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Christmas coming early with Canes’ explosive fourth line

Dec 2, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Hurricanes right wing Stefan Noesen (23) is congratulated by center Jack Drury (18) and center Martin Necas (88) after his goal against the Buffalo Sabres during the second period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Roster depth is a wonderful thing.

An abundance of talented forwards has the Hurricanes ushering in the holiday season with a flurry of goals from its uniquely skilled fourth line. The trio of Martin Necas, Jack Drury and Stefan Noesen exhibits a rare combination of skill, speed and tenacity.

It’s not every day you see a guy like Necas — one of the fastest skaters in the NHL — on the fourth line, but that’s exactly where he’s hitting his stride for Carolina. His innate ability to bob and weave through defenses complements his linemates extremely well.

“Balance, that’s the key,” said Rod Brind’Amour after the Canes’ 6-2 win over Buffalo. “We’ve got really good balance if we can keep this lineup like that. Generally, your fourth line doesn’t play that much, but that’s not how we’ve done it. He played 17 [minutes] the night before. I don’t know what he played tonight, maybe a little less. Trying to make sure you get everyone out there enough.”

While Necas creates space and forces defenders to focus on him, Jack Drury exhibits his knack to find soft spots in the defense and execute well as a two-way center while Stefan Noesen showcases his trademark ability to score in the gritty areas off rebounds and deflections.

Noesen’s goal against Buffalo on Saturday put this dynamic on full display. Jack Drury won a defensive zone faceoff, allowing the Canes to clear the puck high and far away from danger. Necas blazed up the ice, capitalized on a missed glove-down by a Sabres defenseman and drew in the defense on a breakaway chance. Meanwhile, Noesen scooted up the ice in space, allowing Necas to tee him up nicely right in front of net.

Drury’s recent tear also plays a big role in this line emergence. His two goals in the last five games mark recent dividends of his steady play all season long. After grinding hard on both ends of the ice and shaking off multiple would-be goals that got called back for one reason or another, Drury’s grit is finally starting to pay off.

“You can tell Jack — he’s pushing the show he belongs all the time,” Brind’Amour said. “That’s what you love about him. He’s an NHLer, but he knows he’s ‘I got to keep proving myself.’ That’s how you got to be. He’s been good all year. It’s nice to see him finally getting rewarded for the effort.”

A little than two years since his NHL debut on Dec. 16, 2021, Drury’s finally establishing himself as a bona fide NHLer. One factor separating that brief stint to now is the mentorship of Stefan Noesen. After spending most of his career bouncing between the NHL and AHL, Stefan Noesen finally broke out last season with the Canes, logging 36 points in 78 games.

Playing with guys like Noesen and Michael Bunting with their extensive experience with life as a professional hockey player as well as a fellow youngster in Necas is proving invaluable to Drury’s development.

“We got such a deep team,” Drury said. “It’s easy whoever you’re playing with. Getting to play with Noeser a lot. He’s a heck of a player. Whether it’s Bunts or Nechy or whoever it is, it’s pretty easy to play with the guys we got.”

This line combination’s worked to great effort in its five games for Carolina. Noesen-Drury-Necas ranks best on the team in Corsi percentage (in other words, how many shot attempts came from you instead of your opponent) while they’re on the ice, clocking in at 76.12%.

Whether exercising the Canes’ M.O. of getting pucks on net or making highlight-reel plays in open space, this rare combination of speed and size, skill and experience makes Carolina’s fourth line a must-watch for hockey fans.