Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour has said he likes to mull over potential lineups during the offseason, mixing and matching players.
So do Canes fans.
With NHL free agency still a few weeks away, and with contract and trade decisions still to be made by Canes management, it’s a good time to muse about next season’s lineup, and how it could look. Just guesstimates, of course, but why not?
Here’s a stab at it:
Andrei Svechnikov-Sebastian Aho-Seth Jarvis
Teuvo Teravainen-Jesperi Kotkaniemi-Martin Necas
Nino Niederreiter-Jordan Staal-Jesper Fast
Steven Lorentz-Jack Drury-Jordan Martinook
Jaccob Slavin-Tony DeAngelo
Brady Skjei-Brett Pesce
Ian Cole-Jalen Chatfield
Free agent assumptions
Some big assumptions obviously are being made. One is that center Vincent Trocheck might leave in free agency.
Brind’Amour admires Trocheck’s gritty style of play, saying after the season, “We want to get ‘Tro’ back … that’s a priority.” Trocheck, in turn, said he’d like to return to complete some “unfinished business” after the Canes’ second-round exit in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But Trocheck, an unrestricted free agent, could get a contract offer elsewhere that he can’t refuse, and the Canes could decide not to match — that’s NHL business.
Another assumption is that the Canes will re-sign Niederreiter, like Trocheck a UFA, and keep the Staal line together. Suffice it to say Brind’Amour likely does not mull over breaking up the Staal line.
One guess is that the Canes will come to contract terms with DeAngelo, a restricted free agent. Some serious work needs to be done but the Canes want to keep a D-man who had 51 points and quarterbacks the top power-play unit.
They also could bring back Cole, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with Pittsburgh who fit in well this season with Carolina. And if not Cole, another UFA with experience.
Banking on Kotkaniemi
Is Kotkaniemi ready for a bigger role? The Canes obviously believe he is, first acquiring the Finnish center with an offer sheet to the Montreal Canadiens — at a price of $6.1 million last season — and then signing him in March to an eight-year contract with an annual average payout of $4.82 million.
That’s quite a commitment. Kotkaniemi, who will be 22 on July 6, had 12 goals and 29 points in 66 games last season, albeit averaging 12 minutes of ice time and often used as the fourth-line center. His playoff performance with the Canes: two assists in 14 games, and that after scoring five goals in 19 playoff games for Montreal in 2021.
“There were a lot of ups and downs, I feel,” Kotkaniemi said in analyzing his season during his exit interview. “I feel I’m ready for bigger minutes but I’ll take whatever they give me. The competition here is really hard. I need to be ready when I come to (preseason) camp and be ready to compete.”
Brind’Amour said Kotkaniemi has “huge potential” and added “there’s a lot there.” They’ll be counting on that next season.
Up and coming
Looking to make the jump from the American Hockey League will be Drury and Chatfield after the Chicago Wolves’ run to the Calder Cup championship.
Drury, a second-round draft pick by Carolina in 2018, had a cameo appearance with the Canes this past season. Making his NHL debut Dec. 16 against Detroit, he scored and was named the game’s first star. He also scored in his second game, against the Kings, before being reassigned to the Wolves.
Drury, 22, had solid numbers with the Wolves in the regular season – 20 goals, 32 assists in 68 games – and had nine goals and 15 assists (24 points) in the Wolves’ 18 playoff games.
Chatfield, who already had NHL experience with Vancouver, got in 16 games with the Canes this season, the last in mid-March. Mobile and physical, he’s a right-shot D-man who appears ready to push for a lineup spot with Carolina.
An X-factor on defense could be veteran Jake Gardiner, who was sidelined this past season after hip and back surgery but has been medically cleared to return. Gardiner’s playing status will be determined by his offseason conditioning and then play in preseason camp.
All that said, Canes president and general manager Don Waddell will have the final say — with Brind’Amour in his ear.