Hurricanes' Coach Paul Maurice's voice was booming at the start of practice at 9am sharp this morning. Half way through the second group the tone was more rasp than bark, but no less emphatic. He stopped one drill with his whistle and made his message clear with as few words as possible: "Don't just stand there!"
It was about movement today, sharp and fast; stopping on a dime, turns like a buttonhook. And if you didn't have the puck you had better been trying to get it. If that required you push and bang a few bodies around, skates dug in and stick active, all that came highly recommended.
After practice the team announced the starting lines for the opening pre-season game Tuesday night, with the Florida Panthers coming to town for a 7pm start. We're there, folks.
The Canes have also just notified by tweet that a major signing will be announced tomorrow, and it looks very much like Jeff Skinner and Jim Rutherford are ready to make Skinner's future with the Hurricanes official.
After the jump, a look at tomorrow's line-up, some links and a few random thoughts on what I saw this morning watching the players and the coaches.
Line-up for Tuesday's Pre-Season game
The "tentative" line-up for Tuesday's game to play against the Florida Panthers was announced by the team as follows.
LaRose – Skinner – Dwyer
Bowman – Nash – Ruutu
O’Sullivan – Dalpe – Kostopoulos
Boychuk – Matsumoto – Samson
Look at those centers, Jeff Skinner, Riley Nash, Zac Dalpe and Jon Matsumoto, age 18 to 23, with a combined total of zero NHL games between the four of them. The supporting veterans are on the wings. Chad LaRose, Tuomo Ruutu, and Tom Kostopoulos better have their D-zone thinking caps strapped on tight with no Staal, no Sutter (no Cullen) to keep the play at the right end of the ice. Looking at this, I take it that establishing more clearly the best option for third line center is Topic A on the coaches' agenda Tuesday night. Here's the full announcement from the Canes.
On the back end, only Tim Gleason and Jay Harrison started with the team against the Flyers last October, though Casey Borer was recalled just in time to join Harrison and Jamie McBain at the finale with the Canes here in Raleigh vs the Canadiens. By then Gleason had been relieved of duty to heal a broken foot. Bobby Sanguinetti and Anton Babchuk certainly have a lot to prove, both for very different reasons.
Erik Cole was there at practice with the first group this morning looking great on Skinner's wing opposite LaRose (pause a moment and think about that combination will ya?) but unfortunately he went missing at some point. It was confirmed after practice that Cole suffered a minor injury and would not play Tuesday:
Understandably, a handful of players are experiencing some soreness after a brisk beginning to camp, including Erik Cole, who was slotted to play in Patrick Dwyer’s spot against Florida on Tuesday but will be held out as a precaution.
"They’ve all got their cell phones with them," said Maurice. "If somebody gets a cramp or a groin, then we’re going to take them out."
Maurice added that Cole is expected back at practice tomorrow and should play in Nashville on Thursday.
Speaking of injuries, tomorrow night will be Ruutu's first appearance since March 23rd, a full 6 months ago, and tomorrow's start provides an important test to see if he is fully recovered from shoulder surgery.
We'll have a full game preview tomorrow morning. The game will not be televised, but should be carried on 99.9 ESPN the Fan with a play x play from Chuck Kaiton. We will get that confirmed for you as well. If you were hoping to against all odds that the Hurricanes would appear in the just released 35-game preseason broadcast schedule, you should have stuck with your gut. Nothing doing.
Some other links from the last few days from Camp:
From today, Chip Alexander had a few interesting tweets at the beginning of practice - the Hurricanes were working through Jeff Skinner's entry level contract. He tweeted again just now that they have called a press conference for tomorrow and he guesses it is to announce that Skinner has been signed.
The Canes posted this five-minute Audio talking with Maurice on Day 2.
Returning Players Helping Push Pace - Tracking the Storm Blog Even though the venue and the groups had changed, the tempo at Hurricanes training camp remained remarkably high in the second day of training camp. Canes Now had this yesterday after practice too.
The News and Observer ran a feature Sunday on the Opening Day of Camp and the Caniac Carnival which included a link to their gallery of photos in the right column. Hurricanes gearing up for the season - NewsObserver.com and this was posted Saturday from CanesNow.
CanesNow also did this interview with Mike McKenzie posted today.
My thoughts from today
The first group was comprised of the following mix of NHL regulars and young challengers:
There were 13 forwards, with Sergei Samsonov in a yellow jersey (for his first appearance since before Camp officially opened) and participating in many of the drills. He was skating well and was without any visible restrictions of motion.
- Skinner, flanked by LaRose and Cole (this line had all of us watching closely)
- Eric Staal, with Zach Boychuk and Jerome Samson
- Matsumoto, with Mike McKenzie and Jared Staal
- Nicolas Blanchard, Stefan Chaput, Chris Terry
It was hard not to love LaRose and Cole with Skinner for its mix of speed, skillsets and creativity. High energy there. Boychuk complemented Staal well (in case you were speculating about that anytime in the next couple seasons, from the "Boychuk is the new Whitney" school of thought) and Samson seemed perfectly okay and strong on the puck at that level. The Moto-McKenzie-JStaal line had a lot of tic-tac-toe passing going on, more puck movement than skating wizardry, but they were connecting effectively and consistently. Good to see them enjoying the chemistry. After the others were gone, Jared Staal remained on the ice in conversation asking Tom Rowe what looked like questions about positioning for quite a while.
The D-pairings were as follows.
- Joni Pitkanen and youngster Austin Levi
- Harrison with Babchuk
- Brett Carson paired with Bryan Rodney.
- Brett Bellemore and Michal Jordan
Levi looked every bit as young as he is, but was completely focused and giving it his all. Knowing Pitkanen's reputation for unpredictability, this must have been a memorable experience for Levi to skate with the former first rounder. Carson and Rodney knew each other well, and Harrison and Babchuk were just plain big.
It was Justin Pogge and Justin Peters in goal for the first session.
Rod Brind`Amour was on the ice for the first group, and afterwards he had Matsumoto and Blanchard taking face-offs (apparently Tom Barrasso learned to drop a puck this summer) while Brind`Amour showed them moves with their sticks, leg placement and shoulders. Within a minute, Jeff Skinner skated up, and Brind`Amour had him in the mix. They spent a long time working and talking. Brind`Amour seems to be taking a strong interest in Skinner and, to my eye, Skinner was appreciating the support he was getting a beyond just technique. Brind`Amour may be the Canes secret formula to get Skinner to the NHL faster than anyone thought possible last spring.
The second group was more familiar among the forwards, but included many more Defensemen newbies. Glenn Wesley took the ice, and Brind`Amour went up to the seats where he took notes like a college kid in a graduate seminar. (Except when John Forslund would tap him on the shoulder to ask a question. I considered tweeting @JohhnyF to be quiet and let the new Director of Forwards Development concentrate on doing his job.)
- Brandon Sutter between Jussi Jokinen and Matt Kennedy
- Dalpe centering Kostopoulos and Patrick O`Sullivan
- Nash with Ruutu and Drayson Bowman,
- Nick Dodge with Pat Dwyer and Oskar Osala.
The second and third lines are starting tomorrow night. Dalpe was the dominant forward on his line, and his skating and willingness to drive through the slot were conspicuous - nice combination with the small quick O'Sullivan and the veteran TommyK. Bowman was also strong with Ruutu showing his maturity - Maurice had a face-to-face with Nash afterward (not harsh or critical necessarily) and it was this line he stopped with the "DON'T JUST STAND THERE!" command.
Kennedy approached Sutter a couple times with questions and seeing Sutter as the knowledgeable pro giving advice was terrific. Tlusty came out in yellow but left when the real 5-on-5 drills began.
The D-pairs were as follows:
- Gleason and Kyle Lawson - 2 Michigan boys. I think Lawson was somewhat in awe.
- Joe Corvo and Zack Fitzgerald
- Rasmus Rissanen was with McBain. Rissanen was unexpectedly confident and physical, and McBain can still thread the needle with his passing.
- Sanguinetti and Borer
Ward and Murphy in goal.
The second session seemed more physical and more intense in the scrimmages. Maybe they missed LaRose and feared Gleason, but that is the contrast I saw in the mood. They went about 15 minutes longer as well.
With the signing of Jeff Skinner apparently imminent, and the fact that the coaches seem to regard him as a center for now, the depth chart continues to be shaken up across all four lines. With only eleven days till they board the plane to Russia, Paul Maurice and company have a lot to think about.