While the New York Rangers dominated their season series there are a few Hurricanes who could derail the Blueshirts
There’s a lot of buzz in the hockey world about the New York Rangers. With a top notch offense and a super rookie goalie, many observers feel that the Blueshirts have a chance at a deep playoff run. The Carolina Hurricanes will do their best to prevent that from happening.
All of this talk about the Rangers cannot be helpful. All of this chatter will only make the Hurricanes even more determined to derail the Rangers. The Blueshirts also have to be careful to not believe the hype and to not go into the series overconfident based on their regular season series. The playoffs are a different story and the Canes have the experience of last season to build on.
Here are five players who could be the X-Factors for the Hurricanes.
1. Justin Williams
Mention Justin Williams’ name and Ranger fans wince. He was one of the key members of the Los Angeles Kings team that won the Cup in 2014, dismantling the Rangers in the process. Though he is 38 years old and spent most of the season at home, he is the quintessential postseason performer and the time off undoubtedly did him good.
Williams has scored 40 goals in 155 playoff games and oozes experience. He’s the spiritual leader of this Carolina team and the man behind the Hurricanes’ Storm Surge victory celebrations. He’s built for the playoffs and will be very, very dangerous.
2. Brady Skjei
Players with something to prove are a concern and if any Hurricanes player has something to prove in this series, it’s Brady Skjei. The longtime Ranger, traded at the deadline, will be looking to show the Blueshirts that they made a mistake. The Brady Skjei-Julien Gauthier competition will be one of the better storylines of this series. One thing to watch is where Skjei falls into the depth chart on the Hurricanes loaded defense corps. They have seven qualified NHL defensemen on the team and one will have to sit.
3. Dougie Hamilton
Dougie Hamilton was having a Norris Trophy quality season when he went down in January with a season-ending broken leg that required surgery. The COVID-19 pause allowed Hamilton to recover and he is ready to resume play.
In 47 games, Hamilton had 14 goals and 40 points. Among defensemen, his goals per game average (0.30) was second best in the NHL and he was fourth in points per game (0.85). Forgotten in the discussion about best defensemen this season, Hamilton will want to reinsert himself into that conversation.
4. Sebastian Aho
The 23-year old Finn has taken his place as the top forward on the team and one of the best young players in the NHL. He proved that Carolina made the right choice in matching the Canadiens’ offer sheet with a 38 goal, 66 point season in 68 games. Those 38 goals was sixth best in the NHL.
He was a dangerous playoff scorer last year, with five goals and 12 points in 15 games. He added a goal and two assists to lead the Hurricanes when they were swept by Boston in the Conference Finals,
5. Vincent Trocheck
Vincent Trocheck is an interesting story. He was acquired at the trade deadline as the Hurricanes looked to boost their scoring. He was traded for four players, two NHLers in Erik Haula and Lucas Wallmark and two prospects.
After a career 31 goal, 75 point season in 2017-18, Trocheck was hampered by injuries the next season. This year he was healthy and played in 62 games, scoring 11 goals and 38 points, nowhere near the level he was at two years ago. He had one goal and one assist in his seven games with the Hurricanes after the trade.
The Hurricanes gave up a lot to get Trocheck and if he doesn’t provide the offensive boost they were looking for, it will put even more pressure on him. With Florida, he played well against the Rangers with ten points in 14 games. One thing he doesn’t bring to the table is playoff experience. In his seven years in the NHL, he has played in only two playoff games.
How important are X-Factors?
In a short series, one player can make a huge difference. The Rangers are hoping it will be Artemi Panarin or Mika Zibanejad though it is impossible to predict who will rise to the occasion and be the next single series MVP.
These are just five players on the Carolina Hurricanes who could play a big role in the upcoming series. If we wanted to expand the list, we’d include Joel Edmundson who played 22 playoff gmes last year en route to winning a Stanley Cup with the Blues.
There’s no doubt that the Hurricanes have their list of New York Rangers who could be X-Factors. We’ll be back with a look at the Rangers who could be on that list.