The Carolina Hurricanes made a trade for a defender that is paying out
Sami Vatanen proved his ability as a duel threat defenseman in his first three games with the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Carolina Hurricanes have emerged from their three-game sweep of the New York Rangers as a serious force to be reckoned with in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Hurricanes were the underdogs to some analysts because they were swept by the Rangers during the regular season, and the Rangers goaltending trio proved a problem that was unsolvable for the Canes thus far.
Although Caniacs saw plenty of flashes of greatness during the regular season, the Canes qualifying round appearance may be the most complete the team has looked all season. The defensive core of the Carolina Hurricanes was able to neutralize the typically high scoring Rangers team.
Part of this defensive picture is the depth that has been the greatest strength of the Carolina Hurricanes this season. However, with the loss of Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce to injury, this strength was in danger of becoming a weak point for the team. Sami Vatanen seized the opportunity in the top line next to Jaccob Slavin and proved that he deserved this spot.
Quite frankly, I was unsure in what capacity the Hurricanes would use Vatanen until he was plugged into Hamilton’s spot after Hamilton’s unfortunate injury in practice. Sara Civian, in an article for The Athletic (paywall) which analyzed the Hurricanes’ acquisitions at the trade deadline, quoted a Metro division scout who said:
"“I like him. He can run a power play if you needed. He’s a good puck mover and in transition. Pretty mobile and gets around fine . . . he’s never going to lose a battle due to lack of compete. He plays hard every game, blocks a ton of shots as well (including the reason he’s on injured reserve) . . . he can eat big minutes. He was averaging 21:45 (with the Devils) this year.”"
How does Vatanen match up to this assessment after three games? I think that he proved his capability as a dual-threat blueliner during the qualifying series against the Rangers. Dougie Hamilton is simply irreplaceable for the Carolina Hurricanes, but Vatanen certainly held the fort down in his absence.
The Hurricanes trusted Vatanen with plenty of responsibility in his role, and the power-play goal above shows that Vatanen is able to use his strength on the power play and create chances. You won’t see a much cleaner power-play sequence, and I would like to see Vatanen continue to be trusted with the power play. Two of his three playoff assists were during power plays.
Another part of Vantanen’s performance that really impressed me was his hustle on the ice. Civian’s quoted metro division scout above mentioned this, but it didn’t strike me until I saw Vatanen through the qualifying series.
The now-legendary series of saves above is a prime example of this hustle. Vatanen not only dives into the net behind Reimer who is out of position, but he also is able to block a subsequent shot with his shoulder.
Vatanen’s average time on ice for the three games was 19:14, and I think this is a testament to his hustle and ability to maintain long shifts on the ice. He worked very well with Jaccob Slavin, and although he will probably be paired with another blueliner in the first round, it’s not a small feat to be able to stand toe to toe with one of Carolina’s best.
Last but not least, let’s look at Vatanen’s statistics for the qualifying round. The Hurricanes were able to limit the Rangers to only four total playoff goals, a fraction of the 10 goals the Rangers scored during their last three regular-season games.
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Vatanen’s Corsi for percentage for game one was 77.1%, game two was 40.6%, and game three 54.8%. The total average for the three games is 57.5%, meaning that Vatanen was on the ice for over half of Carolina’s scoring opportunities. Part of this is certainly his work on the power play and the other part of his ability to keep the puck out from behind the blue line.
I have enjoyed Vatanen’s time with Carolina so far. I think he is a complete player with strength on the power play that has a role within the Carolina Hurricanes’ organization. Will he, or better yet, should he be resigned by the Hurricanes? While he would certainly provide depth to an already stacked defensive core, it’s hard to not imagine that cap space being used somewhere else.
However, if Vatanen continues to perform at such a high level in the first round, I could see the Hurricanes making the decision to resign Vatanen. After all, having a dual-threat player is great news for the cap considering the team doesn’t have to go all-in on two separate players.
While we will see more of Vatanen in the first round, I believe we have only seen the beginning of his capabilities.