2010-11 Carolina Hurricanes Preview: Winds of Change
Coming off a successful 2009 season when the franchise reached the Eastern Conference finals, the Hurricanes built last season's team on veteran leadership and talent -- hoping to make one last run at the Stanley Cup they claimed in 2006. But early season injuries and a slow start threw a wrench into their plans. Instead, the Hurricanes built this year's roster with a few core players, and went the rebuilding route with a bevy of hopeful youth.
However, the backbone of goalie Cam Ward and forward Eric Staal (above) remain in place.
Staal, who was drafted in the first round by Carolina with the No. 2 overall pick in 2003, has been the face of the franchise for several years. The former 100-point scorer enters his seventh season with the team and is finally the undisputed on-ice captain for Carolina. The Hurricanes named Staal captain in January, when Rod Brind'Amour passed the torch to the 25-year-old forward. With the retirement of Brind'Amour, Staal must solidify a group of young but talented forwards in Carolina.
Offense remains the biggest question mark in Carolina for general manager Jim Rutherford as veteran winger Ray Whitney left for the Phoenix Coyotes via free agency.
Staal has scored at least 70 points in five straight seasons, but he is only one of the few consistent offensive forces the team deploys and can seemingly depend on for the upcoming year. Staal, at center, will most likely be joined by Sergei Samsonov and Erik Cole as his wingers on the top line. While both wingers are sustainable, neither possesses the proper firepower a top-line NHL team needs to compete and win through the long season.
Last year's surprise for Carolina came in the form of forward Jussi Jokinen. The 27-year-old Fin had a breakout year, scoring 30 goals and tallying 35 assists for a career-best 65 points. There was talk of keeping him on the top-scoring line with Staal, but head coach Paul Maurice will most likely be using Jokinen as a third-line center in order to provide another scoring line with some offensive power.
If Carolina is to emerge as a playoff contender, some of the young forwards must emerge as Jokinen did. A few of the youngsters Carolina will be counting on are Drayson Bowman, Jiri Tlusty, Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe, Patrick O'Sullivan, and first-round pick Jeff Skinner. Former first-round pick Riley Nash, who the team was counting on, had a poor training camp and will not be a part of the team's opening-season roster when the Hurricanes venture to Helsinki, Finland, on Oct. 7 to open the regular season.
Carolina will also be counting on returning forwards Tuomo Ruutu, Chad LaRose and Pat Dwyer to supply consistency to the aforementioned raw group.
Carolina's defense should be solid, returning many players including Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason, Jay Harrison and Jamie McBain. Pitkanen tied a career-best 46 points in his second year with the club last season, while the 22-year-old McBain was called up in March and impressed during his time with the big club – recording 10 points in 14 games.
Management also made moves to shore up the unit by bringing back the consistent Joe Corvo from Washington who the team traded away last year at the trade deadline. "It was just a no-brainer to come here," Corvo said in camp last week, "and just make it feel like it was no time missed at all." Anton Babchuk, the former first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, also returns after the Russian spent last year playing in the KHL.
The strength of the team – as it has been throughout the years -- is the 26-year-old netminder Ward. Ward, who led Carolina to the Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe trophy as a rookie in 2006, returns for his sixth straight season. Ward has had an impressive camp this summer and looks to have shaken off his nightmarish year from last season.
He began the season with hard luck, suffering a serious leg gash from the skate of Rick Nash that kept him sidelined for over a month. He also suffered from lingering back injuries later in the season that inhibited his play in net. Last year was his first full year in net that he did not record at least 30 wins. The success of Carolina hinges on Ward's health and play. Their foundation begins and ends with the talented Canadian goalie that was drafted by Carolina in the first round of the 2002 draft.
BRANDON SUTTER CONTINUES TO CARRY FAMILY NAME
The Hurricanes will be counting on second-line center Brandon Sutter to continue his development. In his second year in the NHL, Carolina's first-round draft pick from 2007 tallied 21 goals and 19 assists. Brandon is part of the famous Sutter hockey family name. He is the son of former New York Islander and Chicago Blackhawk Brent Sutter, who is the head coach of the Calgary Flames. Father and son meet again when the Hurricanes play the Flames on Jan. 11.
THIRD TIME A CHARM FOR MAURICE?
In his first season coaching the team, Paul Maurice led a veteran-laden lineup to the Eastern Conference finals. Last year, however, Maurice's team suffered from the effects of a slow start due to injuries. The team did not pick up the pace of its play until they were seemingly already out of playoff contention. Maurice's biggest test in his third year comes in the fashion of coaching an extremely youthful team – something he is not used to doing in Carolina. If the group gets off to a slow start again, it's going to be a long year in Raleigh for the Hurricanes' faithful.