Necas hits reset, looks to be Hurricanes’ X-factor

In his fourth NHL season, the former first round pick is looking to fulfill his promise

Hurricanes forward Martin Necas enters his fourth NHL season looking to reclaim his spot as a core piece in Carolina. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The words resulted in a bit of a double take.

“Me and Roddy gotta trust each other a little more,” said Hurricanes forward Martin Necas at his season-ending availability in June.


Many took that as a swipe at Rod Brind’Amour despite the fact the coach said later that same day he was glad Necas had gotten the message during their exit interview.

Some still assumed Necas would be looking for a way out rather than re-signing as a restricted free agent and returning for a fourth season in Raleigh.

“I don’t know if somebody took it like we had some beef between each other,” Necas said last week. “It was nothing like that. We’ve always had a good relationship.”

It was still the latest bump in what has been an up-and-down journey for Necas since he was the 12th overall pick by the Hurricanes in the 2017 draft. The Czech native came to North America for the 2018-19 season and won a Calder Cup with the Charlotte Checkers, then Carolina’s AHL affiliate.

While the year on the ice was a crucial step in his development, it did not benefit Necas’ contract situation. The Hurricanes were able to slide his contract for his first season in North America, shielding him for needing protection in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft but also keeping Necas from shaving a year off his entry-level contract.

His rookie season was encouraging —16 goals, 20 assists and 36 points — but the leap many expected in 2019-20 was more of a small hop as he finished with 16 goals and 41 points in the COVID-interrupted season.

His contract year finally arrived but was, as he said, “disappointing.” Necas finished 2021-22 with 14 goals and 40 points in 78 games, one point fewer than he had totaled the previous season when playing in just 53 contests.

A player who once seemed on the cusp of breaking out was instead seeing Andrei Svechnikov land a big payday and Seth Jarvis emerging as the team’s other dynamic young forward.

There were rumbles that Necas and his agent were unhappy he had just played four years on a three-year entry-level contract, leading to further speculation that his future in Raleigh was uncertain.

“I couldn’t do anything about it,” Necas countered. “It was just a couple of decisions that they made and it’s like that, so I didn’t really think about it.”

Contract negotiations finally ended Aug. 9 with a two-year, $6 million contract that will pay $2.5 million this season, $3.5 million next season and carry a $3 million cap hit.

“It’s nice to be back here, nice to get the contract done,” Necas said. “It took a little bit, but we got it done. I have two years here to get myself in better position and then we’ll see what happens.”

Better positioning himself meant getting bigger and stronger — “maybe five, six pounds, somewhere close to 200 pounds” — and the 23-year-old’s peach fuzz has also been replaced with the slightest hint of stubble.

The changes in his physique coincide with an emotional maturity that Necas himself recognizes.

“I’m kind of a bit older,” he said. “I’m not a rookie anymore.”

Which takes us back to the June heart-to-heart with Brind’Amour that laid out what “trust” between the player and coach meant.

“It’s his overall play, shift in, shift out,” Brind’Amour said last week when asked about what Necas needed to do to get his career back on an upward trajectory. “Obviously, do it the right way, do it the way we need to do it.”

If his performance this preseason is any indication, Necas has heeded his coach’s advice.

Playing on Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s right wing, Necas has three goals and six points in three preseason games, including a two-goal, four-point night Monday in an 8-1 rout of Columbus.

“It’s preseason. I’d rather save it for the season, but it’s good to have these moments,” Necas said after he was named first star in the lopsided win.

With Svechnikov on the opposite side of Kotkaniemi most of this preseason, Necas is in a position to be an X-factor in the Hurricanes’ quest to win a Stanley Cup.

“We know he’s got talent,” Brind’Amour said. “We’re not ever taking that away. But there’s a time and place for all that stuff, and I think last year maybe he tried to push it a little too much and it didn’t work. … Certain players have a flair and they’re gonna get freedom to do a little more outside the box, but you still got to fill the box.”

If Necas can fill the box while occasionally venturing out of it, he could be in for a breakout season.