NHL

Aho, Ferland, and Williams Redefining Hurricanes’ Leadership Culture

Fresh leadership leading the way during Canes hot streak.

The Carolina Hurricanes have grown to be quite the threatening system in the past two weeks. They’ve posted a 7-1 record in their last eight games, with their only loss coming at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning last week. If your only loss in the past two weeks is to the best team in the league, and you played them hard for fifty minutes, you’re doing something right.

The Hurricanes are getting offensive contributions from their defense and depth scoring, which means they aren’t relying on their top line like they were in early December. On this recent eight-game hot streak, the Hurricanes have scored an average of 4 goals per game and yielded an average of 2.75. Ideally, we’d like to be giving up less overall, but I find it hard to complain too much with the offense clicking like it is.

I’ll take more of a realist angle later this week, but right now, we’re giving credit where credit is due. There’s something in the air, and it feels a lot like genuine locker room chemistry. You can say it’s as simple as winning games, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But, I think there’s something else to be said about the quality of leadership from a handful of guys that has the rest of the team so engaged. These games are fun to watch, and the crowds at PNC Arena recently have been nothing short of electric.

Sebastian Aho (Sea Bass/Fishy) is a savage, first-line NHL center. You can’t change my mind on this, and we can put the “The ‘Canes lack a 1C” narratives to rest. He’s been here the whole time, and his role has steadily transformed from a 5 on 5 and power play winger to that of an every situation center. He was recently added to the penalty kill, so there’s nothing this kid can’t do. He keeps turning heads with each passing game, and the cherry on top is that he was recently selected to his first all-star game. People know Sebastian Aho now, and if they don’t yet, they should fear him. Aho currently has 51 points (21 goals, 30 assists) in 45 games played which puts him on pace for 93 total points this season. That’s elite production.

He brings a certain kind of leadership to this club that you can tell the guys effortlessly rally around. He’s light-hearted with media and the fans, yet absolutely insatiable on the ice. Every shift builds off the last, and there’s no off switch in his game. When Aho is flying, the whole team is flying.

There’s something inspiring for the rest of the team to have a truly elite, well-rounded player to look towards for motivation. I know Jeff Skinner was good for us for a long time, but Aho has set himself apart, and it’s something the ‘Canes haven’t really had since Eric Staal’s glory days. Aho is the type of player that gives his teammates greater confidence in their own abilities, and it shows not only on the scoreboard, but also in the tenacity with which they play each game.

Speaking of tenacity, let’s talk about Micheal Ferland. Though he doesn’t wear a letter on his jersey, when I watch him play, I see him as a leader for this Hurricanes team. He brings an element of toughness that the ‘Canes haven’t seen since the league started phasing out the “true enforcer” years ago. Ferland throws his weight around better than anyone else on this team, and if necessary, he’ll throw punches to defend himself or a teammate. And what’s even better? He has a nose for the net, an underrated shot, and the ability to finish a play.

I was propped up in section 124 for the game against the Buffalo Sabres last Friday night. When I wasn’t methodically stroking my beard pondering the aspects of group think related to the crowd clapping along to Fitz and the Tantrums, I was watching Micheal Ferland. Ferland posted his first career three-point game (1 goal, 2 assists) against Buffalo, and it was easily his best game as a Hurricane.

He was all over the ice throwing hits and creating scoring chances. Each thunderous hit was met with a roar from the crowd. On Sunday afternoon versus the Nashville Predators, Ferland followed up with two more assists and a fight against Austin Watson. What followed the fight was what could’ve been the loudest roar from inside PNC arena in a decade. The fans love Micheal Ferland and his play style.

It’s clear that on the ice his teammates appreciate him too. I think his willingness to mix it up rubs off on the rest of the team, and they play with more aggression because of him. There’s a new edge to this Hurricanes team compared to years past, and in this way, I consider Ferland a leader. This is all good news, right? Well, almost.

Ferland is set to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and it’s possible (incredibly likely) he could be dealt at the trade deadline. He’s due for a pay raise, and you can’t blame him for wanting what he’s worth. He’s currently making $1.75 million, but rumor has it that he will seek something akin to $5 million for 5 years, what some are calling “Tom Wilson money.”

One scenario I could see playing out is that the ‘Canes do trade Ferland at the deadline so they don’t risk losing him for nothing. Then when July 1st rolls around, the Hurricanes can attempt to re-sign him. However, this is dependent on whether the front office is willing to cough up the cash based on his short time here. He said he’d like to stay in Carolina, so if I’m in management’s shoes, I’m doing everything I can to get this man on the Hurricanes roster come the 2019-2020 season. Players that fit into and contribute to the team culture like Ferland don’t come around very often.

Honestly, I can’t say “culture” and then not talk a little about the team dad and actual captain, Justin Williams. Williams has been what many call a professional pro his entire career. He always does things the right way, and leads by example for the team. He has instilled a work ethic into this team that is palpable to the fans.

Off the ice, he’s always honest and genuine in his interviews. On the ice, he shows the never-quit attitude and hustle that he preaches to the guys. The Nashville game was already in the bag with a score of 6-3 and just a minute to go. What was Justin Williams doing? He was skating hard after a loose puck with the same effort and intensity as his first shift of the game. That kind of effort is why he finds himself on a seven-game point streak and five-game goal streak.

There’s a lot to be proud of with how the Carolina Hurricanes are playing right now. Everyone is chipping in, and it shows with the recent push in the standings. I’m not in the locker room, but I’ll tell you that in my eyes Sebastian Aho, Micheal Ferland, and Justin Williams are leading the charge. Not all of them have letters on their sweaters, but they’re each leading in their own way, and their actions are speaking volumes to the rest of the team, the coaches, and the fans too. It’s a unique three-pronged leadership dynamic, and it’s one the ‘Canes haven’t seen in quite some time.

Team building is refreshing isn’t it?

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