RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A hockey team is bound to experience turnover year-to-year. Athletes age, prospects develop, and the salary cap can make it tricky for an organization to keep everyone around.
Such was the case with Carolina this offseason. Justin Williams announcing he is taking a break from hockey and will not join the team to start the season. With his departure — whether temporary or not — the Hurricanes lose their captain and a significant voice in the locker room.
Head coach Rod Brind’Amour and the Hurricanes players all said Williams isn’t someone easily replaced, so they’re not going to try, per se.
Still, the offense provided by the veteran winger is a void that will need to be filled. Williams had 53 points last year and was Carolina’s third-leading scorer the previous two seasons. He and Micheal Ferland, who signed with Vancouver as a free agent, combined for 40 goals last year.
Carolina is well equipped to replace the offensive production. Nino Niederreiter arrived midseason via trade and had 30 points in 36 games for the Hurricanes. Left winger Ryan Dzingel and center Erik Haula were acquired in the offseason. Dzingel, who split last year in Ottawa and Columbus, had 56 points.
Haula suffered a season-ending injury early into the 2018 campaign. However, he had 55 points in 76 games for Vegas in 2017-18.
Niederreiter (26 years old), Dzingel (27), and Haula (28) should all be either in or approaching their primes. The ‘Canes have high hopes for younger players in the organization — perhaps none more so than Andrei Svechnikov, who finished his rookie year with 20 goals.
“We picked up a couple of guys that we think can provide offense,” Brind’Amour said. “Somebody is going to have to step up and fill those shoes on the offensive side of things. As far as the leadership side of things, you’re not going to replace a Justin Williams, but somebody else will emerge and lead by their style.”
Warren Foegele looks to take another step forward after a dazzling postseason. He had five goals in 15 playoff games, including one just 17 seconds into Game 4 in the first round against Washington.
“I thought I took a big step in the playoffs,” Foegele said. “Gaining that confidence and hopefully trying to take that confidence and bringing it into the new year. We have a lot of new acquisitions, too, that have done so well in this league. So, I think we’re all pretty excited to see where this goes.”
Carolina has a sort of embarrassment of riches on the wings. Down the middle, 20-year-old center Martin Necas will compete for a permanent spot after seven appearances for the ‘Canes last year. He could feasibly slot in as a fourth-line center or a middle-six right winger.
Necas, while the ‘Canes were driving deep into the NHL playoffs, helped the Charlotte Checkers to an American Hockey League championship this past summer. He had 13 points in 18 postseason games. He proved along the way he has the tools to soon slot in as Carolina’s No. 2 center behind Sebastian Aho.
“It’s hard to say now, but of course I want to make the team,” Necas said. “I want to spend the whole season here this time.”
Necas added that he learned he has to better adjust to the physicality at the NHL level. He said he worked on adding strength to his 6-foot-1 frame to help him compete for loose pucks and better battle along the boards. In addition to developing a strong one-timer, Necas proved at the AHL level he can find open space and handle himself in front of the net, making him more dynamic offensively.
Carolina’s preseason begins Sept. 17 in Tampa Bay. The regular season begins Oct. 3 when Montreal visits PNC Arena.
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