Welcome to the latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. Each day, we will take a look at a new team and examine three of their potential breakout or bounce-back players. What are these? These are players that have the chance to make a serious difference with their teams. Whether that’s as someone who finally finds their place in the NHL, or as someone who had previously been good but has struggled as of recently. Each day we will be looking at a different team! However, today we will take a look at the potential 2020-21 Carolina Hurricanes key players.
2020-21 Carolina Hurricanes Candidates
More known for his mistakes as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs than anything else, Jake Gardiner is poised for a proper season as a top-four defenceman. It’s hard to stand out as an offensive-minded blue-liner when you play on a team with Dougie Hamilton, but Gardiner will look to do that this season. He has had two underwhelming seasons in a row, two seasons on pace for under 40 points. Coming off of a 52 point full season two seasons ago and not being able to repeat that is concerning, but there’s hope. the 30-year-old former 17th overall draft pick is going to be playing for a spot in Carolina for the 2021-22 season. With the Seattle expansion draft looming over this season, Gardiner might find some more motivation to pick all aspects of his game to a level fans have never seen before.
Last season in 68 games, Gardiner scored four goals and 20 assists for 24 points. A slight decrease in playing time shouldn’t be the case this season. The Canes defence depth isn’t as deep as it was last season, leaving room for Gardiner to have a bounce-back season.
Ryan Dzingel has the potential to be a 60 point player. He showed this during the 2018-19 season, where he split time between the Ottawa Senators and the Columbus Blue Jackets. In 78 games that season, he put up 56 points. This past season, after signing with Carolina in free agency, the top-six winger saw his ice-time decreased and his offensive dangerousness practically disappear. He was expected to have a better playoff performance, but his play was almost identical to the regular season. Going into a contract season, that should provide motivation for his return to his former self that fans saw in Ottawa. On top of that, the Canes top-six group has added a speedy winger in Jesper Fast. That added speed should give Dzingel another player to feed him pucks and do what he does best. That’s getting on the scoresheet and making defenders look silly!
Fast is coming from a New York Rangers system that saw him in a top-nine forward role. Coming onto this Canes roster, however, he has the chance to see significant minutes in the top half of the lineup. With Nino Niederreiter regressing from his previous form, this leaves a gap for Fast to instantly fill. With Vincent Trocheck as a potential second-line centre for him to play alongside, Fast will have all the tools he needs to surpass that 30 point marker by a significant margin. His passing ability and speed will be used on the power play for sure. He adds to the Canes’ already threatening special teams unit and will have a breakout year.
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