It has been an up and down season for the Hurricanes thus far. The team started off red hot, but now they are struggling to score goals and are looking less and less like a playoff team. There have been some serious surprises for the Canes this year, some positive, some negative. Let’s take a look at them!
The Positive Surprises
Season Stats: 11 goals, 4 assists, 15 points in 24 games played
Ferland has been a very welcome addition in Carolina, and he currently leads the team in goals. The former Flame has been a staple on the top forward line next to Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, and the trio have been off and running. Ferland is a true power forward, and he’s been a perfect fit next to Aho in his first full NHL season at center. He brings a big, physical game to the table, which is something the Hurricanes lack. Ferland always finds a way to win the puck, and he’s gotten some opportunistic bounces to go his way. He is an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season, and he has definitely earned himself a raise from the $1.75 million he is currently making.
Season Stats: 7 goals, 19 assists, 26 points in 27 games played
As mentioned above, Aho has spent the majority of his first full season as an NHL center between Ferland and Teravainen. Aho is currently on a 79-point pace, and he has points in 19 of the team’s 27 games played. Not only is Aho producing on the score sheet, but he is being relied on in every aspect of the game. Aho is currently averaging 19:08 TOI per game, which is 2nd among Hurricanes’ forwards, trailing only Jordan Staal. Aho is winning over 50% of his faceoffs, and he has seen some time on the penalty kill as well. It is very encouraging that Aho has seemingly made a successful switch to the center position, and his game continues to evolve both offensively and defensively as he proves to be an elite player in the NHL.
Season Stats: 2 goals, 9 assists, 11 points in 27 games.
11 points doesn’t seem fantastic, but for a player in his first full NHL season that has played almost exclusively in the bottom six, it’s pretty solid. Wallmark has spent almost all of his even strength time centering Jordan Martinook and rookie Andrei Svechnikov, and that has arguably been the Canes’ second-best line so far. Wallmark has played limited roles on both the powerplay and penalty kill units, is winning over 50% of his faceoffs, and he continues to earn the trust of Rod Brind’Amour. Wallmark was the perfect third line center fill in while Victor Rask was injured, and now he is the perfect bottom six tweener on the Hurricanes (once everyone is healthy).
Season Stats: 7-3-1 record, 2.36 Goals Against Average, .920 Save Percentage
It sure is nice to have good goaltending, isn’t it? In his previous five starts (prior to Wednesday’s game against San Jose) McElhinney was 4-0-1 with a .958 SV%. That stretch ensured that he would remain on the Hurricanes roster, and probably made the decision to waive Scott Darling much easier. McElhinney is 35 years old, and it would be tough to rely on him as a full time NHL starting goaltender. Interestingly, McElhinney’s stats vary drastically based on how many shots he faces. In games where he faces at least 29 shots on goal, McElhinney is 5-0-1 with a .960 SV%. In games where he faces 25 or less shots on goal, McElhinney is just 2-3-0 with a .839 SV%. It makes perfect sense that a goaltender is better when he gets more action, but seeing such a drastic difference in performance when you consider how many shots he faces is very interesting to me. Either way, McElhinney has been a very welcome and unexpected addition to the Hurricanes’ team.
The Negative Surprises
Season Stats: 3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points in 27 games played
Early on, it looked like Foegele would be in the earlier portion of this article. He started off red hot, scoring two goals on October 7th against the New York Rangers, and tallying all five of his points in the team’s first seven games. But now, Foegele is riding a 20-game pointless streak. What concerns me more than the pointless streak itself is the fact that Foegele is no longer creating offensive chances as he was to start the season. In his first 7 games this season, Foegele had recorded 21 shots on goal. In the 20 games since Foegele’s pointless streak began, he has recorded just 26 total shots on goal. Part of this is that Foegele has spent a lot of time playing next to Jordan Staal and Justin Williams, both who have seen struggles of their own. Foegele needs to play on a line that allows him to properly use his feet to make plays. Foegele is a good skater who wins battles down low and gets the puck to the front of the net. He needs to be put in a better position to succeed if he wants to end his cold streak.
Season Stats: 5 goals, 6 assists, 11 points in 27 games played
Just like Foegele, Staal enjoyed a great beginning to the new season. He looked like a brand-new player early on, but now Staal has seen some serious struggles. Staal has failed to record a point in 19 of the team’s 27 games so far this year, and he has not scored a goal in 14 games. Staal has just one goal in his last 22 games after recording four in his first five games. Staal, a key part of the Hurricanes’ penalty kill, has also taken as many penalties (three) in his last 7 games as he did in his first 20 games this year. That is somewhat understandable, though, due to Staal’s role as a defensive center who often plays heavy minutes against the opposition’s top offensive players. But while Staal does play a key defensive role, it is true that he has no longer been a factor offensively, and to make things worse, he has now been diagnosed with a concussion and will be out indefinitely.
Season Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points in 7 NHL games
6 goals, 7 assists, 13 points in 20 AHL games
To start, I just want to say that I don’t think Necas himself has been disappointing. The reasoning for him being a “negative” surprise has everything to do with fan expectations of him coming into the season. Most fans had Necas penciled into a top nine center role and playing a key offensive role right away. Necas, just 19 years old, wasn’t ready for that kind of NHL role, which is completely fine. Victor Rask’s preseason injury created a huge hole in the Hurricanes’ lineup, which resulted in Necas getting a chance to fill it. Necas has seen success in the AHL so far this season with Charlotte, and if injuries continue to pile up in Raleigh, Necas might get another shot to prove he’s ready.