FanSided's 30 In 30 NHL Previews: Carolina Hurricanes

Although just a teenager, center Jeff Skinner will be an important part of a Hurricanes team looking to reach the playoffs once again (Image courtesy Business Insider)

With another week comes seven more NHL season previews from your great writers here at FanSided!  Today, we look at the Carolina Hurricanes, who less than five months ago missed the playoffs in a devastating way, failing on an opportunity to clinch with a win at home and allowing the Rangers to sneak into the 8th seed.  Over at Cardiac Cane, all three members of their staff have given input for 2011-2012; editor KP Kelly leads the way.  First, here’s part of this outlook, courtesy of Sally M. Brown.

I’m a gut feel kinda gal so my predictions for 2011-2012 aren’t based on those fancy things like science, math, and history. I am also really superstitious so pretend I am typing this with my fingers crossed as to not upset any hockey gods. ESPN is warning of a sophomore slump for Jeff Skinner. I don’t buy it. I think he is going to break 30 goals this season. With the off-season training he has put in combined with a year’s experience under his skates, I think his game will get better. ESPN does not love hockey.

To read the rest of Cardiac Cane’s season preview, click here.

The Devils’ first two games against the “rival” (I guess we can call them that) Hurricanes both come at home, the first of which, on October 10th (Veterans’ Day), is just the second game of the season.  Their next matchup falls on November 8th, in a game broadcast on Versus; then, it’s two games in Carolina.  The first one is on December 26th, as the Devils will play their last road game of 2011.  Finally, in the fourth-to-last game of the season, the Devils will once again visit Carolina on March 31st, for what could be a very important matchup if both teams are looking towards playoff berths.

There isn’t much question that the Devils and Hurricanes are at least smaller rivals; however, when I heard Carolina’s owner come out and say that he considered the ‘Devs to be the ‘Canes “biggest rival”, it certainly was an eye-opener.  While I doubt that our rivalry is this strong, I do remember two seasons ago very, very well.  Us Devils fans saw a lot to come of the 2008-2009 season; after Scott Clemmensen played well enough to, incredibly, keep the Devils in second place in the conference, we were confident going into what could have been a lengthy playoff run.  Instead, in about 80 seconds, our hopes were shattered.  Eric Staal might need an escort into our building.

Now, for a quick Hurricanes outlook for next season.  The team did have a fairly good offseason, landing Tomas Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky, among others.  While they did part ways with longtime Hurricane Erik Cole, it appears the team is certainly improved.  Carolina seems to have depth both offensively and defensively; most impressively, there are only three skaters listed on the team’s roster (that played last season) that are over 30, two of which are the aforementioned Kaberle and Ponikarovsky.

All the league’s eyes will obviously be on 19-year-old Jeff Skinner, who, after winning the Calder Trophy last season, will look to further improve over the next handful of years.  Skinner does have the look of a future star, and having both him and Staal for what should be many years in the future has to be extremely exciting for ‘Canes fans; they are probably the best 1-2 punch at center in the league, and Brandon Sutter could make an outstanding third-liner with those two in front of him.

Around those centers, Carolina seems to have enough depth to gain some production from their latter lines; however, just how much is in question.  The defense does look improved, with some good young talent that is still on the rise.  With Cam Ward between the pipes, there shouldn’t be too many concerns; if Ward does run into some struggles, newly-acquired Brian Boucher provides a terrific backup option.

These Hurricanes were one well-played season finale away from an eight seed in the Eastern Conference last year.  Now, they look to gain those two extra points.  Playing in the same division as the rival Lightning and Capitals should not be easy for some of their young defensive units; however, of course, there are plenty of other games on the schedule.  I do believe Carolina will squeeze their way into the playoffs, a result that should satisfy their fanbase that was so stunned not too long ago.

Tomorrow’s preview will feature the Chicago Blackhawks, who followed up a Stanley Cup championship by barely (and I mean, barely) making the playoffs last season (they did give the Canucks one heck of an opening series, however).  This year, they will be looking for something in between, at the least, those two performances, with the goal of reaching the success of two seasons ago.

-Drew

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