Sports

With Jeff Skinner gone, who will score the goals for the Hurricanes?

The trade of Jeff Skinner by the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday quickly led to an inevitable question: who makes up for the goals Skinner scored?

Sebastian Aho? The Finnish forward scored a career-high 29 last season to top the Canes and could move past the 30-goal plateau in his third NHL season. Canes goalie Scott Darling, for one, believes Aho could push for 40.

“He’s got some more offensive guys he’ll play with that could take some heat off him and open up the ice a little bit more,” Darling said. “Some young guns.”

The Canes believe Russian forward Andrei Svechnikov, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, can quickly make the transition to the NHL and be an offensive factor. They’re counting on Czech center Martin Necas, their first-round draft pick in 2017, to do the same.

Skinner, who waived the no-move clause in his contract to be traded to the Buffalo Sabres, scored more than 200 goals in his eight seasons with the Canes, putting up a career-high 37 in 2016-17. He fell off to 24 last season -- former Canes GM Ron Francis called him “snakebit” -- but continues to be among the best in the NHL in creating offensive chances and in drawing penalties from opponents in the offensive zone.

Svechnikov and Necas are unproven and both will be rookies. The Canes will need players such as forwards Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal, Victor Rask, newly acquired Micheal Ferland and others to step up their production.

Valentin Zykov led the American Hockey League with 33 goals last season for the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ AHL affiliate, and has size and the willingness to go to the front of the net. But can he consistently score at the NHL level?

“This is going to provide an opportunity for some of our young kids,” Canes general manager Don Waddell said. “If one of them doesn’t score 30 goals, maybe two of them together gets to 40 goals. You’ve got Necas coming over, you’ve got Svechnikov and all the young guys down in Charlotte. They deserve an opportunity.”

Waddell noted veteran defenseman Dougie Hamilton, obtained with Ferland by the Canes in the Calgary trade, scored 17 goals last season for the Flames. Ferland had a career-high 21.

“I don’t think goal-scoring is going to be a big issue for us as we move forward,” Waddell said.

It has been an issue for the Hurricanes the past few years. Carolina was 23rd in NHL scoring last season at 2.74 goals per game after scoring 2.59 in 2016-17.

So why trade Skinner, a proven scorer? Skinner’s agent, Don Meehan, said Thursday that Skinner did not request a trade, saying the decision to move him was an organizational one.

“Jeff never called me and said ‘I want to be traded,’” Waddell said. “I had a lot of talks with his agent about what the best thing would be not only for our franchise but also for Jeff personally.”

Meehan said Waddell and the Canes were “very professional” in the trade discussions. With the no-move clause, Skinner had the right to approve any proposed trade.

Waddell said the Canes were mindful of another sticky contract situation this past year, saying, “We watched what happened on the Island with John Tavares.”

Tavares, one of the NHL’s most productive forwards, played out the final season of his contract with the New York Islanders, nixed all contact extension proposals and became an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He then signed a seven-year, $77 million pact with the Toronto Maple Leafs, leaving the Isles empty-handed.

Skinner could have done the same with the Hurricanes -- stayed, played and left. Waddell said there were no talks about a contract extension for Skinner, which Meehan confirmed.

Waddell said the Canes are hoping to sign Aho, who’s entering the final year of his entry-level contract, to a long-term deal. There also will be contract discussions with Teravainen, he said.

In the end, with their trade options limited for Skinner, the Hurricanes settled on offensive prospect Cliff Pu and the three draft picks from the Sabres.

“We weren’t going to trade him to Buffalo or any place else unless we felt we got some decent assets coming back,” Waddell said.

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