In the National Hockey League, players breeze through hot streaks and sweat through cold streaks each season. Of late, Carolina Hurricanes wingman Jeff O’Neill resembles Joe Cool of Charles Schultz’s infamous “Peanuts” cartoon with five two-goal games during January and 25 goals in his 49 games this season.
The stats: O’Neill leads all Hurricanes scorers with 25 goals. He ranks tied for third league-wide with 12 power play goals. O’Neill leads Carolina’s scoring on the road with 16 points (12g, 4a) in 24 games. He ranks second on the team with 16 power play points.
With linemates Ron Francis and Sami Kapanen earning points nearly every time O’Neill finds the net, the three have swirled atop the Hurricanes scoring list this season. O’Neill and Kapanen have recently emerged on franchise career leaders’ lists that Francis has topped for years including goals scored (Francis – 319; O’Neill – 107; Kapanen – 105) and points (Francis – 988; Kapanen – 238; O’Neill – 230).
Since entering the league at 18, O’Neill, 24, has been blessed enough to play with the likes of franchise greats Kevin Dineen, Gary Roberts and, of course, Francis. O’Neill credits much of his success to the strong players that have surrounded him in his five-plus seasons with the franchise.
“You break into the league and you have influences, both good and bad,” said O’Neill. “What you draw from that is how you’re going to develop as a player. I’ve seen a lot of players that do a lot of great things and Gary, Kevin and Ronnie have been great examples. Those guys have been great leaders for me, great friends and they’ve really helped kickstart my career.”
Coach Paul Maurice is the only head coach that O’Neill has had since entering the NHL in 1995, straight from Junior League hockey. He coached O’Neill and Roberts for three full seasons.
“Gary was a big influence on Jeff in terms of some off-ice, preparation things in the summer,” said Maurice. “He showed Jeff O’Neill that to be a great player, you have to practice hard every day. I’ll take that back even into last year. Last year, Jeff O’Neill practiced hard every day and he competed hard as a pro.”
O’Neill struggled early-on this season after suffering a back injury during training camp in September. Maurice believes the injury affected O’Neill’s performance at the beginning of the season.
“This year, after O got over his injury, he took over Gary’s role and played with confidence and started scoring,” said Maurice. “They go hand-in-hand.”
A game that Maurice points to as a turning point for O’Neill is the Hurricanes 3-2 overtime loss at New Jersey on Nov. 18. O’Neill started a four-game scoring streak (11/18-11/26: 3g, 3a) with a goal in that game after having scored only seven points (10/7-11/16: 3g, 4a) in the season’s first 18 games.
One cannot help but notice that the Hurricanes paid a visit to and hosted Roberts’ new team, the Toronto Maple Leafs in the week before O’Neill’s breakout at New Jersey. In fact, Roberts met O’Neill for breakfast while Carolina had an off day in Toronto.
“It was a time when Gary was scoring a lot and I was struggling a bit,” said O’Neill. “He’s just that kind of guy that will come and have breakfast with you, try to get your spirits up. If you’re struggling, he’ll try to pick out the good things you’re doing on the ice. He’s just that kind of player and that kind of person.”
O’Neill was the Hurricanes’ leading goal scorer last season with a career-high 25. O’Neill has met that mark through only 49 games this season and ranks 13th league-wide in the category.
On Wednesday night, against Roberts and the Maple Leafs, O’Neill stands poised to tie or break the franchise record for goals scored in a calendar month. O’Neill is tied with franchise greats Ray Ferraro (Jan. 1986) and Mark Johnson (Dec. 1983) with his 12 goals during January. Mike Rogers (Dec. 1980) and Dineen (Jan. 1989) share the current record of 13.
|JEFF O'NEILLCareer Statistics|
through January 29, 2001
| ||REGULAR SEASON||PLAYOFFS|
|HURRICANES / NHL CAREER TOTALS (5 SEASONS)||415||107||123||230||351||6||0||1||1||0|
|(a) May, 1992--Selected by Guelph Storm in 1992 OHL Priority Draft. First Storm pick, first overall, first round.|
(b) Named to OHL All-Rookie Team (1993).
(c) Named winner of Emms Family Award (OHL Rookie of the Year) (1993).
(d) Named to CHL All-Rookie Team (1994).
(e) Won CHL Valvoline Top Draft Prospect Award (1994).
(f) June 28, 1994--Selected by Hartford Whalers in 1994 NHL Entry Draft. First Whalers pick, fifth overall, first round.
(g) Named First-Team OHL All-Star (1995).
(h) Named Second-Team CHL All-Star (1995).