NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three questions facing the Carolina Hurricanes.
Talk of the Stanley Cup Playoffs used to bring many more questions for the Carolina Hurricanes than answers. Now three years into their rebuild under general manager Ron Francis, they believe they are ready to end their drought.
But they still have some questions to answer to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2009.
[HURRICANES 31 in 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]
1. Can Scott Darling be a No. 1 goaltender?
Martin Jones of the San Jose Sharks and Cam Talbot of the Edmonton Oilers each made a similar jump from backup to No. 1 when given the opportunity following a trade. The Hurricanes hope Darling can do the same after acquiring him from the Chicago Blackhawks on April 28 and signing him to a four-year, $16.6 million contract on May 5.
The 28-year-old went 18-5-5 with a 2.38 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage and two shutouts last season, and his 27 starts and 32 games were the most in his NHL career. Will Darling be to handle the heavier workload or will he split the job equally with Cam Ward? Though Ward, 33, was inconsistent over his 61 games (all starts), going 26-22-12 with a 2.69 GAA, a .905 save percentage and two shutouts, he played well for stretches and might benefit from more rest.
Video: 31 in 31: Carolina Hurricanes 2017-18 season preview
2. Will the young forwards provide scoring depth?
Last season, the Hurricanes were tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for 20th in the NHL with an average of 2.59 goals per game, and Jeff Skinner (37) and Sebastian Aho (24) were their only Carolina players to score more than 20. The signing of 35-year-old unrestricted free agent right wing Justin Williams, who scored 24 goals last season with the Washington Capitals, will help, but the Hurricanes are banking on some of their younger forwards increasing their production.
The Hurricanes expect 20-year-old Aho to continue to progress and believe 22-year-old Teuvo Teravainen, who scored 15 goals last season, will be more comfortable in his second season after being acquired in a trade with Chicago. Carolina also will be looking for 24-year-old Victor Rask (16 goals last season), and 22-year-old Elias Lindholm (11) to take another step in their development and score more.
Video: CAR@FLA: Teravainen nets PPG off fortunate bounce
3. Will they trade for a top-two center?
A playmaking center for one of the top two lines remains the Hurricanes' biggest need, and they'll probably have to add one eventually to compete for the Stanley Cup. They have stockpiled an impressive group of young defensemen -- Noah Hanifin, 20; Brett Pesce, 22; Jaccob Slavin, 23; Justin Faulk, 25; Haydn Fleury, 21; and Jake Bean, 19 -- but have been reluctant to trade any of them for a center.
Francis has been patient in rebuilding the Hurricanes and has done well in collecting assets through the NHL Draft and smaller trades. At some point, he'll need to utilize some of those assets in a bigger trade.