RALEIGH — The Hurricanes added to their core Wednesday, inking goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov to a contract extension. Carolina hosts the Coyotes on Wednesday, then play a matinee in Boston Friday before the Flames visit on Saturday. The Hurricanes then hit the road for six in a row, finally returning to PNC Arena on Dec. 15 against Seattle.
1. Despite having just 11 games of NHL experience, the Hurricanes gave Kochetkov a four-year extension worth $2 million annually, a low-risk, high-reward bet that the 23-year-old is Carolina’s goalie of the future.
“He’s shown obviously, the little that he has been here, that he can play,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said when asked about the extension.
Since his first promotion to the NHL in late April, Kochetkov is 5-0-2 with a .909 save percentage and 2.16 goals-against average in regular season play. Thrown into the playoffs last season, he started one game in four appearances and posted a 1-2-0 record.
It’s a smart play for Carolina. The deal buys one UFA year from Kochetkov, and if becomes their No. 1 goalie, it’s a huge win. If he’s more of a backup, the money is also fair. If, for whatever reason, he flames out, it would be easy to bury much of his cap hit in the minors or buy him out.
The hope is he’ll become the top guy.
“He’s growing into, obviously, a solid goaltender,” captain Jordan Staal said Wednesday when I surprised him with the news of Kochetkov’s extension. “I think he’s been really good ever since he came over. He’s putting in the work and he’s done all the things to get where he is and, obviously, he’s a really good goaltender. So we’re happy to have him on board.”
Like they did last April, Kochetkov and Andrei Svechnikov‚ his de facto translator, teamed up for a quick press availability after Wednesday’s practice.
“He couldn’t believe it at first, and he still couldn’t believe it,” Svechnikov said, relaying Kochetkov’s thoughts on his new deal. “But he said (he knew) it’s gonna come and he’s very happy.”
Part of that could be Kochetkov’s new representation. Just after 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, agent Dan Milstein tweeted that Kochetkov had signed with Gold Star Hockey, meaning he left CAA’s J.P. Barry.
— Dan Milstein-Hockey (@HockeyAgent1) November 22, 2022
By the end of the day, Kochetkov had agreed to his new deal, which was officially announced just 20 hours after the tweet about his move to Gold Star.
Brind’Amour also offered a tongue-in-cheek assessment of how the deal got done.
“He wouldn’t have signed a four-year deal,” Brind’Amour said with a smirk, “if he wasn’t popular with the coach. … I feel pretty confident that we’ve got a good one there.”
The signing also came just nine days after Kochetkov posted his first career NHL shutout, a 3-0 win in Chicago on Nov. 14.
“He said that’s probably why they signed him, after that shutout,” Kochetkov said via Svechnikov. “He said it’s a big game for him because he doesn’t play lots of shutout games, and he’s looking forward to having them more.”
With Frederick Andersen injured (more on that below), Kochetkov could be around for a while.
“It’s been a big step for him playing here. … He said he feels more confident and he gonna only get better and better,” Svechnikov relayed.
Lastly, I asked — as I did when Svechnikov signed his big contract extension — if Kochetkov had any big purchases planned as a present for himself.
“He’s gotta cover the mortgage.”
2. Andersen was sighted briefly near the Hurricanes’ locker room on Wednesday, though the brief glimpse didn’t provide any insight into his ailment.
Brind’Amour did say after the morning skate that Andersen has not been back on the ice.
“That’s obviously a big concern for us,” the coach said. “That’s your guy there, and he’s not able to play. But until he’s lacing them up and out there practicing, I don’t really have an update.”
Brind’Amour did say Andersen is improving.
“I didn’t think it was gonna take this long, but I know he’s feeling better,” he said. “I talked to him the other day, it’s just that he’s not out there.”
3. Carolina has been in a scoring funk, having managed just 18 goals in its last eight games. That might not sound all that bad on the surface, but 10 of those goals came from a seven-goal game against Edmonton and the three the Hurricanes scored with an extra attacker in their comeback in Winnipeg.
Plainly put, Carolina needs to score more. Can the Hurricanes build off the three goals they scored in Winnipeg that miraculously erased a three-goal deficit and earned them a point in the standings?
“Sure. You can take anything you want out of any game and kind of focus on it if you want,” Brind’Amour said. “We always generally, good or bad, kind of move on. But you certainly love the way we just kept playing. I mean, that’s certainly a positive.”
Staal echoed that assessment.
“I mean, it doesn’t hurt it,” he said of the flurry of goals in the Winnipeg game. “We obviously battled hard at the end. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen three empty-net goals, so it was pretty cool and fun to be part of.
“But I think we definitely have to clear up some things and find a little better game, more consistent, and not give up too many freebies and have better special teams and all those things. So we’ve got lots to improve on, but we’ll try to kind of build off that momentum we had at the end of the last game.”
4. The Hurricanes rarely practice their power play during a morning skate, but they did so on Wednesday.
They need to: Carolina is 30th in the league at 14.3% and hasn’t scored in its last five games. When you’re 1-1-3 in those games, a couple of goals on the power play can make a huge difference in the standings.
“It’s always a concern,” Brind’Amour said of the power play. “It alleviates a lot of stress in your game if your power play is going, which obviously lately, or the last few games for sure, it hasn’t looked very good.
“But we didn’t get a lot of opportunities the other night. When you’re not practicing, the way the schedule is, you gotta try to fit stuff in when you can.”
5. Another statistical eye sore is the point production of Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
The 22-year-old center is in the first year of an eight-year, $38.56 million contract. He was signed to that deal with the expectation he would replace Vincent Trocheck as the team’s No. 2 center.
So far, he was one goal and two assists in 19 games. Put in perspective, only six forwards this season have played more than 250 minutes and had three or fewer points, according to Hockey-Reference.com. Kotkaniemi is one of them, as is Coyotes center Barrett Hayton — who selected two picks third overall selection Kotkaniemi in the 2018 draft and will play against Carolina on Wednesday.
“I think, obviously, it’s been a hiccup there,” Brind’Amour said of Kotkaniemi. “I mean, we need production out of it. I don’t think he’s played poorly, I just think he hasn’t contributed on the offense side of things. That’s an area that, if you’re in that opportunity, you have to make good on and you gotta put up points there.”
Brind’Amour hinted that if things don’t turn around soon, Kotkaniemi could be shuffled down the lineup.
“I know the ability is there,” Brind’Amour added. “And again, we’re gonna stop saying it eventually that he’s a young kid, but he is a young kid. And so you’ve got to just maybe change his outlook a little bit, maybe back it off a little, I don’t know. There’s things we can try to do, but he’s going to be the guy, so we’ve got to make it work.”