Canes Roster Preview: The Centers

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The Hurricanes seem to be, at least for the most part, done with making roster moves before training camp. That means it is time to start taking a look at how the roster is looking! I will take a position-by-position look at each position in a series of article over the next couple of weeks. I will separate each position into three categories; the locks, the players on the bubble, and the longshots. For each player, I will discuss what role they might have and some expectations for the 2018-2019 season.

First, we will take a look at how the center position looks!

The Locks:

–          Jordan Staal

Staal is the only true “lock” at the position. It looks like Staal will be a top six center on this team. He is very responsible defensively, and I think that new head coach Rod Brind’Amour wants to bring out the offense in Staal’s game. Staal could very easily be the only center in the top nine with a full year of NHL experience at the position, so he’s going to play a major role and will definitely be relied on pretty heavily.

2017-2018 stats: 19 goals, 27 assists, 46 points

2018-2019 projections: I definitely think that Staal will hit 20 goals, and I’ll go as far to say that he could hit up to 25. Either way, he is going to play a key role offensively and defensively, and I think he might play his way into the Selke conversation. Staal finished with two fifth place votes in the voting for the 2017-2018 Selke trophy.

–          Sebastian Aho

Aho is a definite lock on the roster, but there is no guarantee that he will play center to start the season. I think that Aho wants to play center and he has worked hard to make that happen, so hopefully Brind’Amour and the rest of the coaching staff follows through with it. The Hurricanes have lacked a true top line center for a very long time, and Aho could be exactly what we have been looking for in that role. However, trading away Jeff Skinner creates a big hole on the left wing. The team might be more comfortable with keeping Aho there instead of moving him to center. Either way, expect another very, very strong season from the young star.

2017-2018 stats: 29 goals, 36 assists, 65 points

2018-2019 projections: If Aho can get off to better starts early in the season, he could be a 35+ goal scorer. I definitely expect him to at least score 30 goals, and he should be able to crack 70 points as well. Playing center in the NHL will be an adjustment for Aho, but he can definitely handle it.

–          Martin Necas

Like Aho, Necas has essentially locked up his spot on the roster, but there are questions on whether or not he will play center right away. Personally, I think that Necas needs to play center immediately. The team has depth on the right wing, and Necas is a natural center, so there is no need to change that. Necas may start off playing a somewhat sheltered role, but I expect him to play his way into a key offensive role at some point. It’s fair to assume that Necas will get a look alongside fellow rookie Andrei Svechnikov to start the season, and that could be a deadly duo. I have high expectations for Necas, but his game might not translate to the score sheet right away.

2018-2019 projections: If Necas plays in a top nine role, I expect him to be right around a 40-point player. He might push for 20 goals, but I’m not sure he will be there quite yet. Necas is in the early conversation as one of the favorites to win the Calder trophy as the NHL’s top rookie and putting him and fellow rookie Andrei Svechnikov together would be extremely scary for opposing teams for years to come.

On the Bubble:

–          Victor Rask

Rask is an interesting player. Ideally, the Hurricanes move him and gives him a fresh start elsewhere. Rask’s contract (4 years left at $4m per year), however, will likely prohibit that from happening. I also think that Rask is a player that could be worth keeping around. He had a very rough 2017-2018 season, but he did improve down the stretch. If he can bounce back, you have four solid options for the three top nine center roles. That’s a pretty good problem to have. If Rask continues to struggle, the young talent in the organization makes him easy to replace. I really think that Rask could have a nice bounce back season in the right scenario, and he will likely get the chance to prove himself.

2017-2018 stats: 14 goals, 17 assists, 31 points

2018-2019 projections: Rask likely won’t play a major role early on, so it’s tough to see him getting back to his normal 45-48 point range. Rask will have a tough time getting time on the powerplay, so most of his points are going to come from even strength. I’m expecting him to be close to the same as he was last season at around 25-30 points, but if he earns a better role he could be back around 40 points.

–          Lucas Wallmark

Wallmark’s role will likely depend on both Rask’s role and whether or not Aho plays center. If Aho stays on the wing, we could see Staal, Necas, Rask, and Wallmark as our centers. If Aho moves to center and Rask or someone else takes the fourth line center role, another year in Charlotte is the most likely route for Wallmark. Eventually, I could see Wallmark added into a bigger trade as a sweetener. But for now, he is a great depth center to have around.

2018-2019 projections: I’m not expecting Wallmark to put up many points with the Hurricanes, but that’s because I don’t see him having a scoring role if he’s on the roster. He is solid, but he likely won’t ever blow you away at the NHL level.

Longshots:

–          Nicolas Roy

No, Roy isn’t ready for the NHL yet. But crazier things have happened, right? Roy had a solid season in the AHL and he could break out this season. I think that the 2019-2020 season is when we should get serious about Roy’s chances to crack the NHL roster, but if he has a strong training camps or the team is hit by the injury bug, Roy could stick around for a while.

–          Patrick Brown

Would it really be a Hurricanes opening night roster without Patty Brown? Seriously, Brown always finds a way to stick around and is either one of the final cuts in training camp or cracks the roster. He’s a good professional and captains the Checkers in the AHL. If injuries hit or the Canes just need an extra body, Brown is a good bet to be called upon eventually. But, the team has a lot more organizational depth now than they have in recent years, so Brown’s road to the NHL becomes a little tougher. He is also a dark horse candidate for fourth line center, but I think that role will end up going to Rask or Wallmark.

The Hurricanes have a lot of options at center this season, but they will be looking a little different either way. I personally like the talent of the group of centers at the NHL level, and think that it could be a good year for the position. I do wonder how the team will survive if a guy like Staal goes down to injury. They don’t have anyone capable of replacing what Staal brings to the lineup. But overall, I like the group and think it is going to be a much better season offensively than people seem to think.

Stay tuned later this week for my next preview, looking at the left wingers!

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