As the Carolina Hurricanes gather in Raleigh on Thursday, just hours before another hurricane is set to crash into the shores of North Carolina, they will begin their training camp perhaps with more questions than they have had in the last several seasons. These questions are not necessarily indicative of a team that will be less competitive, though; the Canes enter the season with renewed high expectations, but these questions represent a bit of a refreshing change for a roster that quickly had gotten stale over the past few seasons.
With those changes, jobs will be in play during September and into the season’s first month, as new head coach Rod Brind’Amour attempts to put together a winner in his maiden voyage as the Canes’ bench boss.
To clarify the “openings” that are available, we must first look at the roster and line-up “locks” as best we can surmise before we head into camp. In some form or fashion, the below names are almost guaranteed to be in the lineup on Opening Night (barring trades or injury):
- Sebastian Aho
- Jordan Staal
- Teuvo Teravainen
- Andrei Svechnikov
- Justin Williams
- Victor Rask
- Martin Necas
- Micheal Ferland
- Brock McGinn
- Jaccob Slavin
- Dougie Hamilton
- Calvin de Haan
- Brett Pesce
- Trevor van Riemsdyk
- Justin Faulk
- Petr Mrazek
- Scott Darling
If we assume that these 17 players are slated for the roster, it becomes clear that the battle for real playing time exists up from with the forwards, with what appears to be the starting lineup on defense set. Let’s start with the battles at forward. Three regular spots will be available, as well as room for a healthy scratch or two:
Off the bat, I imagine some of you are already screaming that I left off Valentin Zykov from my roster “locks”. I too believe he is very likely to join the other young additions and be an integral part of the Hurricanes lineup, but I would simply put him in play here because I don’t know exactly where he is going to slot in as the Canes begin to piece together lines.
A talented scorer, Zykov is not the type of player you want to have languish away with 6-8 minutes of ice time per night on a fourth line. I am fairly confident he will find a role as a top-nine forward, with someone like McGinn, Ferland, or even Rask receiving the shorter end of the stick instead. Think of Zykov’s exclusion as just another chance to discuss how great he is! In his limited 10-game stint last season, he tallied seven points (including three goals). Expect to see plenty of Zykov this season.
Acquired as part of the trade that shipped Marcus Kruger out of town, Jordan Martinook brings three seasons of NHL experience to Raleigh, all with the Arizona Coyotes. Martinook put together a rather disappointing season in 2017-18, as he failed to build on his 11 goal, 25 point season from the year before, only posting six goals and nine assists (15 points) in 81 games played.
Part of his offensive reduction likely had to do with the exaggerated defensive role. With 64.9% of his zone-starts occurring in the defensive zone (the highest percentage of his career), and already playing on an offensively challenged roster, perhaps his offensive issues were enhanced by circumstances.
Nevertheless, Martinook looks like a clear candidate for a potential fourth line role, and the hope from the team-builders is that he can provide what Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom provided on the Penalty Kill, while also being a more suitable and regular contributor on the fourth line.
Another young Hurricane, Wallmark has also received short cups of coffee in Raleigh each of the last two seasons. He notched his first career NHL goal last season, but has yet to establish himself as an NHL-caliber player. This training camp may be his last chance to break camp with the Hurricanes, as the talent pipeline continues to fill with younger, perhaps more dynamic, talents. Wallmark must show consistency and a mature style of play in order to grab a roster spot and a shot at the fourth line.
Acquired as a piece in the Jeff Skinner trade, Pu is coming off of a junior season in Canada that was split betweel the London Knights and Kingston Frontenacs that saw him pot 29 goals and 55 assists (84 points). Just 20-years-old, Pu is likely slated for Charlotte, as he is now eligible for that assignment, but it does not preclude the Hurricanes from taking a long look during camp (as well as in Traverse City, where he missed time with injury), if he is healthy enough to perform. Expect him to head to Charlotte, but keep an eye on him.
Phil Di Giuseppe
A veteran of the Charlotte-Raleigh shuttle, Phil Di Giuseppe has never been able to establish himself and stick with the Canes. His energy and intensity has been a needed punch at times, but his inability to translate that into scoring opportunities for himself or his teammates has limited his effectiveness.
For the soon to be 25-year-old, sticking in Raleigh this season is a must. While consistent playing time may be difficult to come by, a roster spot may be available for Di Giuseppe if he can prove that he is ready to provide the type of performance he has displayed in a few of his short spurts of action over the past three seasons. Expect Di Giuseppe to be given every chance to crack the roster, if not the lineup on Opening Night.
Janne Kuokkanen made his NHL debut late last season, but the second round pick from Finland will enter his 20-year-old season seeking to claim a regular NHL job for the first time in his career. Coming off of a 40-point campaign in Charlotte in just 60 games played, Kuokkanen has established himself as a true contender for the Hurricanes roster for the upcoming season, as well as far beyond.
Flying under the radar of more heralded youngsters such as Necas, Svechnikov, and the wunderkind Aho, Kuokkanen has continued to develop. He may be ready for his NHL close-up, but training camp will go a long way in determining if he will gain more seasoning at the AHL level before he returns to Raleigh for the long haul. If ice time opens up due to an injury in camp, expect Kuokkanen to be the first person looked to fill a serious role.
Other possible forward contenders:
The openings on the blue line appear to be much more difficult to come by as former first-rounder and full-time regular last season Haydn Fleury appears to be the odd man out of the top-six currently. Who else may contend for a roster spot?
An uneven first season in Raleigh saw Fleury see a decent amount of ice time in 67 games, but due to the...wait for it...flurry of offseason activity, he would seem to be the seventh D-Man at this moment in time.
At 22, Fleury still has plenty of potential upside, but the timetable for him to put that talent to use in Carolina may be running short if he is unable to retain a starting role. With no goals and only eight assists a season ago, the offensive development for Fleury left plenty to be desired, and inconsistency marred much of his campaign that was spent in the third pairing. Fleury is a potential trade candidate as well, so the next month may provide greater clarity on his standing with the Canes going forward.
Other possible defenseman contenders:
While the Hurricanes do have some talent in the minors in goal, given their current contract statuses everyone is expecting the tandem of Mrazek and Darling to be firmly entrenched in net. If something were to occur to change that, it would most certainly be Alex Nedeljkovic who would step into a backup role if needed.
With training camp just days away, the Carolina Hurricanes roster is far from set. Expect to see some interesting battles as the month-long process of putting together the team for Opening Night begins. Trades are still a possibility, as cap considerations and training camp injuries become closer to reality. Look for the Canes to be engaged if not active during that process.