With less than a week remaining before opening night, many teams have whittled down their rosters to those who have made the club, plus perhaps a handful of others. The Carolina Hurricanes have a bit more time, their season not kicking off until October 4. Twenty-eight players still remain in Raleigh, with none having a clear edge over the others.
Various injuries have forced ‘Canes coach Kirk Muller to mix-and-match during the preseason, and it’s kept the door open for certain players.
“Stage one of camp was pretty successful,” said Muller. “The guys worked hard and competed. Some guys’ stock went up, and some went in the other direction. But they still have the opportunity because we don’t have our [final group] yet.”
Last year’s dominant top line–Jiri Tlusty, Eric Staal and Alex Semin–have rarely played together during camp and the preseason. After a rough hit by Brendan Woods left Tlusty on the shelf for a few days, a host of other names were tried in his spot. Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman, and Chris Terry were just a few to get the tryout with none particularly standing out.
But should the trio be healthy to start the year, there’s little doubt that they will remain paired together.
Beyond that, the only certainty is that Jordan Staal will play center. Who his linemates are and who makes up the bottom six are still riddles that will have to be solved in the coming week.
Elias Lindholm was thought to be a shoe-in for a center role himself, but he has only appeared in one preseason game and has missed nearly a week of practice since, often skating in a yellow non-contact jersey. Jeff Skinner has been everywhere but with the younger Staal. If Lindholm were healthy, the duo could make up two-thirds of a formidable scoring line. If he can’t go, Riley Nash may be the only other logical center option, though that might land Nash in a role that’s over his head. The health of Lindholm could change the game significantly.
Nathan Gerbe appears he will fit in somewhere, seeing time with both Skinner and Staal. The ‘Canes are no stranger to giving opportunities to diminutive forwards, and Gerbe could play the “Chad LaRose role” on any line.
Still unsigned, Radek Dvorak’s wealth of experience could be beneficial to a growing team like the Hurricanes. He’s played well and should earn himself a permanent spot in Raleigh, but where he will play remains a mystery.
And those are just the forwards.
The Carolina defense is equally up in the air. Brett Bellemore is making a strong case of his own, and at an attractive price tag. The 25-year-old seemingly came out of nowhere during his cameo last year, largely holding his own. And it’s carried over to an impressive training camp.
Though he might be a bit more expensive, Ryan Murphy’s offensive flair is in short supply on the backend. Bellemore isn’t know for putting up points–at any level–and Mike Komisarek is more of a scrapper than a scorer.
Of course, Muller could run seven defensemen, throwing everything into chaos.
Then there are the injuries. Semin, Lindholm, Tuomo Ruutu and Tim Gleason are all listed as day-to-day and haven’t been practicing. If any ailment is significant, it could pose problems in the depth chart.
Muller not ruling them out of Oct 4 opener but can't say they'll play either
— Chip Alexander (@ice_chip) September 25, 2013
The time for experimenting is nearing an end, and the picture should become less muddy with each passing day. There are still variables to be figured out, but two preseason games remain. By the weekend, we should have a clearer idea of who’s playing where, who’s healthy and who’s not.
Andrew Luistro graduated from Appalachian State University. An avid sports fan, he began beat writing for the Sunbelt Hockey Journal, part of The Hockey Writers Network, with a focus on the Carolina Hurricanes. Andrew also actively follows the Boston Red Sox and Carolina Panthers, among other teams. Follow him on Twitter @ndrewL7