NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August. Today, the Carolina Hurricanes.
Two years into Ron Francis' tenure as general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, he is certain what they need most: more skill.
The Hurricanes finished 27th in scoring each of the past two seasons and decided not to re-sign six forwards with expiring contracts. Carolina traded captain Eric Staal and Kris Versteeg prior to the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline, and allowed Riley Nash, Chris Terry, Nathan Gerbe and Brad Malone to leave through free agency.
Hurricanes 30 in 30: Burning questions, reasons for optimism | Top prospects | Fantasy outlook
Video: 30 in 30: Carolina Hurricanes 2016-17 season preview
"You can't be afraid of change," Francis said. "We talked at our end-of-season meeting about the need to find more goal scoring. We felt in the tight games we came up a little bit short, whether it failed us 3-on-3 in overtime, the shootout or the second power-play unit. We needed a little more skill in the lineup. We think we've done that."
Carolina acquired forward Teuvo Teravainen, who had 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) in 78 games in his first full season in the NHL, in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on June 15. A strong skater with playmaking ability, the 21-year-old is expected to claim a top-six role. In the same trade, the Hurricanes acquired forward Bryan Bickell, hoping he can recapture his previous form in the final year of his contract. He had an NHL career-best 17 goals in 2010-11 and 14 goals in 2014-15.
On July 1 the Hurricanes signed unrestricted free agent forwards Lee Stempniak and Viktor Stalberg. Stempniak agreed to a two-year, $5 million contract after having 51 points (19 goals, 32 assists) in 82 games with the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins last season. Stalberg signed a one-year contract after a 20-point season (nine goals, 11 assists) with the New York Rangers.
The Hurricanes also believe 19-year-old forward prospect Sebastian Aho will be ready for the NHL after he led Karpat of Liiga, Finland's top professional league, with 45 points (20 goals, 25 assists) in 45 games.
Though the Hurricanes have a new look at forward, they gambled a bit by re-signing goaltender Cam Ward to a two-year contract. The tandem of Ward and Eddie Lack finished 29th in the League with a .902 save percentage last season.
Video: Rask & Ward Sticking in Carolina
Coach Bill Peters signed a two-year contract extension July 27 that takes him through the 2018-19 season. Although the Hurricanes missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Peters' first two seasons, extending its drought to seven, Peters has the full confidence of Francis, who said he believes the team is on a path toward sustained success. The Hurricanes' 86-point season was a 15-point improvement from 2014-15.
"We knew it wasn't going to be a quick turnaround," Peters said. "Obviously it takes time. Fans don't want to hear it, we don't want to hear it. But we're realistic."
Those tempered expectations largely are because of a commitment to a more youthful, faster team. Eight players remain from the 2014-15 opening-night roster, and the Hurricanes likely will start 2016-17 with at least 10 players 24 or younger. So there may be more growing pains ahead.
"Does it makes sense to give a 32- or 33-year-old [free agent] a six-year contract for a lot of money?" Francis said. "It probably doesn't fit with what we're trying to build."
Though the new forwards appear similar to the outgoing group in terms of productivity, the Hurricanes are hoping Teravainen and other young players are ready to blossom.
Center Victor Rask jumped from 11 goals to 21 in his second NHL season, and the 23-year-old demonstrated he can play a strong two-way game. Left wing Joakim Nordstrom was a pleasant surprise, scoring 10 goals in 71 games after being held to one goal in his first 54 games in two seasons with Chicago.
The goal-scoring outlook could improve quickly if center Elias Lindholm can deliver on his considerable potential in his fourth NHL season. The No. 5 pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, Lindholm's goal output dipped from 17 in 2014-15 to 11 last season.
Carolina will continue to rely on its young defense, which surprised last season. Jaccob Slavin (22), Brett Pesce (21) and Noah Hanifin (19) helped anchor the group. Expectations were high for Hanifin, selected with the No. 5 pick of the 2015 draft, but Slavin was a revelation. He averaged 20:59 of ice time as a rookie and likely will start the season on the top pair in a shutdown role.