Marcus Kruger. Image by: Getty Images
GM Ron Francis has quietly had a very effective off-season, and the Hurricanes could be a dark horse to end their playoff drought next season.
Now that the Edmonton Oilers are off the schneid, the Carolina Hurricanes hold the longest current streak of seasons without a post-season in the NHL. The last time Carolina made the playoffs was in 2009, when the team traded away Justin Williams, but still went on to make the Eastern Conference final.
Williams is now back and he’s not the only addition the Hurricanes have made. The franchise just traded for Marcus Kruger, who was a Vegas Golden Knight on paper and a Chicago Blackhawk on the ice before that. Add in goaltender Scott Darling and you have a very nice summer for GM Ron Francis, who has built an underrated team in Raleigh.
Can this team get back to the playoffs in 2017-18? I believe they can. I don’t believe they can contend for the franchise’s second Stanley Cup until they find a true No. 1 center, but hey…baby steps.
What Carolina does have right now is a defense corps that could be the next Nashville. The Hurricanes have a talented, mobile group led by Justin Faulk, with Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin all still on their way up, in terms of potential. Adding Trevor van Riemsdyk brings another nice option and another former Blackhawk. Heck, the Canes are practically Chicago South at this point. Along with Kruger, TVK and Darling, the squad already had Teuvo Teravainen, Klas Dahlbeck and Joakim Nordstrom. That culture osmosis could be very good for the Hurricanes.
“It’s just being with the guys there and playing with unbelievable players,” Kruger said. “How they prepare, how much they want to win – that’s something I came to understand pretty early and something I have taken with me.”
Kruger brings two Cup rings with him, while Williams brings two that he won with Los Angeles, not to mention the first one he got in Carolina. Darling also has a title from his Chicago days and Francis was happy with that part of his acquisitions.
“I don’t think you can ever have too many guys with playoff experience,” he said. “We have a very young team and they’re trying to find their way. The guys we picked up are good players and good people who can help out there.”
What will be most interesting about Kruger is his usage. In Chicago, he was a bottom-six center and ace penalty-killer. But when Jonathan Toews and Artem Anisimov are also playing down the middle, how high can you climb? In Carolina, it sounds like Kruger won’t be pigeon-holed.
“It’s really wide-open,” Francis said. “In Sweden, he was a point producer. In Chicago, he played a defensive role and got a lot of tough assignments. That shows his maturity.”
Carolina already had a shutdown guy in Jordan Staal, but no pivots who have yet to prove themselves top-line material. Perhaps just having a nice assembly of forwards will be enough, especially with that great mobile blueline unit getting the puck up the ice. But it is worth remembering that Carolina is not yet a primetime player.
Top-line centers are very difficult to acquire, even if the Hurricanes were willing to part with some of the blueliners in their pipeline (Jake Bean and Haydn Fleury, for example), so we can’t make any assumptions. The quick NHL adaptation of Sebastian Aho certainly helps things up front, while continued good health for Jeff Skinner is a must.
In adding Kruger, Carolina got better. Francis has made a lot of shrewd moves during his tenure and we should see the rewards soon. As soon as this upcoming season? That’s the big question.
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