Five questions facing Carolina Hurricanes

thumbnail is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the Carolina Hurricanes:

1. Will they take the next step this season?

The Hurricanes lost to the Boston Bruins in four games in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final, then lost to them again in the 2020 Eastern Conference First Round. Carolina appeared poised to break through when it went 36-12-8 to finish first ahead of the Florida Panthers (37-14-5) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (36-17-3) in the ultra-competitive Discover Central Division last season.

But the Hurricanes struggled to defeat the fourth-place Nashville Predators in six games in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs before losing to the Lightning, the eventual Stanley Cup champions, in five games in the second round.

2. How badly will Dougie Hamilton be missed?

The 28-year-old defenseman signed a seven-year contract with the New Jersey Devils on July 28 after thriving in Carolina’s attacking system the past three seasons. Hamilton scored 121 points (42 goals, 79 assists) and averaged 21:30 of ice time in 184 games while helping lead a strong defenseman group with stalwarts Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce.

Attempting to replace Hamilton on the right side, the Hurricanes acquired Ethan Bear from the Edmonton Oilers in a trade for forward Warren Foegele and signed Tony DeAngelo to a one-year contract on July 28. Bear could get a chance to play a bigger role after the 24-year-old scored eight points (two goals, six assists) and averaged 17:58 in ice time in 43 games last season. DeAngelo, a 25-year-old who scored 53 points (15 goals, 38 assists) in 68 games with the New York Rangers in 2019-20, has the potential to replace Hamilton’s offensive production.

3. The goaltending is different, but is it better?

The Hurricanes overhauled their goaltending despite being fourth in the NHL last season with a 2.35 team goals-against average and third with a .915 save percentage. Frederik Andersen, who was 13-8-3 with a 2.96 GAA and .895 save percentage in 24 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Antti Raanta, who was 5-5-2 with a 3.36 GAA and .905 save percentage in 12 games with the Arizona Coyotes, each signed a two-year contract July 28.

Andersen and Raanta replace Alex Nedeljkovic (15-5-3, 1.90 GAA, .923 save percentage, three shutouts), who was traded to the Detroit Red Wings; Petr Mrazek (6-2-3, 2.06 GAA, .923 save percentage, three shutouts), who signed a three-year contract with the Maple Leafs; and James Reimer (15-5-2, 2.66 GAA, .906 save percentage), who signed a two-year contract with the San Jose Sharks.

4. Is the supporting cast stronger?

Other than losing Hamilton, the core remains intact, including Slavin, Pesce and forwards Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen. But in addition to revamping the goaltending, the Hurricanes made extensive changes to their depth.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed an offer sheet Aug. 28 for one year and $6.1 million. The Montreal Canadiens have until Saturday to match the offer and keep the restricted free agent forward or they will receive a first-round pick and a third-round pick in the NHL Draft as compensation from the Hurricanes. The 21-year-old scored 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 56 regular-season games with the Canadiens last season, and eight points (five goals, three assists) in 19 playoff games.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Brendan Smith arrive on one-year contracts to replace Jani Hakanpaa (signed with the Dallas Stars) and Jake Bean (traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets). Forwards Derek Stepan and Josh Leivo were also added on one-year contracts with Foegele, Brock McGinn (signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins), Cedric Paquette (signed with the Montreal Canadiens) and Morgan Geekie (selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft) departing.

The roster turnover created a different mix, but it remains to be seen if it’s improved.

Video: CAR@TBL, Gm3: Aho finishes Hurricanes’ nifty set-up

5. Which of their top prospects is ready to step into their lineup?

The Hurricanes’ departures create an opening for at least one young forward in their lineup and Jack Drury, 21, Ryan Suzuki, 20, and Seth Jarvis, 19, are likely to get long looks in training camp. Drury, a second-round pick (No. 42) in the 2018 NHL Draft, might be the closest to being ready after scoring 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in 41 games with Vaxjo in the Swedish Hockey League last season.

Suzuki, the No. 28 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, scored 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 26 games with Chicago of the American Hockey League last season. Jarvis, the No. 13 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, scored 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in nine games with Chicago of the AHL and 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) in 24 games with Portland of the Western Hockey League.

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