The NHL offseason is finally nearing its end, and winter is coming. Next week, the Carolina Hurricanes will make their fourth appearance at the annual Traverse City Rookie Tournament, giving players their first taste of real hockey against a competing club and kicking off the month-long battle for a roster spot.
For some, it will be their first chance to impress coaches prior to the opening of training camp the following week. For others–tournament invitees–it will simply be a chance to get noticed.
The Hurricanes will bring 14 drafted players to town, highlighted by first round picks Elias Lindholm and Ryan Murphy. Both players are expected to make strong pushes for a spot in Raleigh this year. Murphy will be the only one to bring NHL experience to the team, having gotten a four game cameo in the middle of last season.
This will not be Murphy’s first trip to Traverse City. He was a member of the 2011 team that struggled to an 8th place finish, but he nevertheless made an impact on his coaches, nearly parlaying the performance into an NHL role that fall. The Canes ended up signing him that September and even kept him in the Triangle through the season’s first few games, but he was eventually returned to the Kitchener Rangers.
Things will be different for Murphy this year. Despite the ‘Canes having six NHL defensesman under contract, the smooth-skating defensemen will be afforded every opportunity to make the big club. Between the uncertainty surrounding Joni Pitkanen’s health, and the lack of any other real offensive defensemen, Murphy may yet find himself in Carolina come October.
For Lindholm, the journey is just beginning. Though a highly touted prospect in a highly talented draft, injuries have thus far derailed the start to his career. A nagging shoulder cut short his Hurricanes’ debut during the July development camp, leaving Traverse City to be the first extended look for Carolina coaches.
With an apparent hole at 3rd line center, the ‘Canes could be counting on Lindholm to make a strong showing. In July, just days after completing contract negotiations, general manager Jim Rutherford stated his expectations for the young Swede. “The opportunity is there for him to start with the Hurricanes,” Rutherford said. “I will be shocked if he doesn’t based on all of the reports we have and what I’ve seen.”
Though Murphy and Lindholm are two of the bigger names in the tournament, there are plenty of other players looking to make theirs known. Danny Biega, Brock McGinn and Victor Rask are a few who could begin the year in Charlotte but work their way to an appearance in Carolina before too long. Jeff Daniels, coach of the Charlotte Checkers, will handle responsibilities behind the bench in Traverse City and will be keeping a close watch on his own future rookies.
The ‘Canes will round out their roster with six invitees who, as of yet, do not have an NHL home. As Sergey Tolchinsky has shown, falling out of the draft is not necessarily the end of the world. His highly impressive showing in July’s development camp earned him a contract and a trip to Traverse City to further prove wrong the rest of the league.
This tournament is just the first step in a long process of evaluation–for the entire organization. It is not a be-all-end-all week, where poor showings can hang like an albatross for the rest of a career. It may matter most to those on the bubble, but even they can be brought back at a later date for another look.
With an outstanding audition, Murphy and Lindholm could get a leg up on the competition for a roster spot. But their work is still just beginning.