The offseason that seemed to last forever is finally coming to a close.
The Carolina Hurricanes have physicals scheduled on Friday and will hit the ice on Saturday as training camp officially opens this weekend. The team has a scrimmage scheduled to coincide with the Caniac Carnival on Sunday and then they hit the road for their first preseason game already on Monday.
There will be no rest for the weary as things will be moving right along quickly now.
The team has invited 56 players to Raleigh, (six goalies, 19 defensemen, and 31 forwards), and has divided them into three groups to start with.
It's a brand new season with some new faces and plenty of unanswered questions. What will the lines look like? Who will play on the line with Eric Staal? How will the new guys fit in?
But first things first. Who will make the club? There are just a couple of open forward positions available and several hungary, blossoming players looking to claim those spots. The competition will be intense.
Although it's very early, at this time 10 forwards have been penciled into the opening day lineup. Staal, Jeff Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Sutter, Chad LaRose and Patrick Dwyer will join newcomers Alexei Ponikarovsky, Anthony Stewart, and Tim Brent up front.
Currently, the Canes are blessed with more depth than ever and there are several players capable of stepping into the two remaining positions. Let's take a look at some of the top candidates.
Zac Dalpe The center is a favorite, not only to make the team, but to earn a spot in the top six. He's been very impressive in pre-camp skates, had an excellent season last year, and looks to be in great condition. He's definitely a player to keep an eye on. (Red Group)
Zach Boychuk The former first round draft pick had a disappointing camp last year and was eventually assigned to Charlotte. He should be more prepared and ready to go this time around. Last season he led the Checkers in total points, even though he played 23 games with the Canes. He's a winger who can distribute the puck when he's on his game and that is something that Carolina desperately needs. While a lot of talk has been about Dalpe on a line with Staal, Boychuk might actually be a better natural fit because of his passing skills. He'll have to prove that he belongs there though. (White Group, same as Staal)
Jiri Tlusty The Czech native has a ton of potential and has shown flashes of brilliance with the puck, but he has spent more time nursing injuries than scoring points since he's been with the Hurricanes. Last year, he was wearing a yellow jersey during training camp, (recovering from knee surgery), but made the team while they waited for him to heal and work his way into game shape. This year there will be less patience and he will have to earn a spot or he could soon find himself on the waiver wire if the younger players outperform him. (Red Group)
Drayson Bowman The winger got the call to play in Raleigh at the end of last season and accounted for himself in his own end pretty well. But he will have to do better than just have one assist in 23 games if he plans to make the team this season. Bowman possesses a nifty shot and has the ability to score, he just has not broken through yet. (White Group)
- Jerome Samson Samson was also called up at the end of last season and played 23 games while chipping in with two assists. He had somewhat limited ice time while on the fourth line but showed his ability to control the puck along the boards with his strength. He has scored over 30 goals in a season while in the AHL, so he can shoot, but he will probably need to improve his overall physical game if he wants to stay in the NHL as a fourth liner. (White Group)
Chris Terry Here is a dark horse candidate who could make some big noise this preseason. He led the Checkers with 34 goals last year and also had a team high six goals in the playoffs. Terry trained with the help of fitness guru Gary Roberts over the offseason, so he should be in great shape. But is he quick and fast enough to compete with the big boys in the NHL? (Black Group)
- Victor Rask The Canes' second round draft pick this summer has a ton of skill but he has to be considered a real underdog to make the team this season. Still, he should be fun to watch. (Red Group)
Those are the players who probably have the best chance to earn one of those "two spots". Although someone like Patrick Dwyer, who has pretty much been a fringe NHL player up until last year, should keep an eye out for the competition. There is a lot of talent in that group above and any of them have the ability to get hot and impress.
It's interesting that the coaching staff mixed the groups the way they did. Tlusty and Dalpe will probably be matched against Boychuk and Bowman in the scrimmages. Plus, as mentioned above, Boychuk will get a chance to develop some chemistry with Staal.
It should be a very interesting preseason.
Tomorrow we'll take a look at the defense.