Predators vs. Hurricanes Preview: A Look at the Hurricanes Forwards
A wealth of depth upfront propelled Carolina to a division title, and may be the key to a Cup win.
The Carolina Hurricanes are a dynamic offensive team. If you need evidence to back up that claim, simply watch the first six Predators-Hurricane games this season.
The Hurricanes are one of those teams that just always seem to be buzzing around the net. Their 1,794 shots on goal ranks fourth in the league. Their power play is the second most-dangerous in the league (25.6 %).
It’s a product of the talent up front the Canes have accumulated over the past few years. There’s a good mix of speed and physicality that offsets the team not (yet) having a true shot finisher. Their game involves creating havoc in their opponent’s defensive zone, getting players out of position and opening space.
Carolina’s offense runs through Sebastian Aho. The 23-year-old Finn is blossoming into a legitimate NHL superstar. His 57 points (24 G, 33 A) is 15th best in the league. Watching Aho play, it’s hard to believe the guy weighs less than Rocco Grimaldi. He’s a buzzsaw who excels at playing in tight, contested spaces as much as he excels in the open ice.
The numbers grab your attention first, but there are so many intricacies to Aho’s game. Forechecking and backchecking are areas where he especially excels. He can close gaps quickly, sometimes unexpectedly, leading to quick chances the other way.
The Canes have had options to pair with Aho. Andrei Svechnikov (15 G, 27 A) has been his most common winger this season. While his scoring pace hasn’t quite been where it was last season, the former #2 pick still has plenty of pure scoring ability. Teuvo Teravainen is another player who has a history of great chemistry with Aho. The former Blackhawk missed most of this season with an injury, but has been white-hot since returning to the lineup two weeks ago.
The biggest difference with Carolina is their secondary attack, and that starts with Vincent Trocheck. The 27-year-old has rediscovered his offensive prowess since arriving in the Tar Heel state at the 2020 trade deadline. Trocheck’s 43 points (17 G, 26 A) rank second on the team, and he’s one of the key cogs in the Canes’ dangerous top power play unit.
The Supporting Cast
It’s still weird to think of Jordan Staal as a member of the “supporting cast,” but the Carolina captain has found new life in the Canes’ bottom six. The second overall pick from 2006 is having one of his best scoring seasons in years (16 G, 22 A). Special teams is one area in which Staal has been a particularly viable asset. He’s tied for the team lead in power-play goals with 7, and is a go-to forward on the Canes’ third-ranked penalty kill.
Carolina has a wealth of depth up front. Martin Necas, the team’s first round pick in 2017, is having a breakout scoring year (14 G, 27 A). Meanwhile Nashville’s...ahem...favorite troublemaker, Nino Niederreiter, just topped 20 goals for the first time since 2017, thanks to his stint playing alongside Aho when Teravainen was hurt. While he likely won’t be a top line guy in this series, Niederreiter has the ability to play in several different spots in the lineup.
Warren Foegele is also a guy who fits that mold. He’s not a flashy player by any means; but he’s a big forward who can play significant minutes without making a ton of mistakes. Jesper Fast, the long-time New York Ranger, has had an up-and-down first season in Carolina. But he brings a wealth of playoff experience to a roster that hasn’t experienced many deep postseason runs.
How the rest of the Hurricanes lineup shakes out may depend on health. Cedric Paquette and Brock McGinn, two of Carolina’s most reliable fourth-line forwards, have missed the past couple of weeks of the season. A third, Jordan Martinook, just returned during the regular season finale. If these three aren’t 100% healthy, expect to see Steven Lorentz, Max McCormick, or Drew Shore fill out the bottom of the lineup.
Under-the-Radar Guy to Watch
Morgan Geekie played his way into Carolina fans’ hearts last year, when the former third-rounder scored three goals in his first two career NHL games. But it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing since the end of the COVID stoppage last summer. Geekie only had one point in eight playoff games last year. Then this season, he was held without a point in 21 of his first 22 games (the one exception, by the way, was against Nashville).
But over the past few weeks, Geekie’s shown flashes of turning things around. He has seven points in his last 14 games, including a goal against the Predators this past Saturday. Geekie may get more ice time if McGinn and Paquette can’t return from the start of the series, which gives him an opportunity to build on his strong finish to the season.