Hurricanes fans, the start of the 2022-23 NHL season is right around the corner, and with that
comes Stanley Cup expectations for the Canes. I’m very excited to begin to cover this team all season long. While we’re months away from seeing playoff action, here are three predictions for the long journey ahead.
1. Martin Necas Finds The Next Gear
The first three seasons of Necas’ career as a consistent NHL player have been remarkably
consistent, with him totaling 36, 41, and 40 points. Similarly, he’s had one season of 14 goals
and two of 16. This year, I’m projecting him to have a big offensive season for two reasons.
First, Necas plays like a natural center, and had been playing center throughout his career in junior hockey and in the AHL. However, he’s been forced to the wing for much of his career, albeit as a frequent member of the top two lines. The signing of Paul Stastny does provide competition for Necas, but if he’s able to beat out the veteran for the role of second-line center, there will be more opportunities for him to be productive, particularly in transition. We’ve seen flashes-just look at his wraparound goal in the 2021 playoffs against Nashville-but a full season at center will compliment one of his strengths in generating offense off the rush. Secondly, the addition of Max Pacioretty will allow Necas to play on a line with one of or both Andrei Svechnikov and the veteran goal-scorer. Necas’ playmaking abilities mesh better with Pacioretty’s game than Stastny’s aptitude for offense in front of the net. Pacioretty’s presence may mean less power-play time for Necas, but whatever points Necas loses on the power-play will be made up for in assists. The significance of having an established sniper for a linemate cannot be overstated.
2. Jake Gardiner Rebounds
Jake Gardiner, who missed all of last season after multiple surgeries, will prove to be an essential cog in the machine that is the Carolina Hurricanes defense. Gardiner is expected to push for a third-pairing spot, but is often an afterthought in a defensive group that includes Jaccob Slavin and Brent Burns. He shouldn’t be. Gardiner has reached the 30-point mark four times before with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Hurricanes will need to replace some of the offense they lost when Tony DeAngelo signed with the Philadelphia Flyers. A healthy Gardiner means the Hurricanes will be able to draw offense from all three of their defensive pairings.
3. The Hurricanes Win the Metro
Let’s face it-this is going to be a battle between the Canes and the New York Rangers. The
Flyers and Islanders, basement-dwellers last season, have done very little to improve. The Devils are a young team on the rise but aren’t ready to seriously contend yet, and the Blue Jackets added Johnny Gaudreau but still have significant holes in their lineup, most notably on defense. The Penguins and Capitals are talented but aging, mirroring Crosby and Ovechkin. That leaves only the Rangers, who were about as evenly matched with Carolina as you can get last season, exemplified by the second-round series stretching to seven games. So who improved more? Both teams definitely have players ready to take the next step-think Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko, Seth Jarvis and Necas-and both teams revamped their rosters over the summer. The Rangers added Vincent Trocheck to replace Ryan Strome on their second line, which can be seen as an upgrade. Strome did tally three more points in seven fewer games than Trocheck last season. Otherwise, the Rangers lost Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, and Justin Braun. Meanwhile, the Canes lost Trocheck, Max Domi, and DeAngelo but added, most notably, Max Pacioretty, Brent Burns, and Paul Stastny. But the biggest addition this year? A healthy Frederik Andersen. In last year’s Game 7, Igor Shesterkin was able to suffocate any offensive chances late into the third period, but the Hurricanes were left with a goaltending carousel after Andersen went down while enjoying a Vezina-caliber season. A healthy Andersen is enough for me to put Carolina ahead of New York here to be my pick to win the Metropolitan division this year.