svechnikov can give the Hurricanes the elusive home run? If so, what do you see for timeline for each player?