The 2020-21 Carolina Hurricanes have much more talent than people realize and are poised to do some serious work next season. They are a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup and have an even better shot at coming out on top of the Eastern Conference. But what makes them so dangerous, and why do very few people consider them as their Stanley Cup favourites?
The 2020-21 Carolina Hurricanes Will Win the East
Young Talent Leads the Way
The Hurricanes have multiple young and skilled players that are leading their team to victories. Their average age is 27.2 years of age. Which is a full year younger than the league’s average, but their players play like veterans. Sebastian Aho, Jake Bean, Martin Necas, Teuvo Teravainen, and arguably their best player, Andrei Svechnikov, are all 25 years old or younger. Six out of their top ten point producers and average time on ice leaders are 25 or younger. Svechnikov was on pace to double his rookie season’s point total and has the potential to hit 35 goals next season. His Corsi rating is off the charts at 56.4 percent, with a relative Corsi of 3.1. Along with Aho and Teravainen, that first line is among the most dangerous in the league.
But it’s not just their offence that has some talented young players. Their defence, renowned as one of the best in the league, is full of intelligent players. Led by veteran Dougie Hamilton, players like Brady Skjei, Haydn Fleury, and Jaccob Slavin are all incredible defencemen. Extremely underrated, Slavin is a top-pairing defenceman whose shutdown ability is at the top of the league. He led the Hurricanes in blocked shots with 107 and has a high Corsi rating of 55.2 percent, showing how Carolina controls the game when he is on the ice. Having young talent to drive a team is crucial, not just for this season, but makes the Hurricanes a threat in the Metropolitan division for years to come.
Depth Is Key
The biggest factor for winning games in the playoffs is a team’s depth players. And there certainly is no shortage of solid depth players in Raleigh. Each line of offence can create chances, and each defensive pairing is more than capable of frustrating their opponent’s forwards. The third line of Warren Foegele, Jordan Staal, and Jesper Fast is a trio that sneakily combined for about 90 points last season (taking into consideration that Fast was still on the New York Rangers). These are not the most offensively gifted players, but they are skaters who can score and produce when necessary.
The Hurricanes’ defensive depth is one of their biggest strengths as a team. The first pairing of Slavin and Hamilton rivals the best top defencemen in the league, with a combination of offensive skill and shut down playstyles. The second pairing of Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce is another strong pair the Hurricanes lean on heavily. Excluding goalies, these two are third and fourth on the team in average time on ice. The defencemen they’re behind? None other than the first pairing previously mentioned. Jake Gardiner and Haydn Fleury close out the pairings. Fleury is looking to prove his worth to the team after signing an extension in October. The 23-year old is a great defensive defenceman, and could easily be second-pairing on a weaker team. Even when the top lines of the Hurricanes are in slumps, the depth pieces pick up the slack.
A large part of team chemistry remains unseen: team bonding, tensions in the locker room, coach/player interactions. As fans and analysts, we do not have access to that. However, the Hurricanes’ team chemistry is on full display. Their controversial “Storm Surge” is an example of this. Normally, teams give a stick tap or wave to the crowd after a home victory, but the Hurricanes take it a step further. They all seem to be having fun and enjoying themselves, and it is obviously well-planned out beforehand. This means they must have cleared it with their coaching staff, who bought into the fun and games. It is unusual for a team to do this much after wins, but it gives us a glimpse into Carolina’s style. They have fun with each other, their coaches, and seem to be playing hockey at the same time.
Head coach Rod Brind’Amour embraces and promotes this light-hearted atmosphere in the locker room and behind the scenes. It is so obvious that Carolina’s players are very close with each other because they play so well together on the ice. The players trust the coach and are 100 percent bought into Brind’Amour’s system, which has worked extremely well. This player-player trust, as well as player-coach trust, is a key part of the Hurricanes’ success as a team. Normally, chemistry is not a large piece in considering a playoff run, but the 2020-21 Carolina Hurricanes are looking to be the exception.