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31 in 31

Three questions facing Carolina Hurricanes

Impact of Aho's contract, goaltending highlight concerns

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three important questions facing the Carolina Hurricanes.

 

[Hurricanes 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Behind the Numbers | Fantasy breakdown]

 

1. Will Sebastian Aho's new contract impact his play?

Although he led Carolina with an NHL career-high 83 points (30 goals, 53 assists) last season, Aho usually flies under the radar as one of the most underrated players in the League. The 22-year-old center jumped into the spotlight when he signed a five-year, $42.27 million restricted free agent offer sheet (average annual value $8.454 million) with the Montreal Canadiens on July 1.

The Hurricanes matched the offer sheet to keep Aho, which he said was always his hope. But there's pressure that will come with being Carolina's highest-paid player and the publicity of being the first player to sign an offer sheet since center Ryan O'Reilly signed one with the Calgary Flames on Feb. 28, 2013 (matched by the Colorado Avalanche).

How Aho handles that pressure will be critical for him and the Hurricanes in their quest to build on last season, when they qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009 and reached the Eastern Conference Final before losing to the Boston Bruins in four games.

Video: Sebastian Aho checks in at No. 14 on the list

 

2. Is their goaltending good enough?

Last season, Petr Mrazek and waiver pickup Curtis McElhinney gave the Hurricanes some of the best goaltending in the NHL.

Mrazek, who was 23-14-3 with a 2.39 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and four shutouts, will be back after the 27-year-old signed a two-year contract July 1. McElhinney, who was 20-11-2 with a 2.58 GAA, .912 save percentage and two shutouts, signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning on July 1.

Carolina general manager Don Waddell said veteran James Reimer, Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg will compete in training camp to back up Mrazek. Reimer was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers on June 30 after the 31-year-old was 13-12-5 with a 3.09 GAA and .900 save percentage last season.

Nedeljkovic was 34-14-1 with a 2.26 GAA, .916 save percentage and four shutouts last season with Charlotte and the 23-year-old was named the American Hockey League's top goalie. Forsberg was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on June 24. The 26-year-old was 15-17-1 with a 2.64 GAA and .919 save percentage with Rockford of the AHL last season.

Video: Top 10 saves of 2018-19: Mrazek

 

3. Will Justin Williams return?

Although the signs point toward Williams returning rather than retiring, he has yet to tell the Hurricanes of his plans and remains an unrestricted free agent. The forward, who turns 38 on Oct. 4, has been contemplating retirement after playing 18 seasons in the NHL.

If the three-time Stanley Cup winner retires or unexpectedly signs with another team, he will leave a significant hole in Carolina's locker room and its lineup.

Williams' leadership last season, his first as captain, was invaluable in helping the Hurricanes qualify for the playoffs and guiding younger players such as Aho, a potential future captain, and 19-year-old forward Andrei Svechnikov. Williams also showed he can play at a high level, finishing second on Carolina with 23 goals and third with 53 points.

Video: 31 in 31: Carolina Hurricanes 2019-20 season preview

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