Who's the Story in Carolina?
C Eric Staal led all 2006 playoff scorers with 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists) in 25 games. At 21 years, eight months, Staal became the second-youngest playoff scoring leader in the League's modern era, behind Detroit's Gordie Howe in 1949 (21 years, 16 days). Staal also led the League in assists (19), power-play goals (seven), power-play assists (10), power-play points (17) and shots (87).
"Any time you're that good a player, you're going to be a leader, regardless. He's out there all the time, and he's dominating offensively. He's going to get better in that role and in the locker room." - Hurricanes C Rod Brind'Amour, to the Raleigh News and Observer, May 12, 2006.
"He sees the ice like a lot of the greats from the past. He has the size of a Joe Thornton, the huge strong strides of a Mark Messier, but put him in a 1-on-1 fight and he plays stronger and more physical like a power forward like Cam Neely. He's clearly the total package." - Former Hurricanes C Doug Weight, June 15, 2006.
With his trademark tenacity and versatility, C Rod Brind'Amour helped the Hurricanes to a franchise-best 112-point season and the second seed in the Eastern Conference. The Hurricanes captain captured the Frank Selke Trophy as the League's top defensive forward, leading all forwards in ice time per game (24:17) and face-offs taken (2,145) and placing third in face-off winning percentage (59.1%).
In the postseason, Brind'Amour ranked first on the team and second in the NHL with 12 goals, including an NHL second-best six power-play markers. His 18 postseason points ranked third on the team and tied for sixth among NHL players.
G Cam Ward turned in one of the finest rookie goaltending performances in League playoff history, finishing the 2006 playoffs with a 15-8 record, 2.14 goals-against average, .920 save percentage and two shutouts. Ward became just the fourth rookie to capture the Conn Smythe Trophy, joining goaltenders Ken Dryden (Montreal, 1971), Patrick Roy (Montreal, 1986) and Ron Hextall (Philadelphia, 1987). Ward, 22, also is the second-youngest to capture the award behind Roy, who won the first of his three Conn Smythe Trophies as a 20-year-old in 1986.
The Hurricanes selected Ward in the first round, 25th overall, at the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. In 2003-04, his final year of major junior hockey, Ward was named WHL Player of the Year after posting a 31-16-8 record, a 2.05 goals-against average and .926 save percentage with Red Deer. In 2004-05, his first pro season, the 21-year-old posted a 27-17-3 record with a 1.99 goals-against average and six shutouts at AHL Lowell.
"He's very calm. He stays back. He never gets out of position. He's always in the play, squared to the puck. It's impressive." - Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, to the Bergen Record, May 11, 2006.
Complementing Ward in the Carolina goal is off-season acquisition John Grahame, 30, who posted a 29-22-1 record with a 3.06 goals-against average and five shutouts in 57 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Denver native established a Tampa Bay franchise record for longest shutout streak when he did not allow a goal for 202:46 from Jan. 17 through Jan. 29, a span that included two full-game shutouts. He also set a Lightning franchise record when he won nine consecutive games from Nov. 14 through Dec. 10. Grahame is 82-66-15 with a 2.69 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage in 179 career NHL games with Tampa Bay and Boston. He won the Stanley Cup as a member of the Lightning in 2004.
In his first full season with the club, head coach Peter Laviolette guided the Hurricanes to a franchise-best 52-22-8 record for 112 points, 19 more than the previous mark of 93 set in 1986-87 and a 36-point improvement over 2003-04, en route to the Stanley Cup. The Hurricanes posted two separate nine-game winning streaks in the regular season, from Oct. 22-Nov. 11 and Dec. 31-Jan. 19, and were a dominating 31-8-2 at RBC Center.
LW Cory Stillman, 32, ranked second in the NHL in playoff scoring with 26 points, tied for fourth in playoff goals (9), second in playoff assists (17), tied for third in game-winning goals (3), tied for second in shots (75) and tied for fourth in plus/minus (+12).
A member of the Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, Stillman is the first player since Claude Lemieux (New Jersey, 1995, and Colorado, 1996) to win the Stanley Cup with different clubs in consecutive seasons.
Stillman, who has tallied 20 goals or more in six of his past seven NHL seasons, underwent shoulder surgery Aug. 18 and is expected to miss three to four months.
LW Erik Cole, 27, established career highs in goals (30), assists (29) and points (59) in 2005-06 despite missing the final 22 games of the regular season with a neck injury. The Oswego, NY, native completed the 2005-06 season ranked first on the team and tied for seventh in the NHL in game-winning goals with eight, and ranked first among Hurricanes players in plus/minus (+19), first in shooting percentage (18.3%), fourth in goals (30) and sixth in points (59). A linemate of Eric Staal and Cory Stillman for most of the season prior to his injury, Cole returned for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final and skated in the Hurricanes' 3-1 victory over Edmonton in Game 7.
RW Scott Walker, 33, is entering his 12th NHL season. An original member of the Nashville Predators, selected in the 1998 NHL Expansion Draft, Walker is the Predators' all-time leader in goals (96) and points (247). Walker's best season came in 2003-04, when he established then-franchise records for Nashville in points (67) and multi-point games (15). He also established career-highs in games played (75), assists (42) and average ice time (20:03). In 607 career games with Vancouver and Nashville, Walker has 106 goals and 185 assists for 291 points.
RW Justin Williams, 24, established career highs in games played (82), goals (31), assists (45) and points (76) during the 2005-06 regular season and tied for sixth in the NHL in scoring during the Stanley Cup playoffs with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 25 games. He was second among Carolina forwards in ice time during the post-season, logging 21:36 per game. Williams scored goals late in the third periods of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals to seal Carolina's Eastern Conference and Stanley Cup titles.
"Sneaky fast, sneaky patient and sneaky skilled." - Former Hurricanes D Aaron Ward, to the Toronto Star, June 9, 2006.