The Carolina Hurricanes New Arrivals: The Defensemen

New Hurricane Sean Walker chases a loose puck.
New Hurricane Sean Walker chases a loose puck. / Jason Mowry/GettyImages

H.P. Lovecraft once wrote ‘The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown’.  The Carolina Hurricanes and their fans are dealing with a lot of unknown right now. Free agency has already stolen five known excellent Carolina Hurricanes players as Brett Pesce, Brady Skjei, Teuvo Teravainen, Stefan Noesen, and Jake Guentzel will all be wearing different uniforms.   While many new faces have come in, no one knows how they will fit in with Rod Brind’Amour’s structured system.  To help alleviate some of this fear in the Canes unknown, we will look at these new faces on their way to Raleigh and what can be expected from them. 

Perhaps the low-key biggest move the Hurricanes made this offseason was bringing back Jalen Chatfield. A top 4 of Jaccob Slavin, Brent Burns, Dmitry Orlov, and Chatfield is a legitimately known quantity of solid play that should ease anxiety. Still, to recreate the depth that has made the defense one of the Hurricanes greatest strengths, several new faces will have to come in and step up. Here is what we can expect from them.

Shayne Gostisbehere

Huh, I guess it’s not all new faces after all. “Ghost Bear” returns to Raleigh after spending last season with the Red Wings.  Given that he is a 10-year NHL veteran and he did play 38 regular season and playoff games in Raleigh, we have a pretty good idea of what we’re getting here.   Excellent offensive defenseman (he scored 56 points last year) who also has significant defensive flaws.  A better version of Tony DeAngelo.  Gostisbehere was sheltered in his first go with the Hurricanes, and (given the Hurricanes' aforementioned top 4) he will likely still get sheltered minutes this year.  He also might be good on the powerplay. He isn’t a shutdown defenseman in any sense, and his playoff statistics are…not great, but he should be a solid Carolina Hurricane again.

Sean Walker

Walker is new to Raleigh, but not in the NHL, as he will be starting his 7th NHL season this fall.  I doubt it will take him long to earn a place in Hurricanes fans’ hearts.  The word that comes to mind with Walker is ‘scrappy’. The man just overcomes adversity. Undersized for his type of game at 5’11 (he’s about 4 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than both Pesce and Skjei),  He was not drafted by any NHL team. He was not drafted by any OHL team. He worked his way through Junior A and four years at Bowling Green University.  He signed an AHL contract and played for a year before earning an entry-level deal with the Los Angeles Kings.  Since then, all he has done is worked his way through 232 NHL games averaging 16:54 TOI per game.   Sean Walker is a solid, stay-at-home defensemen who will scrap.  Don’t expect much offense (his numbers are worse than Pesce’s in that regard) but he seems like an ideal 3rd pairing partner for Gostisbehere and one who can step up in case of injury to the top 4.

Riley Stillman

Riley is not new to Raleigh, either. Riley’s father Cory won a Cup here in 2006, so Riley might be the only Hurricanes player who knows what it is like when the Hurricanes win a Cup.   A 26-year-old veteran and former 4th-round pick of the Florida Panthers, Stillman has settled into a depth defenseman role. He played 47 AHL games last season with the Sabres’ organization but has 158 NHL games on his resume.  With Dylan Coghlan off to the Jets, Stillman looks like a solid bet to pencil in the #7 slot.

The Prospects

The Canes have two young players who could have a big impact on the defense this season.  One will be in camp and one will not. 

Scott Morrow, a 2021 2nd-round pick, signed his ELC with the Hurricanes in April and saw the ice in Raleigh for two games at the end of the regular season.   With Gostisbehere signed to be the offense for the third pairing and power play, it seems likely the Canes will want Morrow playing heavy minutes in the AHL to start, but it would not be surprising to see him in Raleigh at some point again this season.   

Alexander Nikishin is the one all Hurricanes fans have been waiting for.  The team’s top overall prospect had an outside shot of coming at the beginning of the season, and all accounts are that the Hurricanes tried hard to get him here, but as of now, he is still under contract with SKA St Petersburg through the end of their season.  That said, the KHL regular season ends in February and Nikishin will be eligible to join the Hurricanes as soon as the SKA St Petersburg finishes up.  

The Hurricanes lost a lot of talent from their 23-24 roster.  Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei are not easily replaced. Given the players coming to town, both seasoned veterans and young prospects, it seems that the Hurricanes fans should not fear much about the defense. It might not be as elite, but it seems well-placed to be a strength, yet again.