RALEIGH — The slog through the rest of the regular season has a light at the end of the tunnel.
The Hurricanes will fly to the Tri-State area Friday afternoon for three road games in four days against the Devils, Islanders and Rangers, starting with Saturday’s matinee in New Jersey. The Devils also visit PNC Arena for Thursday’s regular season finale.
Before the fun begins, let’s tie up some loose ends.
1. Conventional wisdom says rookie goalie Pyotr Kochetkov will get one of the road starts — likely either Saturday or Sunday.
Kochetkov’s early arrival in Raleigh comes courtesy of injuries to starter Frederik Andersen and No. 3 goalie Alex Lyon, but the hype train had no trouble following him from Chicago.
It has to be overwhelming for Kochetkov, who has only been in North America for two months, speaks little English and is with his third team of 2022.
There has been some relief in the way of Andrei Svechnikov, once upon a time an eager but elementary English speaker himself. The two Russians chatted following Thursday’s morning skate, a break from the Google translate conversations Kochetkov’s been having with goalie coach Paul Schonfelder.
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Svechnikov has been a big help with the language barrier.
“Thankfully we have Svech here, so (he can help with) any of the stuff we have to talk about,” Brind’Amour said. “More than anything, it’s off-ice stuff (like), ‘Do you know where to go?’ and making sure he’s comfortable. … We’re lucky that way.”
2. Thursday night, another player who can relate to Kochetkov’s situation was in Raleigh.
Jets goalie Mikhail Berdin was called up on an emergency basis Tuesday after Winnipeg starter Connor Hellebuyck was scratched from his expected start.
Berdin, from Ufa, Russia, bounced on and off the Jets’ taxi squad the last two seasons but is still, like Kochetkov, waiting to make his NHL debut.
The 24-year-old, however, has been in North America since 2016-17 when he played in the USHL. There’s quite a story about that, actually, and The Athletic’s Murat Ages chronicled both that and the friendship that has blossomed between Berdin and Svechnikov — who was also in the USHL that season — from their time on Russia’s 2018 World Junior Championship team.
During warmups Thursday, Berdin and Kochetkov stretched on either side of the red line in preparation for their night wearing a baseball cap, waiting for their shot to play in an NHL game. But for a few moments, both got an idea of what a small world it is — two young goalies thousands of miles away from home, chatting as they would back in Russia.
3. Carolina defenseman Brady Skjei has quietly put together his best statistical season since he made the NHL’s All-Rookie Team back in 2016-17.
Through 78 games, the 28-year-old has matched his career high with eight goals — the fourth time he’s reached that total — and also has 35 points. Unlike his rookie season, when he had seven power play assists, Skjei has all his 2021-22 points at even strength.
“It definitely is a bonus,” Skjei said of his production this season. “I feel like I’ve created some good chances, and this year I’m lucky enough that a lot of them have gone in or guys have scored. But I just try to play my game, play good defense, and then if I can chip in on the offense, obviously there’s a plus.”
Skjei is tied with Tony DeAngelo with eight even-strength goals and also leads Carolina’s defensemen in primary assists at even strength, totaling 13 to Jaccob Slavin’s 12 and DeAngelo’s 11.
Skjei’s 33 even-strength points this season trail only Svechnikov (38), Sebastian Aho (37) and Nino Niederreiter (36) on the Hurricanes this season.
“If you don’t get that secondary wave of scoring from your D, it’s just hard to score,” Brind’Amour said. “And so all the teams that activate their D, their D are always in the rush, their D are hanging around. Brady’s a great skater and I think he has great instincts, and that’s why he’s cashing in.”
4. It looks like New Jersey defenseman Dougie Hamilton will finally get to play the Hurricanes since signing a seven-year, $63 million deal with the Devils (heh) last offseason.
Hamilton, who had 42 goals and 121 points in three years with Carolina, has 29 points in 57 games this season with New Jersey. Carolina plays at New Jersey on Saturday and then ends the regular season hosting the Devils on Thursday.
In case you were curious, Hamilton has three goals and six assists in 13 career games against Carolina. His best game against the Hurricanes was his last — a two-goal performance on Jan. 14, 2018, when he was with Calgary.
Side note: You might remember that as the game where graybeards Justin Williams and Mark Giordano fought after the Calgary defensemen made a high hit on Sebastian Aho.
Aho missed two weeks with a concussion while Giordano was given a match penalty but not suspended.
Five months after that game, Hamilton was traded to Carolina — along with Micheal Ferland and the rights to Adam Fox — for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin.
While it might now look like the Flames were big winners in this deal, Ferland and Hamilton both helped the Hurricanes end their playoff drought and make a run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2019, and the latter was around for two more years of playoffs before his big payday.
And Fox? He wasn’t going to sign with anyone but the Rangers, so Carolina shipped him to New York for two second-round picks.
One became 2020 41st overall pick Noah Gunler, who just came to North America from Sweden and has a goal and an assist in his first six AHL games with the Wolves.
The other pick, the 37th in 2019, was traded to Ottawa — which selected goalie Mads Sogaard — for the 44th and 83rd picks that draft. Those picks became prospects Jamieson Rees and Anttoni Honka — who both look like they have NHL futures.
5. Speaking of young players, let’s put Seth Jarvis’ rookie season in perspective.
Jarvis won’t be among the Calder Trophy finalists after the season, but I wouldn’t bet against him being one of the top players to come out of the 2020 NHL Draft.
Entering Friday’s games, only six players from that draft class have more points than Jarvis’ 36 in 64 games: Tim Stutzle (82 points in 127 games), Lucas Raymond (56 in 78), Alexis Lafreniere (49 in 131), Anton Lundell (43 in 62), Dawson Mercer (41 in 77) and Jamie Drysdale (39 in 101).
The Rangers’ Lafreniere has been underwhelming so far as the top overall pick, while Detroit’s Raymond (taken fourth) looks like he could be the class of the draft. Drysdale, a defenseman with the Ducks, has lived up to his billing so far as the No. 5 pick.
Jarvis’ points per game (0.56) are on par with last year’s rookie campaign by the third pick Stutzle (0.55), who is now in his second season. Lundell (selected 12th) has played just over 100 minutes more than Jarvis (13th overall) this season, which closes the point production gap between those two significantly. Mercer, the latest pick of the six players at 18th, has played nearly 300 minutes and 13 games more than Jarvis this season while producing just behind the Carolina rookie in points per game (0.53).
There’s also L.A.’s Quinton Byfield, Winnipeg’s Cole Perfetti, Minnesota’s Marco Rossi and Ottawa’s Jake Sanderson, among others, to watch from the first round. Still, the Hurricanes can’t help but be thrilled with Jarvis’ progress.
“Let’s put it this way: He’s earned his spot in the lineup and he’s definitely earned his ice time,” Brind’Amour said.
It’s even sweeter when one remembers that Jarvis was drafted with the pick Carolina got from Toronto for taking on and buying out Patrick Marleau’s contract two seasons ago.
And Carolina’s original first-round pick from the 2020 draft? It was traded to the Rangers, who selected Hendrix Lapierre (one goal in six games) 22nd overall.
The Hurricanes received Skjei in return.