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Tweetmail: Which Player is Most Improved This Season?

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

Hello and welcome to Tweetmail presented by Segra. This is a regular feature on in which I answer your Twitter questions, which are mostly about the Carolina Hurricanes, but sometimes also about travel or television or life. It's a mailbag of tweets. It's Tweetmail. Maybe you learn a little something, and maybe we have some fun, too.

Let's get to it.

1) At what point this season did you think, "Wow, this Canes team is good enough to lead a tough Central Division with two games left"? 2) Which Canes game is your personal favorite for this season? 3) Which Canes player is the most improved this season? - @dabrams2021

(One day, Doug, I'll stop falling for your multiple-questions-in-one-tweet Tweetmail questions, but today is not that day.)

1. I did a radio interview earlier this season and was asked my outlook for the Canes in the new-look Central Division. I tossed out that they could compete for the division title, even against the defending Stanley Cup champions. Easy to say for a guy who works for the team, right? And that was basically the reaction I got, but for anyone who has paid attention to this team for the last two seasons, you've seen what they've been building. That the Canes are in first place in the Central Division with two games remaining isn't a surprise to me. It's not a surprise to the locker room, either. It's the expectation.

2. I have a few for similar reasons. The first game of the season in Detroit was special. The Canes, backed by Petr Mrazek, were dominant, and it just felt good to have hockey back again. Two weeks later, the first home game of the season was special. The Canes were depleted - and it had been a harrowing week for many as we waited to see how COVID-19 might rip through the team - but they rallied to shut out the defending champs. And finally, the first home game with fans back in the building was special. The Canes rallied with four unanswered goals, including three in the third period, to beat Detroit, 5-2. Even having just 2,924 fans in the building made a difference. The energy was back. The passion was back. Hockey felt like hockey again, and that was nice.

3. Year over year, Nino Niederreiter is probably most improved, especially when you consider the raw numbers, but that was kind of to be expected; it's more than he's rediscovered his form as a goal scorer more than anything, which is good for both him and the Canes' offense. From an overall most improved standpoint, Martin Necas took the exact next step you'd like to see from him in his sophomore season. It took him just 43 games to eclipse his point production from a season ago. He's become a reliable producer on the power play, with four goals and 11 points, and he's added penalty killing to his repertoire and has contributed four shorthanded points, including a shorthanded goal in back-to-back games. If this was an 82-game season, he'd be on track to record a 20-goal season and finish with around 65 points. Necas gets my vote for most improved, and he's only just getting started.

Video: CAR@CBJ: Necas scores on impressive wraparound in 2nd

What have you missed most during this, let's just say, "different" season, compared to a normal season? - @johnnybolla

A jam-packed, raucous PNC Arena. Without a doubt. Don't get me wrong - having fans back, even if it is only 5,000, makes a drastic difference in the game atmosphere compared to the bubble and even games earlier this season. Even "normal" game presentation elements and the hum and buzz of an artificial crowd can't replace the raw human emotion of a live sporting event, so to even have a small percentage of fans back in the building makes a difference and signals that we're inching closer to some semblance of normalcy.

(Here comes the but …)

But, I can't help but think what this season would have been like without capacity restrictions. With how good this Canes team has been - especially at home, where they failed to get a point in just three of 28 games … three! - PNC Arena would have been rocking night in and night out. The atmosphere would have been electric and would have made an already special season even more special. We're getting there, though, and as the Canes progress in the playoffs, perhaps capacity will continue to grow.

Selfishly, I also miss being able to enjoy the cities we visit, and the Central Division is not light on enjoyable locations. Thankfully, we haven't missed out too much on favorite food spots thanks to delivery service offerings, but just like a limited capacity crowd vs. a full building, it's still just not quite the same.

When was the previous last time that a Stillman (presumably his dad, Cory) scored a goal in PNC Arena? Safe to assume the Staal family owns most of the records for the ESA/RBC/PNC? - @JimHollifield

From a hey-this-is-a-cool-hockey-thing standpoint, seeing Riley Stillman score his first NHL goal in the very building where his dad lifted the Stanley Cup 15 years prior was undoubtedly neat. From a but-wait-he-did-it-against-the-Canes standpoint, maybe less so!

"I'm happy for him just to be in the NHL living his dream. That's great. Didn't really need to see that tonight, but I am happy for him," head coach Rod Brind'Amour quipped after the Canes' 2-1 overtime loss to Chicago.

Prior to Thursday night, the last time a Stillman scored at PNC Arena was indeed his dad, Cory, who netted a goal in a win-and-you're-in season finale that ended with a crushing 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 9, 2011.

As for the Staal brothers, yeah, it's safe to assume they've accumulated the most points as a family in the building originally known as the Raleigh Entertainment & Sports Arena. Eric Staal totaled 392 points (161g, 231a) at home from 2003-2016, which ranks first in Canes history, while Jordan Staal has recorded 184 points (65g, 119a) in Raleigh since 2013, ranking fifth in team history. And that doesn't even factor in Eric's history since or Jordan's success with Pittsburgh prior.

If the Canes win the Cup, will they be drinking me out of it? - @Busch_Light_Can

Sorry, Busch Light Can. At just 97 calories and 2.4 carbs per serving, Storm Brew is the perfect beverage for all occasions, including championship celebrations. Cheers! 🍻

Which cereal mascot would you most like to see Stormy take in a fight? - @AwaitingAndrew

Quick backstory: I was listening to the latest episode of Conan O'Brien's podcast on my way home from the game on Thursday night, and a fan asked Conan which cereal mascot he thought he'd be able to take in a fight. It's a great point of discussion, and it also reminded me I needed some Tweetmail questions to answer. So, here we go!

Since this is Stormy we're considering, I think we have to go to the animal kingdom of cereal mascots. Tony the Tiger? No way Stormy wants to take on a tiger. Toucan Sam? I feel like the beak could do some damage.

I feel like Stormy could handle the Trix rabbit. I see an easy path to victory in distracting the rabbit with a bowl of Trix. The same could be said for Crazy Craving, the Honeycomb guy. All that rabid fella was interested in was some Honeycomb cereal. After all, its catchphrase was, "Me want Honeycomb!" So, give it what it wants and then finish it off. My money is on Stormy.

Join me next Friday for more questions and more answers!

If you have a question you'd like answered or you want to further the cereal mascot fight discussion, you can find me on Twitter at @MSmithCanes, or you can drop me an email.

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