NHL Preview: Hurricanes eye return to the postseason

Carolina, under new coach Rod Brind’Amour, hopes for a rebirth — and an end to its nine-season playoff drought

Rod Brind’Amour takes the reins as the Carolina Hurricanes’ head coach after nearly two decades as a coach and player with the team. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes finished the preseason with their best record since relocating to North Carolina, wrapping up the exhibition campaign with a 5-4 overtime loss Sunday against Nashville.

But as the team learned last year — when it went 5-2 in exhibitions — the preseason means nothing. On Thursday, Rod Brind’Amour gets his first real test behind the bench when the New York Islanders visit to open the 2018-19 season.

The first-year coach leads a roster featuring five rookie forwards, seven defenseman who played full time in the NHL last season, and two veteran goalies who will be battling for time in net.

The goal? Brind’Amour will tell you it’s the Stanley Cup. But a return to the playoffs — and with that, not having the distinction of going a decade without reaching the postseason — would probably make owner Tom Dundon and the team’s long-suffering fans happy.

Here’s a look at how the Hurricanes will start the year.


7 • Phil Di Giuseppe

Last season: Di Giuseppe earned a recall in November and stuck with the team the rest of the way, finishing with 13 points in 49 games.

What to expect in 2018-19: Di Giuseppe is the likely 13th forward. He’ll be available if needed, but if everyone’s healthy and producing, it makes more sense to sit a guy in his mid-20s versus one of the teenagers.

11 • Jordan Staal (A)

Last season: Staal had 46 points and played all but three games — right around his average over the last three years. He remains a top shutdown center.

What to expect in 2018-19: Staal and Williams have found chemistry in the preseason. With McGinn on the other wing, Carolina has the makings of a hard-to-handle checking line.

13 • Warren Foegele*

Last season: Foegele had 28 goals — including four shorthanded — in his first professional season with the Checkers, plus scored twice in two games with Carolina.

What to expect in 2018-19: The 22-year-old has been the story of camp, fighting his way onto the roster with his energy and penalty killing. Foegele has the potential to have an Erik Cole-like impact as a rookie.

14 • Justin Williams (C)

Last season: In his first year back in Carolina, Williams had 51 points in 82 games but failed to lead the team — without a letter — back to the postseason.

What to expect in 2018-19: Now rightfully the captain, the three-time Cup winner should have enough left in the tank to be effective on the ice while leading off it. Carolina will need his steady hand to guide its young roster.

20 • Sebastian Aho

Last season: Aho led the Hurricanes in goals (29) and points (65) last season in his second year, emerging as the team’s top offensive weapon.

What to expect in 2018-19: Aho will get a shot at center, likely flanked by Teravainen at most times. It’s a big year for Aho — he can prove he’s capable of playing center and up his value with a new contract coming.

23 • Brock McGinn

Last season: McGinn was a full-time NHLer for the first time, finishing with 30 points that could have been more if not for the 12 hit posts that were second-most in the league.

What to expect in 2018-19: McGinn won’t have the burden of being the lone physical winger anymore, and starting the season with Staal and Williams should — along with a little puck luck — boost his numbers.

37 • Andrei Svechnikov*

Last season: Svechnikov led all OHL rookies with 40 goals and 72 points despite playing just 44 games, earning the right to be the first forward picked at the draft.

What to expect in 2018-19: Svechnikov already has an NHL body and shot, but there will be growing pains. He will likely be eased into a bigger role as the season goes on, but he should be a power play fixture from the get-go.

48 • Jordan Martinook

Last season: Martinook had just 15 points in Arizona last year after managing 25 and 24 the previous two seasons. He was second among Coyotes forwards with 128 hits.

What to expect in 2018-19: Martinook, acquired in a trade from Arizona, is probably best-suited for the wing where he can get in on the forecheck and hit people. He has shown early penalty-killing chemistry with Foegele.

49 • Victor Rask^

Last season: Rask had his toughest pro season in 2017‑18, finishing with just 31 points and even being a healthy scratch in November.

What to expect in 2018-19: Recovered from a shoulder surgery, Rask was hoping to re-establish himself as a top-nine center. Instead, Rask required surgery on his right hand after cutting it slicing a sweet potato in mid‑September. He is out indefinitely.

71 • Lucas Wallmark*

Last season: Wallmark led the Checkers in scoring with 55 points despite playing just 45 games. His 1.22 points per game were the best in the AHL.

What to expect in 2018-19: The injury to Rask opened up a center spot, and Wallmark fits the bill. He should anchor the fourth line but will need to battle to stay in the lineup with Martinook capable of playing center, too.

73 • Valentin Zykov*

Last season: Zykov bested former Hurricanes winger Chris Terry for the AHL goal title, scoring 33 times — including a league-best 17 on the power play — for Charlotte.

What to expect in 2018-19: Zykov is now on a one-way deal, so he’s going to be in the NHL. He’s a dominant net-front presence on the power play, but will need to earn his spot there — and into the lineup — with consistent play.

79 • Micheal Ferland

Last season: Ferland set career marks in goals (21), assists (20) and points (41) with Calgary last year, and he led the Flames with 171 hits.

What to expect in 2018-19: He brings the snarl Carolina has lacked for a decade. The 26-year-old, acquired from Calgary along with Hamilton, will likely be on the wing with some of the Hurricanes’ younger players to bring both experience and to be a deterrent against any rough stuff.

86 • Teuvo Teravainen

Last season: Teravainen had a breakthrough campaign, leading Carolina in assists (41) and finishing second on the team in scoring (64).

What to expect in 2018-19: Teravainen should again be Aho’s running mate — this time with the latter at center — and the two Finns could reach point-per-game status if things go as planned.

88 • Martin Necas*

Last season: Necas was again solid in the men’s Czech league, but it was on the international stage where he shined — both at the World Juniors and World Championships.

What to expect in 2018-19: Necas is arguably the fastest skater to wear a Hurricanes’ sweater since Sami Kapanen. Playing the middle in the NHL will be a big adjustment, but Necas is a good sleeper pick for the Calder Trophy.


4 • Haydn Fleury

Last season: In his first NHL season, Fleury finished with eight assists in 67 games in a third-pairing role.

What to expect in 2018-19: Carolina has been patient with Fleury, and he came to camp lighter and faster. He may be the odd-man out for now, but don’t count out a trade to make room for him in the top six.

19 • Dougie Hamilton

Last season: Hamilton tied for the league lead in goals by a defenseman with 17 and topped Flames defensemen with 44 points.

What to expect in 2018-19: Hamilton, acquired from Calgary,  should get the time on the top power play he didn’t see in Calgary and brings more size to the Carolina back end. He will likely play with Slavin on the top pairing.

22 • Brett Pesce

Last season: Pesce played the fewest games (65) of his three-year career but was just one point shy of matching his career-best output of 20 points from 2016-17.

What to expect in 2018-19: Pesce battled some offseason respiratory issues that slowed him at the start of camp, but he should be his normal, steady self. With Slavin likely paired with Hamilton, Pesce seems destined for the third pairing.

27 • Justin Faulk

Last season: Faulk had his most trying pro season, finishing with just eight goals and 31 points and struggling in his own end.

What to expect in 2018-19: Faulk, the subject of trade rumors all offseason, seems rejuvenated by the coaching change and pointed toward a bounce-back campaign. He will pair with de Haan on the second pairing and start on the top power-play unit.

44 • Calvin de Haan

Last season: De Haan played just 33 games last season and underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. The Islanders’ season fell apart once he was knocked out.

What to expect in 2018-19: Signed as a free agent, de Haan brings a calming veteran influence to the Carolina defense. He should be a regular on the penalty kill, good for 15-20 points and rack up close to 200 blocked shots.

57 • Trevor van Riemsdyk

Last season: Van Riemsdyk was steady is his first season in Carolina, finishing plus-9 in a third-pairing role with the Hurricanes.

What to expect in 2018-19: The addition of de Haan makes the Carolina blue line crowded, and van Riemsdyk will have to fend off Fleury for the No. 6 job. As one of four right-handed defensemen, van Riemsdyk could be forced to play on his off side.

74 • Jaccob Slavin

Last season: Slavin quietly continued to earn respect as one of the league’s best shutdown defenders, but also scored a career-best eight goals.

What to expect in 2018-19: Slavin had a great preseason and, if paired with Hamilton, could see his point total jump from the 30s to 40 or even 50 points. He’s also penciled in to get power play time on the second unit.


33 • Scott Darling^

Last season: It was a disastrous first season in Carolina for Darling, who was roundly considered the worst starter in the league.

What to expect in 2018-19: Darling worked out in Raleigh all offseason and says he dropped 25 pounds. His preseason performance points to redemption, but he will miss the start of the season with a lower-body injury.

34 •  Petr Mrazek

Last season: Mrazek finally lost the four-season battle for the No. 1 job in Detroit to Jimmy Howard, then struggled after a trade to Philadelphia.

What to expect in 2018-19: Signed to a one-year free-agent deal, Mrazek hopes to prove he can be an NHL starter again. He will start the opener with Darling hurt.

35 • Curtis McElhinney

Last season: The 35-year-old journeyman played 18 games with the Maple Leafs.

What to expect in 2018-19: Claimed on waivers from Toronto on Monday, McElhinney will likely be in Raleigh only until Darling recovers.

* indicates rookie; ^ indicates injured player

Prime Numbers

5 • Rookie forwards on Carolina’s opening night roster: former first-round picks Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov, and AHL standouts Warren Foegele, Lucas Wallmark and Valentin Zykov.

25.29 • Average age of the 24 Hurricanes players on the roster (including injured Victor Rask and Scott Darling) for Thursday’s season opener. Captain Justin Williams, the oldest player on the team, turns 38 that night, while 18-year-old Svechnikov will make his NHL debut. Svechnikov wasn’t yet 7 months old when Williams played in his first NHL game, a one-goal, two-assist effort in a 6-3 win for the Flyers over Vancouver. The addition of Curtis McElhinney, 35, bumped the team’s average age up almost a half year from 24.87.

2009 • The last time Carolina made the playoffs. The Hurricanes advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, but were swept by eventual champion Pittsburgh.