"Our good prospects were going right to the big team and there was no in between," Carolina General Manager Jim Rutherford told NHL.com.
The 'Canes are getting back into the mix this week, however, when a multitude of recent draftees and American Hockey League standouts hit the ice at the Detroit Red Wings training facility in Traverse City, Mich., for the annual NHL Prospects Tournament beginning Sunday at Centre I.C.E. Arena.
It marks the first time that Carolina will participate in the five-day event which has traditionally offered coaches and GMs an opportunity to evaluate prospects against players their age. The round-robin format will enable Carolina's young guns to match up against prospects from the N.Y. Rangers on Sunday, Detroit on Monday and Atlanta on Wednesday. A championship game will then be played on Sept. 10 at 6:30 p.m. (ET).
The Hurricanes will play in the Eastern Conference of the tournament while Dallas, Columbus, Minnesota and St. Louis make up the Western Conference. Jeff Daniels, head coach and general manager of Carolina's American Hockey League affiliate in Albany, and assistant coach Geordie Kinnear, will coach the Hurricanes in the eight-team event.
"I like the fact we get the first look at these big guys playing against their own age group and the guys who excel at it will be invited to the big camp," Rutherford said. "It gives them a better opportunity to excel throughout the whole training camp. We won't bring all our players competing in Traverse City back to North Carolina for the big camp (on Sept. 12), but the players that excel will be there. Getting in a week of scrimmages and practices (in Traverse) will give them a head-start on the guys who are more experienced. It gives them a better chance to do well at the big camp and we're excited about it."
Carolina opens training camp with player physicals on Sept. 12 before its first official practice at the RBC Center in Raleigh the following morning. The Hurricanes host the Nashville Predators in their first exhibition game on Sept. 18.
Despite the fact this will be Carolina's initial prospect tournament experience within this resort community, the team heading over must be considered one of the favorites. It possesses a tournament-leading three first-round draft picks with Philippe Paradis (27th overall, '09), Zach Boychuk (14th overall in '08) and Brandon Sutter (11th overall, '07).
Sutter, the son of Calgary Flames coach Brent, played 50 games with Carolina last season, collecting 6 points and 16 penalty minutes.
"He's not far off from becoming a regular on our roster," Rutherford said of Sutter. "He's got great hockey sense and can adapt to situations very well. We brought him in last year and he was coming along nicely until he had his injury (concussion). We want to be a little bit careful and make certain these youngsters get the proper development. Detroit is a good example of how to develop players -- they give them a chance to play in the minors a year or two before playing for the big club."
Additionally, Carolina prospects Chris Terry (132nd overall, '07), Harrison Reed (93rd overall, '06), Stefan Chaput (153rd overall, '06), Nick Dodge (183rd overall, '06), Jamie McBain (63rd overall, '06) and Brett Bellemore (162nd overall, '07) have all spent time in Albany.
"We've built up the depth in our system and we feel we have a lot of good prospects so now's a good time to get back (to the prospects tournament)," Rutherford said.
Carolina, incidentally, will be replacing the Tampa Bay Lightning in the tournament. The Lightning opted not to return to Traverse this summer after participating the last six seasons.
"I think having a different team every now and again adds to the excitement because people wonder what these guys are all about," prospects tournament organizer Peter Correia told NHL.com.
One other notable participant for the Hurricanes in Traverse will be goalie Mike Murphy (165th overall, '08), who signed an entry-level contract with Carolina in March. Murphy finished the 2008-09 regular season with an Ontario Hockey League-low 2.08 goals-against average and a league-best .940 save percentage in 54 games for the Belleville Bulls. He finished 40-9-2-2 to help lead the Bulls to first place in the OHL's Eastern Conference.
"Looking back on the careers of Eric Staal (2nd overall, '03) and Cam Ward (25th overall, '02), they both took advantage of the work stoppage by playing a year in the AHL before joining the team full-time," Rutherford said. "I believe that was an important year in their development."
Rutherford is hoping the Traverse City Tournament will provide a competitive edge for those prospects ready for training camp or preparing for a season in the AHL or CHL.
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org