RALEIGH — Coming into the 2018-19 season, the Carolina Hurricanes made it clear their young players would need to pitch in if the team was to break its nine-year playoff drought.
“We need everyone to contribute,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said following Carolina’s wild 8-5 win over the Rangers back on Oct. 7. “We’ve said that from Day 1. Whether you’re a rookie or been around forever, you want to play, you’ve got to contribute.”
Thirty players have suited up for Carolina this season, and 10 of them are still categorized as rookies. So how have they done through 32 games? It’s a mixed bag — some have provided what was expected or more, while others were unable to gain a foothold in Raleigh.
Back in July, I examined how advanced stats writer Rob Vollman’s “translation factors” formula predicted Carolina’s rookies would fare this season. Vollman’s work projected that second overall pick Andrei Svechnikov would average 0.53 points per game.
The Russian rookie has been as advertised, scoring nine goals and adding eight assists — a spot-on 0.53 points per game average through 32 games. If anything, it feels like Svechnikov will exceed those numbers. His ice time is on the rise (12:41 in October, 15:28 in November and 16:55 so far in December) and so is his output (five points in seven games in December).
“I just think he’s maturing as a player offensively in this league,” Brind’Amour said.
Brind’Amour has also given Svechnikov praise for his work ethic, along with his willingness to take criticism and guidance from the coaching staff.
“There’s a lot of gaps there on the other end of the puck,” Brind’Amour said of Svechnikov’s two-way play. “But the fact that, since Day 1 you’ve heard me say, he’s willing to learn, and he’s trying to do the things you ask him. It’s a matter of time before we won’t even be talking about that.”
Warren Foegele is the other rookie who has played in all of Carolina’s games this season. The 22-year-old winger had two goals and three points in a two-game call-up last season, and started off similarly this season with three goals and four points in the team’s first four games.
Then came the drought — Foegele went 27 games without a goal and managed just one assist, sliding from a line with Jordan Staal down into Carolina’s bottom six.
Foegele finally snapped his goal drought Sunday, but Brind’Amour called getting on the scoresheet a “secondary thing” for the speedy winger. That’s because Foegele has been a mainstay on a penalty kill that started the year dreadfully but has climbed to 12th in the NHL at 81 percent.
Since Nov. 3, Carolina has allowed just four power play goals on 55 opportunities — a 92.7 percent kill rate. And Foegele is a key part of that.
Needs more time
The Hurricanes pinned a lot of expectations on Svechnikov and Martin Necas, their 2017 first-round pick. While Svechnikov has proven ready for full-time NHL duty — and the team had no choice but to keep him in Raleigh or send him back to junior — Necas has needed time to marinate.
The Czech rookie had two points in seven games with Carolina, scoring in his last game with the Hurricanes before being assigned to the team’s AHL affiliate in Charlotte.
Playing center so soon in the NHL proved too much for the 19-year-old, especially with the position paper-thin for the first 20 games of the season. But a move to the wing has helped Necas blossom, and he has 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 25 games with the Checkers. Two weeks ago, he was named AHL’s Player of the Week after he recorded seven assists in two games.
The Athletic’s prospect guru, Corey Pronman, considers Necas among the best players not in the NHL right now, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be a factor for Carolina down the road — it’s just a matter of when.
Injuries and Necas’ struggles opened the door for a few other players. So did the decision to waive Valentin Zykov, a rookie himself who struggled to carve out a spot with the Hurricanes and was subsequently claimed by the Kings.
Centers Clark Bishop (15 games; one goal, one assist) and Nicolas Roy (six games) each saw time thanks to injuries to Victor Rask and Jordan Staal, while Janne Kuokkanen (three games) and Saku Maenalanen (one game) each saw spot duty.
Defensemen Jake Bean (three games) and Trevor Carrick (one game) made brief appearances on the roster due to injuries on the back end.