Hurricanes roster preview: Forwards

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Training camp is well underway and the Carolina Hurricanes have a lot of competition going on for roster spots. After making the playoffs for the first time since 2009 last season, and making a run to the Eastern Conference Final, the Hurricanes are looking to follow that up with another successful season.

It was a busy offseason for Hurricanes’ General Manager Don Waddell and the front office. While some moves seemed great for the team, there were also some questionable deals as well. After all of the dust settled from free agency, and now that Justin Williams officially won’t be suiting up for an NHL team this year (at least for now), we can preview how the Hurricanes roster might look come opening night.

This will be the first installment of my Hurricanes’ roster preview, and here we will take a look at the forwards. We will take a look at the “locks” for each position, those on the bubble, and then some AHL or depth options.

Centers

The Locks:

Sebastian Aho

Contract: 5 years left at roughly $8.5 million per year

2018-2019 season stats: 30 goals, 53 assists, 83 points in 82 games

In case there was any doubt, Aho is one of the best players in the world and undoubtedly the best forward on the Hurricanes. Last year was Aho’s first full NHL season as a center, and he wasn’t slowed down as he put up career highs with 30 goals, 53 assists, and 83 points. As Aho’s offensive game blossomed, his defensive game progressed as well. By the end of the year, head coach Rod Brind’Amour was able to trust Aho in every situation, and Aho saw time as a penalty killer at times. Aho is an all-around star, and he is now locked up for the next five years after the Hurricanes matched Montreal’s offer-sheet in the offseason.

Jordan Staal

Contract: 4 years left at $6 million per year

2018-2019 season stats: 11 goals, 17 assists, 28 points in 50 games

Last year was a rough one for Staal, as he just couldn’t catch a break and missed a lot of time due to injury. Coming into this season, Staal is completely healthy and is looking for a big bounce back season. Staal’s 17 assists marked his lowest assist total in 11 years. This year, however, there is a lot of offensive talent in the Hurricanes’ top nine, which should lead to a better year offensively for Staal. While Staal will be relied on to likely anchor a shutdown defensive line, he is in line to see plenty of ice time as arguably the best defensive forward on the roster. I am expecting a big year for Staal, and I think that he expects the same.

Erik Haula

Contract: 1 year left at $2.75 million

2018-2019 season stats: 2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points in 15 games. 29 goals and 55 points in 2017-2018 season.

Haula got off to a hot start in Vegas’ initial season two years ago, scoring 29 goals and totaling 55 points. Last season, he put up seven points in 15 games before suffering a serious knee injury that kept him out the remainder of the season. Haula was reportedly ready to return after Vegas was eliminated from the playoffs, and he should be healthy coming into this year. He looks likely to center the Hurricanes’ second or third forward line, and he will be looking to impress as he is due to become a free agent following the season.

Lucas Wallmark

Contract: 1 year left at $675k

2018-2019 season stats: 10 goals, 18 assists, 28 points in 81 games

Wallmark was thrust into a bigger than anticipated role last year due to Staal missing chunks of time due to injury, and he impressed. Wallmark is a very solid two-way forward who can be utilized on the penalty kill. I was very impressed in Wallmark throughout last year, but it looks unlikely that he plays as big of a role this season. The Canes added a few forwards to the mix, and the path for top nine minutes isn’t there for Wallmark. He looks likely to center the team’s fourth forward line, and that is a perfect role for him. If he needs to play higher up in the lineup, he is able to do so as well. I am a big fan of Wallmark, but I do question his future due to the organizational depth and his upcoming status as a restricted free agent.

On the bubble:

Martin Necas

Contract: 3 years left on entry level contract

2018-2019 season stats: 16 goals, 36 assists, 52 points in 64 AHL games

Necas initially made the Hurricanes out of training camp last season, but he ended up being sent down to the AHL shortly after the start of the season. This year, Necas seems to be in good shape to crack the opening night roster yet again. Necas had a very good year with Charlotte last year in the AHL, and he has had a pretty good preseason and looks to play a role in helping the Hurricanes power play. Julien Gauthier’s spectacular preseason might make Necas’ chances at a top nine role cloudier at the moment, but I believe that Necas is going to be a valuable offensive contributor in the NHL this season.

AHL/depth options:

Brian Gibbons

Gibbons is 31, but he was signed this offseason to be a valuable depth forward for the organization this year. He put up 19 points in 64 NHL games split between Anaheim and Ottawa last season. Gibbons isn’t a spectacular player, but he is serviceable and is able to fill in if the Hurricanes are hit with injuries down the stretch of the season. Expect him to play more of a role with the Checkers this year.

Clark Bishop

Bishop got his chance to contribute at the NHL last year when Jordan Staal was forced to miss periods of time due to injury, and I was impressed. Bishop fit in seamlessly on the Hurricanes’ fourth line before Bishop himself went down to injury. Bishop seems likely to start the year in Charlotte, but like Gibbons, looks likely to be one of the top call-up options should the NHL team be hit with injuries.

Morgan Geekie

I am a huge fan of Geekie. He scored 19 goals and tallied 46 points in his rookie year in the AHL with the Checkers last season. Geekie could become a special offensive player in time, and he looks poised to be one of the top offensive contributors in Charlotte this year. If the Hurricanes lose a top nine scorer at some point, Geekie could be a guy that is called upon to bring a spark to the offense.

Wingers

The Locks:

Teuvo Teravainen

Contract: 5 years left at $5.4 million per year

2018-2019 season stats: 21 goals, 55 assists, 76 points in 82 games. 7 goals in the playoffs

Similar to fellow Finnish star Sebastian Aho, Teravainen enjoyed a nice breakout season last year. The two Finns really enjoyed similar breakouts as well. Not only did they take a huge step forward in point production, but they both progressed a lot defensively. Teravainen, like Aho, saw time on the penalty kill last year and has seen time on the unit during the preseason as well. I’ll be interested to see if Teravainen sticks on Aho’s wing this year, but either way I expect him to remain around the 70-point mark yet again.

Nino Niederreiter

Contract: 3 years left at $5.25 million per year

2018-2019 season stats: 9 goals, 14 assists, 23 points in 46 games with Minnesota. 14 goals, 16 assists, 30 points in 36 games with Carolina

Niederreiter was acquired in the middle of last season from Minnesota in exchange for center Victor Rask. That’s it. That was the trade. I still can’t believe it. Niederreiter immediately found his fit in the Hurricanes’ lineup, and he spent a lot of time on Aho’s wing on the first forward line. Niederreiter cooled off towards the end of the season, but he was a huge upgrade to the offense. I expect him to continue to blossom in his first full season as a Hurricane.

Andrei Svechnikov

Contract: 2 years left on entry level contract

2018-2019 season stats: 20 goals, 17 assists, 37 points in 82 games

Rod Brind’Amour really eased Svechnikov into his rookie season, and I think that was the right move. As the season progressed, though, Svechnikov made it impossible for the team to not give him more minutes. Although Svechnikov struggles with discipline and takes some deflating penalties at time, he is very young and an elite offense talent. His 20 goals all came in regulation, which is an impressive mark for a rookie in the NHL. Svechnikov looks poised to play a huge role this season, and I expect him to inch close to the 30 goal, 55-point mark.

Ryan Dzingel

Contract: 2 years left at $3.375 million per year

2018-2019 season stats: 26 goals, 30 assists, 56 points in 78 games split between Ottawa and Columbus

Dzingel was the biggest addition to the Hurricanes’ forward group this offseason, and he should be in line for a decently large role. Dzingel struggled in Columbus after being acquired via trade late in the season, but he had a good year on the awful Ottawa Senators before being traded. This year, Dzingel brings his shot and goal scoring ability to a Hurricanes team that has lacked a true sniper for a long time. He can slot in on any of the top three forward lines, and looks to play a big role on the power play as well. Dzingel’s weakness in his game is probably his defense, so I wonder which line he will be the best fit on. He has the potential to be a 30-goal scorer on this team, although I’m realistically expecting closer to the 25-goal mark.

Jordan Martinook

Contract: 2 years left at $2 million per year

2018-2019 season stats: 15 goals, 10 assists, 25 points in 82 games

You can’t watch an interview with Jordan Martinook and not walk away smiling. It’s just not possible. His personality is a perfect fit on a young Hurricanes team, and his leadership is a valuable asset to this team. Martinook doesn’t bring a lot offensively to the lineup, but he is capable of being in the 10-15 goal range consistently. He is a valuable penalty killer and is a key cog on the fourth line. I am a huge fan of Martinook and everything that he brings to this team and the locker room, and I can only hope that we get to experience another Martinook hat-trick sometime soon. What a fun game that was.

Brock McGinn

Contract: 2 years left at $2.1 million per year

2018-2019 season stats: 10 goals, 16 assists, 26 points in 82 games

First round playoff hero Brock McGinn is back. He scored the series-clinching goal in the Hurricanes’ first round playoff series against the defending champion Washington Capitals last year. I like McGinn. I think he is a solid fourth line player who can kill penalties. I just think that $2.1 million per year for a fourth line penalty killer is a bit too much, especially when there are younger players with more potential ready to step into that role. For now, McGinn looks likely to play the same role as he did last year, and his physicality is a valuable part to his game.

Warren Foegele

Contract: 1 year left at $746k

2018-2019 season stats: 10 goals, 5 assists, 15 points in 77 games. 5 goals and 9 points in 15 playoff games

With Svechnikov out and the team tired and banged up throughout the postseason, the Hurricanes needed someone to step up and score goals. Warren Foegele was that guy. He was absolutely electric through the first two rounds. His strong postseason play opened some eyes, and seemingly locked in a roster spot for him this season. Now, though, Foegele might not get that luxury. Julien Gauthier is coming in strong for a roster spot, and seems likely to take one. The question now is just who loses a spot to him. Foegele was way too streaky last year. He got off to a red-hot start to the regular season, then went on a scoreless streak that lasted half of the season before he heated up again at the end of the year.

On the bubble:

Julien Gauthier

2018-2019 season stats: 27 goals, 14 assists, 41 points in 75 AHL games

Julien Gauthier has far and away been the most impressive player during training camp so far for the Hurricanes. Rod Brind’Amour has raved about the former first round pick, and he looks more and more likely to crack the opening night roster. I think that Gauthier can be a very successful NHL player if he is in the right role. He is not going to succeed if he is playing 10 minutes a night on the fourth line. If the team can find a spot in the top nine for him, I think that Gauthier cracks the opening night lineup.

Janne Kuokkanen

2018-2019 season stats: 12 goals, 26 assists, 38 points in 48 AHL games

As the organizational depth gets stronger, Kuokkanen’s chances at being a contributor at the NHL level for the Hurricanes get smaller. I like Kuokkanen, and I think that he could be a decent top nine playmaker at the NHL one day. I just struggle to believe that it will happen in Raleigh. Kuokkanen has proven to be a strong AHL player, but the forward group is just too strong right now for him to crack the roster unless the injury bug hits.

Max McCormick

McCormick is almost certainly going to spend the year in the AHL with the Checkers. He has spent parts of the last four seasons in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators. McCormick likely isn’t the top call-up choice at this point once things get going, but I think we could see a couple NHL games for him down the road.

There are a few players that aren’t listed here, but these forwards are the ones that I find the most likely to having a path to the NHL in some capacity this season. Now, for fun, let’s take a look at some possible line combinations:

Option 1:

Niederreiter-Aho-Teravainen

Dzingel-Staal-Svechnikov

Foegele-Haula-Necas

McGinn-Wallmark-Martinook

Option 2:

Dzingel-Aho-Svechnikov

Niederreiter-Staal-Teravainen

Foegele-Haula-Necas

McGinn-Wallmark-Martinook

Option 3:

Niederreiter-Aho-Svechnikov

Dzingel-Staal-Necas

Teravainen-Haula-Gauthier

McGinn-Wallmark-Martinook

Which option do you like the best? The Hurricanes will open the regular season next week, as they host the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, October 3rd at 7:00.

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