Coming into last year's lockout-shortened season, expectations were high in Raleigh for a Hurricanes team that had a big offseason, landing the likes of Alexander Semin and Jordan Staal to help boost the offense. However, when all was said and done, the 'Canes finished the season in similar fashion to the previous three campaigns – near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and out of the playoffs. While the team was just OK offensively – middle of the pack with an average of 2.65 goals scored per game – it was defensively that the 'Canes really suffered, allowing 3.31 goals per game, second-worst in the league. Furthermore, the team ranked poorly in several other categories, including shots allowed per game (32.2, 26th overall), power-play percentage (14.6, 27th) and penalty-kill percentage (77.6, 28th). Looking ahead, the team will really need to beef up on special teams if it wishes to compete in the now-realigned Metropolitan division with the likes of Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia and the Rangers.
In contrast to last year's highly eventful offseason, this summer was a very quiet one for the 'Canes on the free agent front, and the team finds itself heading into the upcoming season with a roster very similar to last year's. The top line of Jiri Tlusty, Eric Staal and Alexander Semin was a huge success last season and is expected to be kept intact again this year. However, question marks abound regarding the second line of Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal and Tuomo Ruutu. Specifically, Skinner battled continued concussion problems last season and Ruutu is coming off yet another hip surgery. Both players will need to be healthy if the 'Canes can be expected to provide anything by way of secondary scoring this year. Joni Pitkanen is expected to miss the entire season due to a broken left calcaneus bone, creating a gaping hole on the Carolina blue line. Young up-and-comers like Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy will be asked to step in to fill the void, along with the recently-acquired Andrej Sekera. Between the pipes, Cam Ward is still one of the league's top goalies when healthy, and the 'Canes will be relying on him once again to shoulder the bulk of the netminding duties.
The Big Guns
Eric Staal (C): During last year's lockout-shortened NHL season, Staal managed 53 points in 48 games, producing his best points-per-game ratio (1.10) in seven seasons. Put it another way - over a normal 82-game season, Staal was on pace for roughly 91 points, so if you had drafted him expecting the 70+ points he'd put up the previous three seasons, you got good value for your money. The only thing fantasy owners should beware of heading into this season is the third-degree MCL sprain Staal suffered at the World Hockey Championships in May. He's expected to be good to go once the regular season starts, but keep an eye on his status once training camps open in September.
Alexander Semin (LW): With 44 points in 44 games last season, Semin returned to being a point-per-game player for the first time since 2009-10 when he was playing alongside Alexander Ovechkin in Washington. In his first full season in Carolina, he proved to be a good fit with the Canes, lining up on the team's top line alongside Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty. One word of caution - Semin did miss the last two games of the regular season with a concussion. However, assuming a return to full health over the summer, expect him to produce similar levels of output this upcoming season.
Cam Ward (G): Last season ended somewhat prematurely for Ward, as he wound up missing the last two months of the season with an MCL sprain. That said, he was not exactly at the top of his game at the time of the injury, as both his goals-against-average (2.84) and save percentage (.908) were inferior compared to his previous two seasons. Looking ahead, a presumably healthy Ward should be ready and able to bounce back as the 'Canes' top netminder once again. The only real knock against him is the caliber of team playing in front of him, as the 'Canes continue to be nothing more than an average team offensively, and below average defensively.
On The Rise
Jiri Tlusty (LW): Last season, Tlusty was unexpectedly promoted to the 'Canes' top line alongside Eric Staal and Alexander Semin and responded with a career-best 38 points in 48 games. Furthermore, he seemed to be heating up even more down the stretch, notching 15 points in 15 games during the month of April, including an eight-game, 11-point scoring streak to close out the regular season. After years of proving to be little more than a talented underachiever, Tlusty finally seems poised to take a major step forward in his NHL career. Expect similar numbers if he can stick on the top line along with Staal and Semin for another season.
Justin Faulk (D): Already an emerging force from the back end for the Hurricanes, Faulk upped his game even further on a number of levels last season. He improved his points per game to 0.39 from 0.33 the season before, his plus-minus rating jumped to +16 from -1, and his TOI (time-on-ice) per game rose by over a full minute to 24:00. Furthermore, he led all Hurricanes defensemen in power-play TOI (total minutes) and by season's end was being paired with Joni Pitkanen as the team's top PP defensive tandem on a regular basis. He should continue to see quality minutes this season.
Two To Watch
Tuomo Ruutu (RW): Ruutu played most of last season with a hip injury, but still managed to record nine points in the 17 games he played. He underwent successful surgery for the ailment shortly after the end of the regular season, and it's expected he'll be ready to go come training camp. Assuming he's healthy, Ruutu should open the season as the Hurricanes' second-line right winger alongside Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner, a combination that has good point-producing potential. Ruutu will likely have fallen off the average poolie's fantasy radar come October, so don't be afraid to take a flyer on him in the later rounds of your draft - he has good sleeper pick potential.
Jeff Skinner (LW): Last season, fantasy owners were understandably worried after Skinner went down in February with yet another concussion, his second in as many years. The good news is, he wasn't out for long and finished the season with a respectable 24 points in 42 games. This season, a presumably healthy Skinner will look to get back to the form he showed in his rookie season three years ago - the one that saw him score 63 points in 82 games. He has all the talent to do so, and will likely open the season as the team's second-line left winger alongside Jordan Staal.
Mike Komisarek (D): Komisarek signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with Carolina in July just weeks after being bought out by the Maple Leafs. The 31-year-old Komisarek only appeared in four game for the Leafs last season and never lived up to the five-year, $22.5 million contract they signed him to back in 2009. He'll no doubt benefit from a change of scenery with the Canes, however keep in mind he has never scored more than 15 points in a single campaign, and even that was seven seasons ago. He will play primarily in a shutdown role and will provide little by way of fantasy value in most formats.
Patrick Dwyer (RW): Last season, Dwyer averaged over 15 minutes of ice time per game in a checking line role. His minus-7 rating is what you'd expect from an energy line player, however he also proved he can chip in with some secondary scoring with 16 points (8G, 8A) in just 46 games, the best points-per-game output of his career. Unfortunately, all this adds up to not a whole lot of fantasy value in most standard formats. For those of you in ultra-deep leagues, give him a look in the later rounds.
Ryan Murphy (D): Murphy is one of the NHL's premier offensive defensemen prospects. He has all the tools to become the Hurricanes' power play quarterback down the road. Oozing with talent off the end of his stick, Murphy figures to be one of the league's biggest point getters among defensemen upon maturity. On paper, Murphy likely figures to be the Hurricanes' seventh defenseman for the 2013-14 season, splitting time with Mike Komisarek on the team's bottom pairing while receiving plenty of time on the power play.
Elias Lindholm (C): Lindholm, just 18 years old and the fifth overall pick in the 2013 Entry Draft, is blessed with incredible hands, stickhandling skills and passing capabilities for a player his age. Lindholm suffered a minor shoulder injury during the Hurricanes' development camp in July, but is expected to be OK for the start of training camp. Management has publicly stated that they believe Lindholm will be ready for full time NHL action if he impresses in camp.