Unsung Heroes at the Midway Point

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Halfway through their 2018 campaign, the Carolina Hurricanes are in a better position than they have been in almost a decade. For a couple weeks the club has been jockeying with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. After holding the position for a few days, the Canes currently sit one point out with three games in hand. Not too shabby.

The Canes surge toward being a playoff contender has come on the shoulders of offensive leaders Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Justin Williams, and Jordan Staal. Defensively, the Canes have been led by the dynamic duo of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, along with Noah Hanifin’s emergence as solid defenseman who can also put points on the board. As is constant with the Hurricanes, goaltending has been a roller coaster, but Cam Ward put together as good of a month of December as the Canes could have asked for, and his performance did help propel the Canes to their current position.

It is clear who the point producers and defensive walls are for the Canes, so lets look at some of the role players who have made a positive impact for the Canes without standing out and haven’t had their name called much this season.

1) Derek Ryan
Coming into this season one of the biggest question marks on the Hurricanes lineup was center Derek Ryan. Ryan produced at a modest rate as a mid-season call-up for the Canes in 2017, and he seemed to have developed some chemistry with Jeff Skinner. Many, myself included, argued that Skinner would be better off playing with a more skilled center; however, at this point of the season it seems as if DR is one of the Canes most skilled centermen. Ryan has posted a modest 23 points in 41 games, pacing himself for a 46 point season. His point production down the middle of the lineup is second to only Jordan Staal (25 points). He seems to bring the best out of Jeff Skinner, and he does a great job doing what any of Skinner’s linemates’ only job is: get the puck to Skinner. Ryan has solidified himself as a productive third line center in the National Hockey League. He has proven my early doubts wrong. The Canes have a big decision to make in the offseason. Do they bring DR back for another year, or are one of Martin Necas or Lucas Wallmark capable of filling DR’s role? Only time will tell, but for now Ryan is as good of a 3C as the Canes could ask for.

2) Trevor van Riemsdyk
After a stellar career with the Las Vegas Golden Knights, TVR joined the Canes this season, giving the Canes a solid NHL caliber defense corps. TVR isn’t as flashy offensively as his usual partner Noah Hanifin is, but what he brings to the Canes in their own zone goes a long way in numbers getting higher in the win column. TVR has served primarily as a shutdown third pair defenseman who sees a decent amount of PK time. With TVR on the ice the Canes give up less shots per hour than without him, and the Canes score at a rate of nearly 3 goals/60min and give up around 2 goals/60min. Perhaps TVR’s greatest impact for the Canes has almost nothing to do with himself. The addition of TVR as a solid and reliable defensive partner for Noah Hanifin has led to number 5’s emergence as the best point producing defenseman on the team. Noah is just tapping into his potential and its due to him finally having an NHL caliber defensive partner that he doesn’t have to carry. TVR does not get enough credit for how well he’s played this season. On top of his defensive reliability, he’s on pace to tie his career high in points (16).

3) Joakim Nordstrom
Nordy has yet to recapture the offensive ability he showed in 2016 when he played with Jordan Staal and Andrej Nestrasil, and he had a bit of a down year in 2017. In 2018, however, Nordy has settled into a new role on the team, and he is flourishing. Nordstrom is part of the reason that the Canes’ 4th line this year is the best that the team has had in years. He only has 4 points so far this year, and he will probably finish with his lowest point total as a Hurricane; however, Nordy’s strengths as a defensive forward make him a vital part of the lineup. With Nordy on the ice, the Canes give up 2 goals/60min on average versus 2.5 goals against/60min without him. Nordy is a reliable penalty killer for the team. He’s not afraid to block shots, and he seems willing to do whatever it takes for the team to win games. He’s part of a line that really annoys opponents. He forechecks hard, he backchecks hard, he blocks shots, and he interrupts passing lanes. Nordy is a very valuable player for the Canes although his production may make it seem otherwise.

Honorable Mentions
Marcus Kruger: highlight Nordy’s paragraph, control-C, control-V. He’s also pretty damn good in the face-off circle.

Josh Jooris: really good 4th liner.

December Cam Ward: yeah, ‘nuff said.

Is there someone else on the Canes roster that you think doesn’t get enough credit for what he brings to the team? Share your opinion!
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(All stats provided by @HockeyViz, check his stuff out!)

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