Staal blew away the rest of pack in the goalscolumn last season, notching the second 40-goal season of his career and also getting 35 assists, and still even has the possibility of improving on both those numbers this year.Finally, on the right is Eric Cole, who had terrific chemistry after his late-season return to the Hurricanes, and should begin to become more productive as he settles back in. Line Two LW Tuomo Ruutu...C Matt Cullen...RW Chad LaRoseLeading off the second line is left winger Tuomo Ruutu, who has the talent to be a first liner and may end up there soon. Ruutu had 54 points last season, and is a likely candidate to possibly near even 70 this season.Next to him is the perfect combo of Matt Cullen and Chad LaRose, who teamed up for plenty of great plays in five on five, as well as scoring four combined shorthanded goals (three of which were assisted by the other)!Cullen had 22 goals and 43 points by himself as well last year, and LaRose scored 19 times for 31 points. Together, it seems likely that they could notch well over 80 combined points this year. Line Three LW Sergei Samsanov...C Jussi Jokinen...RW Scott WalkerAfter years and years of disappointment by various teams over Sergei Samsanov, he's finally found his comfort zone in Carolina. Samsanov had 48 points last year, was a great team player and passer (32 assists), and now is the anchor of the third line.In the middle is Jokinen, one of the best feel-good stories of the previous NHL season. Jokinen had been a disaster for Tampa Bay heading into the spring, and was plucked off waiver wires as for depth.
However, Jokinen started pouring in the pointsimmediately, and ended up getting six playoff goals to help the Canes make their magical run.Next to him is Scott Walker, the sturdy veteran who provides the defensive side of the offense. Walker was also the hero in overtime of Game Seven against Boston in the Eastern Conference 2009 Semi-Finals. Line Four LW Tom Kostopoulus....C Rod Brind'Amour....RW Stephane YelleThe final group for the Hurricanes is so balanced, it has thepossibility to be the second. He's entering the almost-certainly last season of his career, and still wears the captain mark. But Brind'Amour also had the second-worst /- rating of any player in the league, finishing at the pathetic -23 (and was at -34 with a couple months to go).Then, the two other players on both sides of him are new to the team. I have good feelings on Kostopoulos, but if he doesn't work out, the Hurricanes fourth line might plummet quickly. DefensePairing One LD Tim Gleason....RD Joe CorvoThe first pairing for the Hurricanes is made of two great players on the two opposite ends of their position.Gleason is the tough, physical player...6'0", 217 lbs, 68 PM last season...and zero goals.
Corvo is the scorer...14 goals, 24 assists...and not quite a fighter (just 18 penalty minutes). Pairing Two LD Joni Pitkanen....RD Aaron WardThe second pairing has the potential to become one of the elite pairs in the league. Pitkanen can both defend and score, as he proved last season with 33 points, and Aaron Ward is a huge wall for attackers.Together, watch for these two guys to excell at their spots and lead the Canes to several great wins. Pairing Three LD Niclas Wallin....RD Andrew AlbertsThe final pairing doesn't have quite the outlook of pairing two.Wallin has limited playing time usually, and only had ten points as well, despite working out fine as a low-level man. As a Flyer last year, Alberts had 13 points, but never really did much productive things on either side of the puck. GoaltendingCam Ward has got to be the best thing that ever happened to a professional sports team from North Carolina. Emerging to stardom in 2006, he led the 'Canes to a Stanley Cup win and a Conn Smythe trophy. Now, after two so-so years, Ward is back on the top of his game.Last season, Ward had a 91.8 save percentage, 2.44 GAA, and six shutouts, leading the Canes to 39 wins by himself. This year, Cam Ward seems poised to be one of the top three goalies in the league.Behind Ward is backup Michael Leighton, who was decent in his scrappy playing time and managed to serve fine as backup.
Behind him is underperforming minor league goalie Justin Peters. Part III Three Keys to SuccessPowerplay: The Hurricanes finished 18th in the NHL last season in this stat, despite finishing first in powerplay opportunities. They were also 0-for-6 with the man advantage last night in the preseason loss to Nashville. Imagine what they could be if they finished in the top six or seven in that!Cam Ward: It's pretty nice when a key to success is your top-flight goaltender, which is exactly what Ward is. If he can emerge among the league's top, the Hurricanes should be able to focus their defenseman at what they do best; scoring, while still holding their opponents to very little points.The Fourth Line: Whoever ends up there, it's key for the balanced 'Canes offense to get production from the fourth line.