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Pesce, Hurricanes mapping out plan for playoffs

'Anything below that is underachievement,' defenseman says after agreeing to six-year contract extension

by Kurt Dusterberg / NHL.com Correspondent

For Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce, a contract extension has added plenty of incentive to his offseason workouts.

"It makes me more excited to work harder because I know how much faith the organization puts in me with this deal," Pesce, 22, said Wednesday. "I know that now is the time to get even better and work even harder to elevate my game.

"We made the moves to be a playoff team for sure, and anything below that is underachievement. So it's an exciting time and I'm excited to be part of it."

Pesce agreed to terms on a six-year, $24.15 million contract extension with the Hurricanes on Tuesday. The contract, which begins next season, will have an average annual value of $4.025 million. He will make $809,167 this season in the final year of a three-year, entry-level contract he signed March 28, 2015.

He had 20 points (two goals, 18 points) in 82 games last season, and 36 points (six goals, 30 assists) in 151 career NHL games.

Pesce is the latest Hurricanes player to sign a long-term extension. His defense partner, Jaccob Slavin, 23, signed a seven-year, $37.1 million extension (average annual value $5.3 million) on July 12.

Goaltender Scott Darling, acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on April 28, signed a four-year, $16.6 million (average annual value $4.15 million) with Carolina on May 5, and free agent forward Justin Williams signed a two-year, $9 million contract (average annual value $4.5 million) on July 1.

Video: Breaking down the roster of the new-look Hurricanes

Pesce and Slavin, who formed Carolina's top defensive pair last season, are widely regarded as one of the best young defensive tandems in the league. Each set a single-season franchise record with a plus-23 plus/minus rating, finishing tied for 10th among NHL defensemen. Their on-ice rapport was forged in an era before either was drafted by Carolina.

"I grew up with Jaccob," said Pesce, a third-round pick (No. 66) in the 2013 NHL Draft. "I remember us playing on the festival teams in the U.S. development camps when we were 15. It goes a long way to come into the League together and grow as people and hockey players. That just builds our chemistry off the ice."

Pesce will see another familiar face on the blue line this season after the addition of Trevor van Riemsdyk, who was acquired in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights on June 22. They played two seasons together at the University of New Hampshire.

"He's another good skating defenseman," Pesce said. "He's a very good player, very smart, great in the defensive zone. He can join the rush and contribute offensively, so I think he fits perfectly into our system."

Pesce has spent the offseason working to round out his game. Though his defensive instincts are strong and he moves he puck well, he would like to be a reliable point producer.

"The biggest thing for me this year was working on my offensive game, and most importantly my shot," he said. "I've been hitting that pretty hard. I have a month and some change to get even better, and I'm hoping to continue to see improvement in that category."

With the new contract and high expecations for the coming season, Pesce is ready to get going.

"It was a long offseason to be sure," he said. "I love Raleigh, honestly. I consider it home now. I love the team. Management is great to me. I don't have anything bad to say. That's why it was a no-brainer when we were talking six years for me. I've got to up my game now, and the work really starts."

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