Hurricanes season preview: Kotkaniemi added to enhance offense

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The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Carolina Hurricanes.

Coach: Rod Brind’Amour (fourth season)

Last season: 36-12-8; first place in Discover Central Division, lost to Tampa Bay Lightning in Stanley Cup Second Round

3 KEYS

1. Integrating the newcomers

The Hurricanes kept their core mostly intact but brought in two new goalies in Frederik Andersen (two-year contract) and Antti Raanta (two-year contract) and overhauled their supporting cast. That included adding forwards Jesperi Kotkaniemi (from the Montreal Canadiens on one-year restricted free agent offer sheet), Derek Stepan (one-year contract) and Josh Leivo (one-year contract) and defensemen Ethan Bear (trade with Edmonton Oilers), Tony DeAngelo (one-year contract), Ian Cole (one-year contract) and Brendan Smith (one-year contract).

Brind’Amour said getting those new players indoctrinated into the Hurricanes system will be “the big challenge.” 

“I look at last offseason and we had one player change and we get out of the gate and we lose 12 games all year because there’s not a learning curve,” Brind’Amour said. “Now, all of a sudden, we may have nine players out of the 20 that are new. So that’s the worry. Now, how quickly we pick things up, that’s on me, but that’s the concern, for sure.”

2. Replacing Dougie Hamilton

Hamilton, who signed a seven-year contract with the New Jersey Devils on July 28, was the Hurricanes’ biggest offseason loss. The defenseman scored 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) and averaged 22:43 in ice time in 55 games last season, so he leaves a significant hole on the right side that might require multiple players to fill.

DeAngelo will get an opportunity to take on Hamilton’s offensive role. DeAngelo scored 53 points (15 goals, 38 assists) in 68 games with the New York Rangers in 2019-20 and is looking to resurrect his career after New York bought out the final season of his contract July 24. Bear, who was acquired from Edmonton for forward Warren Foegele on July 28, also might claim some of Hamilton’s minutes. Bear scored eight points (two goals, six assists) and averaged 17:58 in ice time in 43 games last season.

3. Revamped goaltending

Questions remain about whether the Hurricanes will be better in net with Andersen and Raanta after they were tied for fourth in the NHL with a 2.39 team goals-against average and tied for third in the League with a .920 save percentage last season with Alex Nedeljkovic (traded to the Detroit Red Wings), Petr Mrazek (signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs) and James Reimer (signed with the San Jose Sharks).

Staying healthy will be essential. Limited by a lower-body injury, Andersen was 13-8-3 with a 2.96 GAA and .895 save percentage in 24 games (23 starts) with the Maple Leafs last season. Raanta missed time with upper-body and lower-body injuries when he was 5-5-2 with a 3.36 GAA and .905 save percentage in 12 games (11 starts) with the Arizona Coyotes last season.

Video: Carolina Hurricanes 2021-22 Season Preview

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Position battles

Training camp competitions will be mostly about determining where players fit best. For example, DeAngelo and Bear are options to play on the right side in the top four on defense, but is it better to slot one of them into Hamilton’s old spot alongside Jaccob Slavin in the first pair or move Brett Pesce into that position and play DeAngelo or Bear with Brady Skjei on the second pair?

Although left wing on the third line with center Jordan Staal appears to be the logical starting point for Kotkaniemi, finding the best spot for him to excel will be part of camp.

Most intriguing addition

The spotlight is on Kotkaniemi after the Canadiens decided not to match the Hurricanes’ one-year, $6.1 million offer sheet. Kotkaniemi, the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, scored 62 points (22 goals, 40 assists) in 171 games in three seasons with the Canadiens. The Hurricanes believe the 21-year-old has the potential to produce more offensively and hope a fresh start with them will help him reach it.

Biggest potential surprise

Stepan got off to a slow start with the Ottawa Senators last season, scoring six points (one goal, five assists) in 20 games before having season-ending shoulder surgery. Now healthy, the veteran of 11 NHL seasons can provide experience and depth scoring from the fourth line — he’s topped 50 points six times — and is an option to move up in the lineup if needed.

Ready to break through

Before Kotkaniemi was signed, Jack Drury, a second-round pick (No. 42) in the 2018 draft, appeared in position to compete for a spot in the opening night lineup, but Carolina might not have room for the forward now. The 21-year-old scored 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in 41 games with Vaxjo in the Swedish Hockey League last season.

Fantasy sleeper

Kotkaniemi, who is expected to play left wing, brings intriguing fantasy upside, especially if he’s on the top line with elite center Sebastian Aho and either right wing Martin Necas or Teuvo Teravainen. Kotkaniemi, who scored 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 56 regular-season games and had eight points (five goals, three assists) in 19 Stanley Cup Playoff games in 2020-21, could be among the biggest fantasy surprises of the season if he sticks in a top-six role with the Hurricanes. Rob Reese

Projected lineup

Andrei Svechnikov — Sebastian Aho — Teuvo Teravainen

Nino NiederreiterVincent Trocheck — Martin Necas

Jesperi Kotkaniemi — Jordan Staal — Jesper Fast

Jordan Martinook — Derek Stepan — Josh Leivo

Jaccob Slavin — Brett Pesce

Brady Skjei — Tony DeAngelo

Ian Cole — Ethan Bear

Frederik Andersen

Antti Raanta

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