Power play among biggest questions facing Hurricanes ahead of season opener

Carolina Hurricanes

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA – MAY 16: Sebastian Aho #20 of the Carolina Hurricanes looks for the puck against the Boston Bruins during the second period in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena on May 16, 2019 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Carolina has some lofty expectations this season after ending a decade-long postseason drought and making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final a year ago.

The Hurricanes stumbled at points last season — likely due to the infusion of youth and first year under head coach Rod Brind’Amour. This year they’ll be expected to be more or less firing on all cylinders right out of the gate.

To do so, one area for improvement will be the team’s power play. The ‘Canes finished 20th in the NHL last season in scoring on 17.8 percent of their odd-man opportunities.

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA – MAY 14: Head coach Rod Brind’Amour of the Carolina Hurricanes looks on against the Boston Bruins during the first period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena on May 14, 2019 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

And with all the offensive weapons available, scoring more at both even strength and on the power play is an obvious area to look for improvements this season.

Brind’Amour could need some time to figure out what pieces fit best where — especially on the top unit.

Finding out where Sebastian Aho fits best should be the first place to start. Last season, he scored his fair share of power-play goals from around the right faceoff dot, ripping shots on his off-wing. He’s also dabbled at playing the right point.

In Sunday’s preseason finale against Washington, Aho was camped in front of the net when he stashed home a PPG midway through the third period.

That could clear way for a combination of Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov, and Nino Niederreiter — all left-handed shots — to man the wings and the right point. Teravainen played up top often last year.

It could also be worth experimenting with Svechnikov playing a similar role as fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin. He could man the right point, floating around the top of the right faceoff dot to set up for one-time shots.

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA – MAY 03: Andrei Svechnikov #37 of the Carolina Hurricanes scores against Thomas Greiss #1 of the New York Islanders in the third period of Game Four of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena on May 03, 2019 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Hurricanes won 5-2 and won the series, 4-0. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

As for the left point, defenseman Dougie Hamilton’s offensive production (18 goals, 21 assists) last season warrants the additional power-play time, especially with Justin Faulk’s departure. However, with a plethora of shooters between Aho, Svechnikov, Niederreiter, and/or Teravainen, it may be best to deploy a more playmaking defenseman in Jake Gardiner.

Gardiner, who signed with Carolina as a free agent, served as a power-play quarterback throughout a significant chunk of his 551 games with Toronto. He had 36 power-play assists from 2015-2018, despite largely playing on the Maple Leafs’ second unit.

That would leave Hamilton for the second unit, which, depending on personnel, could provide an entirely different look.

Defenseman Jaccob Slavin had five power-play goals last season. Lining him up alongside Hamilton would not only provide another proven shooting option at the point, but the defensive support he offers could allow Hamilton to take some more risks.

Jordan Staal is a logical choice to center the second unit. He’s reliable when it comes to taking faceoffs and is a big body to park in front of the net for screens and rebounds.

Erik Haula seems like a prime candidate to play wing on the second unit. He wasn’t much of a power-play presence earlier in his career until moving to Vegas in the expansion draft. He ended up with a dozen power-play goals and seven assists in his first season with the Golden Knights.

Martin Necas, who is fighting for a permanent spot with the ‘Canes after helping Charlotte to an AHL championship, could slot in on the other wing. He showed at that level that he has the vision and playmaking abilities to facilitate the unit, but can also get himself into position and has the shot to score the goals himself.

With all that said, special-teams units are bound to change plenty of times between the beginning and end of the season. The Hurricanes have so many options, players can get hot and cold, and sometimes a shakeup is just necessary to keep things fresh.

Carolina’s season begins Thursday when Montreal visits Raleigh.

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