Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.
Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at Carolina.
The Hurricanes are still on the up and up, and the best part? Scoring should not be an issue in the future. The Hurricanes’ top line from this season clicked extremely well after Carolina acquired Niederreiter from Minnesota halfway through the year, and it’s hard to imagine the Hurricanes don’t extend him while they’re a contender. But if Svechnikov meets his potential and develops into a top-line force, maybe Niederreiter becomes expendable for another positional need down the road. If not, Svechnikov would be a great fit with former Barrie Colts teammate Suzuki, a faceoff machine. Add in Necas and you have a trio that could easily tally 50 points each a season without fail.
The bottom six mainly features prospects, but it’s a group with speed and tenacity. Kuokkanen and Puistola know how to put significant points on the board, while the line of Foegele, Rees and Geekie would be one of the fastest and hardest-working in the Eastern Conference. The one wild card at this point is Staal, who would be 36 when the season kicks off in 2023-24. He’ll be a UFA the previous season and could bolt elsewhere, but if Carolina is a serious contender, he might be willing to take a reduced salary to be an effective two-way veteran presence with a chance to win it all.
The Hurricanes have a strong defense corps today, and while they’ll have to move some of their key pieces due to salary reasons, they have the pipeline to recover nicely. Hamilton and van Riemsdyk are prime trade candidates over the next season and likely won’t be back on new contracts in the future, instead being replaced by rookies Honka and Fensore. Bean will contend for a roster spot this season after an impressive rookie showing, adding to a group that will feature stalwarts Pesce, Faulk and Slavin, three of Carolina’s best players, regardless of position. Faulk could be swapped out for Trevor van Riemsdyk – and no defender has been safe from trade rumors over the past year, so it’s a toss-up – but the moral of the story is that the Hurricanes are still going to be leaders in the stacked defensemen category for at least another five years.
The Hurricanes offloaded Scott Darling and his $4.15-million cap hit this past season, but it meant taking on James Reimer to sit behind Petr Mrazek this season. Reimer will be a trade piece for the team later this season, giving Nedeljkovic a shot at full-time duty behind Petr Mrazek before taking over the starting role in a couple of years. Nedeljkovic, the AHL’s top goaltender for 2019, will be 28 and well into his prime by then, with Kochetkov – one of the top risers for the 2019 draft – moving over after a few seasons in the KHL with St. Petersburg. Kochetkov looks like a starter in the making, so this could be a very capable 1A/1B duo in a few years.
The result? Carolina has drafted very well over the past decade and is on the verge of being rewarded for it. Nearly the entire roster was selected by the Hurricanes, and while it’s obviously way too early to predict what Carolina’s roster will accurately look like in half a decade – we can’t take into account free-agent signings and future draft picks – it’s a clear indication of just how good its development has been over the past few years. Just a few names that were left off this roster: Julien Gauthier, Eetu Luostarinen, Stelio Mattheos, Jesper Sellgren and Kirill Slepets, all good prospects in their own right. Of course, Aho is already one of the best centers in the NHL, and it’s only a matter of time until Svechnikov has a breakthrough and scores 30-plus goals every season.
So, yeah, Carolina is in good hands.
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