Carolina doesn't want to end up on the bottom of the Southeast.
With the Junior Hockey pre-season underway in the Canadian Hockey League, some fans are getting a last look at their favorite stars before they head off to make their mark on NHL training camps. Some will get sent back down, some won't.
One of the teams dealing with that interesting decision are the Carolina Hurricanes and seventh-overall pick Jeff Skinner. The 'Canes won't keep Skinner unless he can play meaningful minutes, and the Kitchener Rangers would undoubtedly love to have him back, so fans of both teams will be eagerly watching to see what happens.
While Skinner's always made for a good, open and honest interview, I don't know if he'd ever do something like this.
Anyways, time for the bold (and not so bold) picks:
1) Cam Ward wins 37 games
This one is difficult. Ward can win as many as 40 games (which was the original prediction) if everything falls in to place, or he could finish closer in the 32-35 area if the younger guys on the 'Canes roster don't pull up their socks. Ward is an undeniable talent who will re-assert himself as a top-seven (at least) goalie in the league this year.
2) Jussi Jokinen scores ten shootout goals
The only two players to have ever done this in NHL history? Jokinen and Wojtek Wolski. Jokinen hasn't done it since the first year of the shootout though (2005-06) and he only had four goals in the shootout last year, but he's got talent.
3) Zach Boychuk outscores Sergei Samsonov
The Sergei Samsonov honeymoon seems to be over. Whether it's just an unfortunate string of bad luck, a sense of comfort that takes away from his productivity, or some sort of weird chemical imbalance with Samsonov and permanent homes, his production has begun to fall-off in Carolina, as it has previously in his NHL career.
After 32 points in his first 38 games with the team, his first full season yielded 48 points—a healthy total, especially for a beleaguered winger like Samsonov. Last year though, things fell off for Samsonov again as he failed to break 30 points (29 in 72 games) and was a horrific minus-18. Boychuk has plenty of offensive upside, and if Paul Maurice sees that minus slip lower for Samsonov, don't expect too long of a leash.
4) Eric Staal breaks the 85 point barrier
Having done it just once in his career, Staal is a unique talent who doesn't just excel at scoring or setting up goals. His goal and assist totals have been near identical over his career, which is pretty strange for a number one center. However he does it though, he breaks 85 this year.
5) Jiri Tlusty scores 30 points
Although he's still re-habbing off-season surgery, Tlusty will probably play some kind of a role with the team and produce for two reasons:
A) Players that didn't work out in other places (Jokinen, Samsonov, and Tuomo Ruutu) somehow figure it out in Carolina.
B) He's a former-Leaf. Aren't they all destined to go from fringe players or constant injury worries to productive NHL jobs? (See: Steen, Alex; Colaiacovo, Carlo; Boyes, Brad)
6) Erik Cole scores 27 goals
With Rod Brind'Amour gone, Cole and Chad LaRose have been among the players that have stepped up to fill the leadership void. With that added fire behind him, Cole rebounds from a couple of tough years, stays healthy, and leads in big ways on and off the ice.
7) Anton Babchuk scores just two goals even strength
What will his final total be? That's a good question. Babchuk possesses a huge point shot though that will undoubtedly help the Carolina power play. Call it a fluke, but only two of Babchuk's goals come without some sort of odd-man situation attached.
8) Carolina's power play converts at 19%
In the two seasons before last year's disappointment, Carolina had finished with a powerplay in the high-18's in terms of efficiency. With a young, hungry roster and plenty of offensive pieces on the blueline, Carolina reaps some healthy rewards with the man advantage.
9) Jamie McBain leads all rookie defensemen in plus/minus and finishes third in scoring
McBain is one of the most well-rounded blueline prospects heading in to the season after dominating his lone full season in the AHL and shining in his 14 games of NHL action. With top-four minutes the points will come (although down the stretch last year it was more like top-two), and he'll be a standout of this year's rookie class of blueliners.
10) Jeff Skinner doesn't make the team, but he makes 'Caniancs' wonder "why not"?
With a glut of young, talented forwards, Skinner will have to leapfrog Boychuk, Drayson Bowman, Jon Matsumoto, Chris Terry, Oskar Osala, and Jerome Samson for starters. Along with that, if Carolina is only going to keep him as a top-six forward, he'll have to deal with some seasoned NHL vets. Skinner's determination and willingness to work are unmatched, so it may just come down to a numbers game. However long he's in camp for though, he'll impress. Big time.
The Stretch: With Jared and Eric Staal, the Hurricanes have the market cornered as far as Staals in the NHL go. They trade for Marc and Jordan to complete the collection. They then trade for the Sedin brothers, more Sutters, and the McGinns, proving that hockey is a family business and Carolina wants as many as possible.