RALEIGH — It goes without saying that the next few weeks and months are going to be the biggest of Haydn Fleury’s still very young professional hockey career.
On perhaps the best blue line in the NHL, Fleury has to stand out and prove that he’s worth being in the top-six on a nightly basis. If he can do that, he’ll stay in Carolina. If he can’t, there’s a very real possibility that he will be playing with another organization now that he is no longer waiver exempt.
Through the first two days of training camp, the now 23-year-old former first-round pick has looked different — not in appearance, though. He has always had a big frame at 6’3”, and over the years, he has gotten a good deal stronger. The difference now is that he is committing himself to using his size to his advantage.
That all starts with having the proper mindset.
“I’m a pretty happy go lucky kid,” Fleury said after his training camp session on Saturday. “I like to have a smile on my face, but after just talking with my parents and stuff, when I’m on the ice, maybe be a little more intense. If you can be intense for an hour out of the day and be a happy go lucky kid the rest of it, then it’s good. (I just want to be) a little more intense, a little more focused and just being consistent with that.”
Obviously, talking about those things on day two of training camp and actually delivering on it throughout an 82-game regular season are two very different things, but if Fleury is able to do what he says he wants to do, he suddenly becomes an even more attractive option on the blue line for Carolina.
The losses of Micheal Ferland, Greg McKegg, and Saku Maenalanen (who remains unsigned in Finland for the time being, waiting on Carolina to decide what they want to do with their forward depth chart) will be felt most of all on the physical side of the game. Now, when you look up and down the lineup, there are fewer guys with an edge to their game that can play a more physical and aggressive role — a role that is diminishing in the NHL, but as we saw last season, still makes an impact.
Can Haydn Fleury be a guy who fills the role? If he can play with a higher intensity and bring an edge to the blue line, that truly ups his value to this Hurricanes team.
During the on-ice session on Saturday, Fleury certainly played with an edge - more-so than anyone else on the ice, with maybe an exception that I’ll talk about later. Fleury was finishing hits and served as a catalyst for physicality. He was, as he said, intense.
“He’s learning,” said head coach Rod Brind’Amour about Fleury’s intensity. “We don’t want to be easy to play against, and that’s something that he has to bring in his game, anyways. The sooner he figures that out, the better we’re all going to be.”
Here are some more notes from day two of training camp:
- Fleury was noticeably physical on day two, but so was young Jesper Sellgren. The Swedish blue-liner was taken in the sixth round of the 2018 draft as a second-year draft eligible player. He’s a bit undersized at 5’11”, 169 pounds, but he doesn’t play like it. He finished out some good physical plays during the session and laid a fairly heavy open ice hit on Sebastian Aho. (It was a hit straight to Aho’s chest and not at all violent. In fact, it looked like Aho appreciated his intensity, which isn’t surprising knowing how competitive Carolina’s superstar is.) Sellgren is a guy to watch this season. He had an excellent season as a 20-year-old in the SHL and joined Charlotte for their playoff run, where he was just as good. He may already be knocking at the door of legitimate NHL consideration.
- Like yesterday, Justin Faulk looked very good.
- Petr Mrazek caught a shot up in the face mask that actually grazed his face and cut him. Mrazek left the ice with a small stream of blood going down the right side of his face but returned just a minute or so later. He said that the puck came in flat and at an angle, which caused it to just catch a piece of his face. Mrazek said he might need a couple of stitches, but it’s nothing at all serious (which was obviously the case since he played through it for the rest of the session).
- Martin Necas spent a few minutes ripping one-timers from the top of the left circle. We all know how dynamic he is with the puck, and now it looks like he’s on his way to being a serious threat on his off-side as a trigger man, especially on the power play. He wasn’t firing floaters - those shots had some serious heat on them. He really started to wire some pucks from his off-side last season in Charlotte, and he’s continuing to get better at it.
- Trevor van Riemsdyk skated again after Saturday’s training camp practices. He was moving well and seemed to be comfortable. I’d imagine that the next steps for him include getting into practices, dealing with contact, and going from there. There’s still no set timeline on when those steps will be taken, though.
- Sebastian Aho said that he started skating earlier over the offseason, and as a result, he feels a lot more crisp early in training camp than he has in recent years. Brind’Amour said the first few days of camp isn’t really enough time for him to notice that or not, but he said he’d be happy if that was the case, obviously.
- New forward Erik Haula jumped out to me yesterday, and when asked about him, Rod Brind’Amour felt similarly. “What we knew about him all checks off,” said RBA. “He’s certainly confident in what he’s doing and he’s enjoying himself. You can see that he brings that energy. He’s a positive guy, and from what we’ve seen so far, he certainly has a flair about his game, so hopefully that translates to a good season.”
- Chase Priskie was injured yesterday. At that time Brind’Amour didn’t have much of an update, but he did have one today. He labeled it as a “week-to-week” injury that wasn’t as bad as they initially feared.
- At the end of his group’s practice session, training camp invite Fredrik Claesson did his skating tests with head strength coach Bill Burniston. With his new teammates cheering him on, he got through it. Brind’Amour had positive things to say about him. “He definitely brings a different element than what we have right now (referring to his intensity). We have a little insurance there, a guy who has been around for a while. I’m still getting to know him, but he seems like a pretty down-to-earth guy. I think he’s something different, and you can never have too many good defensemen, so we picked up another one which will only help us.”
- The Hurricanes also announced on Saturday that the team has reassigned three players to juniors - Luke Henman (Blainville-Boisbriand, QMJHL), Blake Murray (Sudbury, OHL), and Jamieson Rees (Sarnia, OHL). The training camp roster is now at 48 players entering day three of camp tomorrow.