The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin Jan. 13. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Carolina Hurricanes, who will play in the Central Division.
Coach: Rod Brind’Amour (third season)
Last season: 38-25-5, (.596 points percentage); sixth place in Eastern Conference, lost to Boston Bruins in Eastern Conference First Round
1. Maturation of Aho and Svechnikov
The Hurricanes didn’t change much this offseason; their most notable addition was unrestricted free agent forward Jesper Fast. They believe the maturation of their core can help them reach the next level, which begins with forwards Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, emerging stars who are being counted on to continue to improve with experience and lead them in seasons to come.
Aho led the Hurricanes with an NHL career-high 38 goals last season. The 23-year-old also led them in points (66) for the third straight season. Svechnikov increased from 37 points (20 goals, 17 assists) as a rookie in 2018-19 to 61 (24 goals, 37 assists) last season, and the Hurricanes expect the 20-year-old to take another step.
Petr Mrazek and James Reimer worked well as a tandem last season. Mrazek played 40 games (38 starts) and went 21-16-2 with a 2.69 goals-against average, a .905 save percentage and three shutouts. Reimer played 25 games (24 starts) and went 14-6-2 with a 2.66 GAA, a .914 save percentage and three shutouts.
Carolina will need similar performances from each this season with a potentially compacted schedule that could make having two reliable goalies even more important.
3. Avoid slumps
Although the Hurricanes qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2000-01 and 2001-02, they needed late surges each season to recover from midseason letdowns. Carolina didn’t clinch a playoff berth until its penultimate game in 2018-19 and was not in a playoff spot last season prior to winning its final three games before the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
With the schedule shortened from 82 games to 56 this season, any prolonged lapse will be harder to overcome. The Hurricanes already are stressing the importance of being more consistent so they can qualify for the playoffs again and possibly earn home-ice advantage this time.
Making the cut
Carolina has an opening on its third defense pair after the departures of Trevor van Riemsdyk (signed with Washington Capitals) and Joel Edmundson (traded to Montreal Canadiens). Haydn Fleury, who was limited to 45 games last season because of injuries, is most likely to claim that spot, but the Hurricanes believe rookie Jake Bean, the No. 13 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, is ready to play in the NHL and will try to find playing time for the 22-year-old.
Joakim Ryan, who signed a one-year, two-way contract Oct. 12, also could factor into that competition or make the roster as an extra defenseman after the 27-year-old played 35 games for the Los Angeles Kings last season.
Most intriguing addition
Fast, who left the New York Rangers to sign a three-year contact Oct. 10, was the lone player Carolina added this offseason whose contract is one-way. The Hurricanes view the 29-year-old as a replacement for Justin Williams, who announced his retirement Oct. 8. A defensively reliable forward who can play on any of the four lines, Fast scored 12 goals in 69 games last season, one off his NHL career high of 13 in 2017-18.
Biggest potential surprise
The Hurricanes don’t have much room on their roster for surprises. But if they have an injury at forward during camp, Ryan Suzuki, the No. 28 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, might get a chance after he returns from playing for Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. The 19-year-old scored 58 points (18 goals, 40 assists) in 44 games in the Ontario Hockey League last season, including 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) in 23 games following a trade from Barrie to Saginaw on Jan. 10.
Ready to break through
Morgan Geekie played his first two NHL games before last season was paused and scored four points (three goals, one assist) after he scored 42 points (22 goals, 20 assists) in 55 games with Charlotte of the American Hockey League. The 22-year-old likely will begin the season centering a potentially productive fourth line for Carolina with Brock McGinn and either Jordan Martinook or Ryan Dzingel.
Forward Martin Necas (C/RW; undrafted on average in fantasy), who was tied for fifth on the Hurricanes last season with 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 64 games, has a higher ceiling in his second full NHL season with a chance to earn the fifth spot on the first power play with valuable skaters Aho, Svechnikov, Dougie Hamilton and Teuvo Teravainen. Necas and the Hurricanes also gain fantasy appeal after moving to the Central Division for this season because their top competition, the 2020 Stanley Cup Final teams in the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars, each are dealing with long-term injuries (Nikita Kucherov, Ben Bishop, Tyler Seguin). — Pete Jensen
Andrei Svechnikov — Sebastian Aho — Teuvo Teravainen
Nino Niederreiter — Vincent Trocheck — Martin Necas
Warren Foegele — Jordan Staal — Jesper Fast
Brock McGinn — Morgan Geekie — Jordan Martinook
Jaccob Slavin — Dougie Hamilton
Brady Skjei — Brett Pesce
Jake Gardiner — Haydn Fleury