THN's 2016-17 NHL season preview: Carolina Hurricanes
By: The Hockey News
Sep 24, 2016
The Hurricanes are going in the right direction, but unless their youngsters step up and they get better goaltending, the playoffs are out of the question this year.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN's Prediction: 7th in Metro
Stanley Cup odds: 68-1
Key additions: Lee Stempniak, RW; Teuvo Teravainen, LW; Bryan Bickell, LW; Viktor Stalberg, LW
Key departures: James Wisniewski, D; Riley Nash, C; Nathan Gerbe, LW; Brad Malone, C
-Can the young defense keep it together? The Hurricanes found their form once rookie blueliners Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin took on bigger roles last year, and they’ll need to continue their ascent if Carolina has any shot at the playoffs. Justin Faulk is still the main man on the back end, but all the Hurricanes’ young defensemen have a coach in Bill Peters who believes in them. They already played without a safety net once, so they’re bound to improve. Will there be hiccups along the way? For sure. But the Canes have more work to do up front, so the defense can grow organically without worrying about hurting the result.
-Does Cam Ward have anything left? Although he showed glimpses of his old self in 2015-16, Ward, 32, also got beat up on the scoreboard just as often, if not more. Taking a big pay cut may put his mindset in the right perspective, but there likely won’t be another NHL contract in Carolina for the veteran goaltender once his new two-year pact expires. If anything, he becomes a solid mentor once Alex Nedeljkovic gets a chance to see his first action in an NHL arena.
-Who will step up at center? Jordan Staal and Victor Rask are pencilled in, but the Hurricanes need a youngster to step up, too. Teuvo Teravainen, Elias Lindholm and Sebastian Aho have all played center and wing in their careers, so none can be considered a true NHL pivot just yet. Lindholm must get stronger first, while Aho hasn’t played a shift in the league, so give the inside track to Teravainen. He cut his teeth in Chicago and has the Stanley Cup ring (and scoring heroics) to prove his worth. If none works out, there’s always the 2017 draft class to check out.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
From a statistical perspective, the Carolina Hurricanes are a very interesting team. Last season they finished 11th in score-and-venue adjusted Corsi with a mark of 51.4 percent, and 29th in PDO at 98.3.
Some people are optimistic about Carolina’s chances because of those numbers. The first suggests they do a good job at controlling play, a genuine sign of talent and potential future success, while the second suggests they were a bit unlucky in converting that territorial advantage into results.
While that may be true, it’s likely that the Hurricanes are one of the few exceptions to the rule. One look at their roster and you’ll see why, as this team is pretty low on scoring talent and goaltending ability.
In net is the biggest area of concern as the team inexplicably re-signed Cam Ward, whose .915 save percentabe ranks 49th of 52 goalies who have played 2,500 or more minutes over the last three seasons. That’s not good, and one of the biggest reasons the team has consistently low PDO.
Up front isn’t much better. Over the last three seasons, Carolina has been below seven percent shooting in each season. Their last three seasons rank 77th, 88th and 81st overall respectively. Other than Jeff Skinner, there really isn’t a pure goal scorer on this team and while shot volume is great, the puck needs to go in once in a while.
Only six players on the team have an above average shooting percentage relative to their position. Two of them, Lee Stempniak and Bryan Bickell, are new additions interestingly enough.
There’s some reason for optimism though. The aforementioned Skinner is still young, as are Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask, and Sebastian Aho, three kids with offensive potential ready to blossom. Newly acquired Teuvo Teravainen should greatly help the cause too.
The D is stock full of potential too with fifth overall pick Noah Hanifin as well as last season’s breakout defensive stalwart Jaccob Slavin. With the underrated Justin Faulk as the No. 1, and the young guys ready to step up, the D-corps should be very strong for years to come.
It’ll take time for this team to become one of the East’s best, but they’re on the right path. This year looks to be another difficult one unless the goaltending situation gets figured out, or the team solves it’s scoring woes. They’ve got a solid process down, it’s time to turn it into results.
Panthers GM Rowe ‘not overly concerned’ about Ekblad’s World Cup injury
By: Jared Clinton
Sep 23, 2016
Being forced out of the World Cup may have been cause for concern about Aaron Ekblad’s health, but the Florida Panthers sound confident he’ll be ready to start the season.
Aaron Ekblad’s time at the World Cup was cut short due to an injury sustained during North America’s round robin tilt against Finland, and even after the 20-year-old blueliner failed to participate in the first skate at Panthers training camp, the team doesn’t seem too worried.
After the first practice, Panthers president of hockey operation Dale Tallon was asked for an update on Ekblad and said that he was sure the young defenseman would be fine, while GM Tom Rowe said it was nothing more than a bit of “bad luck.”
"Not overly concerned about it," Rowe said Tuesday, according to NHL.com’s Alain Poupart. "A little bad luck. I think he's still probably getting used to (NHL) a little bit. He probably needs to be a little more aware in certain situations, but I don't think we're overly concerned about it.”
Ekblad suffered the injury when he was hit behind the net by Finland’s Leo Komarov during the tournament-opening game for the North American squad, but he remained in the contest and it wasn’t until before North America’s second contest that any injury was suspected. Ekblad didn’t suit up for North America’s game against Russia, and he was flown back to Florida to meet with team doctors as a precaution, Rowe said.
"There's doctors [in Toronto],” Rowe said. “But we'd rather him come back here and see our docs.”
There were conflicting reports about Ekblad’s injury when he was ruled out of action, with some saying he had suffered a concussion and other reports speculating that it was merely a neck injury. However, on Tuesday, Sportsnet’s Mark Spector reported that it was a “neck injury” and “nothing major.”
It would have been frightening to think of Ekblad’s status had he suffered another concussion, though. This past season, Ekblad was forced to miss four games with a concussion and he had previously been knocked out of Team Canada’s World Junior Championship training camp in August 2014 with a concussion, so another blow to the head could have marked the third time he was on the shelf with a concussion in the past two years.
With Ekblad arguably becoming the No. 1 defenseman in Florida just two seasons into his career, though, Florida wanted to protect their player by bringing him home. He signed an eight-year, $60-million extension with the Panthers during the off-season, and he’ll be a major part of any successes the franchise has this coming season.
World Cup notebook: Crosby puts an impressive streak on the line
By: Ken Campbell
Sep 23, 2016
Sidney Crosby has won 22 straight and his only concern is making it 23...Swedes must be smarter...Carey Price on beer league hockey.
Team Canada captain Sidney Crosby is on something of a roll lately. Not only did he win his second Stanley Cup in the spring, he enters the World Cup of Hockey semifinal riding a 22-game winning streak in a Canadian uniform dating back to the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.
Since losing 5-3 to USA in the last game of the preliminary round, Canada won the next four games en route to the gold medal. Crosby’s teams then went 6-0-0 in Sochi and 9-0-0 in games in which he played in the 2015 World Championship before going 3-0-0 in the World Cup. Crosby has nine goals and 20 points in those games, including the golden goal in overtime in Vancouver and a goal in the 3-0 win in the gold medal game in Sochi.
“I didn’t even know about that until today,” Crosby said. “Those don’t really matter going into tomorrow, right? It’s all about tomorrow right now.”
SWEDES CAN’T PLAY ‘STUPID’
Swedish defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson said his team can’t afford a repeat of its play in the final pre-tournament game when it lost 6-2 to Team Europe, the same team it plays in the semifinal Sunday afternoon. “We played a really stupid game,” Ekman-Larsson said. “We turned over too many pucks at their blueline, at our blueline, all over the ice. When you do that against a team with that much skill, you’re in big trouble.”
Team Europe coach Ralph Kruger said that late in that game, Frans Nielsen pointed to the Danish shoulder patch flag and reckoned he had lost to the Swedes about 200 times during his career. He then said how happy he was to finally beat them. The Swedes know they’ll be playing an opponent motivated by a desire to knock off one of the world’s hockey powers.
“I said right from the beginning I thought it would be great for the guys on Team Europe to have a chance to beat some of these teams,” said Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson. “Good for them. I wish then all the best, except for on Sunday.”
During his media scrum yesterday, Canadian goalie Carey Price seemed a little perplexed by a question from Marc-Andre Perreault of TVA Sports in Quebec. Perreault asked Price why Canada always comes into these big games saying it’s just another game when clearly there is so much on the line.
“Because that’s what it is,” Price said. What followed was this rather interesting exchange:
Perreault: “But in my beer league, when we play Maggie’s Corner Store, we get all excited.”
Price: “I don’t know. Maggie’s Corner Store must be pretty good, huh?”
CANADA, TEAM EUROPE WILL KEEP IT PREDICTABLE
Exciting hockey doesn’t always win, but boring hockey almost never loses. And that’s why Team Canada and Team Europe will continue to play predictable hockey for the rest of the tournament.
“I don’t like to feed my family on hope. I like to feed my family on know,” said Team Canada coach Mike Babcock. “I don’t like surprises, not on Christmas, not on my birthday. So I don’t want it anymore. I want it under control.”
Team Europe, meanwhile, won’t be in the mood to trade chances, either. “We’re playing a boring style of hockey, but it’s proving to be a successful one,” said Team Europe captain Anze Kopitar. “We’re proud of it and we’re going to keep doing it.”
BUT TEAM EUROPE WILL BE FAST
If there was one thing we learned about Team Sweden from its game against North America it was that the Swedes had all sorts of trouble handling the speed of the under-24 team. Team Europe is considerably older, but coach Ralph Kruger is keenly aware that it will have move quickly in order to win.
“There’s no question that we really need to be a strong transition team,” Kruger said. “We’ve created a lot of offense out of that. And (Sweden) is probably the best in the world at just defending and staying within their structure right through an entire game. We need to be patient with that. I’m expecting a one-goal game and we need to find our advantage like we did against the Czechs. It will be a similar game at a higher level and we’re going to have to pick it up."
Brandon Prust is no stranger to having to play his way on to a team
By: Dhiren Mahiban
Sep 20, 2016
The Maple Leafs invited Brandon Prust to training camp on a professional tryout and NHL veteran is hoping to follow Brad Boyes’ footsteps in turning a PTO into a contract.
Brandon Prust is no stranger to tryouts. As a teenager, Prust used a camp invite to crack the London Knights roster ahead of the 2002-03 OHL season. He eventually helped the Knights capture the franchise’s first Memorial Cup in 2005.
Now, at 32, the veteran of 486 NHL games is relying on the experience of his successful OHL tryout to help him with his latest camp invitation.
The Toronto Maple Leafs invited Prust to training camp on a professional tryout, and the London native, who had a season to forget last year, is hoping to follow Brad Boyes’ footsteps in turning a PTO into a contract.
“That was kind of before I had any idea,” Prust said of his inexperience going to Knights camp. “I was just kind of going out – I had an invite to camp. Went out, did my thing and made the team. You take your experiences, especially being an older guy. You take all your experiences [from] throughout your career. It’s kind of what makes you a little wiser as you get older.”
Last summer, heading into the final year of his four-year, $10 million contract, Prust was dealt from the Montreal Canadiens to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Zack Kassian. In his first game against the Canadiens, on Oct. 27, Prust suffered a left ankle injury, which derailed his whole season. He initially missed 11 games due to the injury.
Seeing his teammates go 3-5-3 in his absence Prust says he was over aggressive in his rehab attempting to return.
“I had never had an ankle injury before so I definitely pushed myself,” Prust said. “I wanted to get back. The team was struggling a little bit. You want to get back and help. Pushed it a little bit. Obviously looking back, I might’ve waited a little longer.”
Prust appeared in 35 games for the Canucks last season prior to being placed on waivers in February. The 6-foot, 195-pound forward appeared in nine games with the AHL’s Utica Comets before mutually agreeing with the Canucks to part ways. The decision to move on was key for Prust, who knew he was heading into unrestricted free agency. Being healthy enough to have a proper summer of training was crucial in order for Prust to show interested clubs he could still play at the NHL level.
“Obviously that was important for me, just didn’t feel confident and comfortable with injury last year,” he said. “That was the main objective: getting [the ankle] straightened out and figured out so I can focus.”
Prust finished his ninth season with just seven points and 59 penalty minutes – his lowest totals since his rookie season. Asked to assess his year in the Canucks organization, Prust was blunt.
“Well obviously it wasn’t very good, right? It was one of my worst years as an NHLer,” he said. “Got to bounce back from it.”
Prust had a few camp offers to mull over this summer, but his decision became clear when the Maple Leafs came calling. Growing up two hours outside of Toronto, Prust was admittedly a Leafs fan as a child.
“I always watched the Leafs growing up and always dreamed of playing for the Leafs and putting on the blue and white jersey,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I kind of chose Toronto. I knew my heart would be in it and it would definitely bring that passion out in me.”
With Leafs camp set to open this week, and his ankle feeling “back to 100 per cent”, Prust has been busy working with skating coach Barb Underhill to regain, and refine, his stride.
“It’s tough because you’ve had habits for so long and had a certain way,” Prust said. “You definitely have to really focus. You’re not a sponge where you can naturally do it. You really have to practice, and really have to mentally think.
“Since I’ve been with her, I even told her, ‘I’m laying in bed at night thinking of my stride and changing my stride and what I got to do’. She’s like, ‘I didn’t want to do that to you’, but that’s just natural, that’s how you are. I think just being at my age, it’s kind of what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to drill it into your brain.”
Prust admitted his game could’ve benefitted from working with Underhill two or three years ago.
“It’s just little tweaks and little things that, if you can make it natural, if you can practice enough, you can change some things,” he said. “Obviously not going to turn myself into the fastest guy in the league, but little things to get me to the puck quicker, little things that can make me move better laterally – they’re going to help me in the long run.”
Though Prust would like to see his childhood dream come to fruition, the numbers are stacked against him heading into camp. Toronto signed rugged forward Matt Martin to a four-year, $10 million contract on July 1. Rich Clune, who split last season between the Leafs and Marlies, is still with the organization on an AHL contract. On top of that, the Leafs have just two contracts remaining before they reach the max of 50.
“I know if I go out and play my game, and show them that I can still move, I know that I’ll get a fair shot,” Prust said. “I know I can crack the lineup if I prove it. I know what I’ve got to do.”