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And Then There Were 24

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes are one step closer to finalizing the lineup that will take the ice on October 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Michael Smith
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The largest cut of training camp came today, as the team sent 12 players down to Charlotte. Among them were cusp forwards Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman and Jerome Samson. As was figured when Brian Boucher was signed during the off-season, Justin Peters was assigned to Charlotte with fellow goaltender Mike Murphy.

The bigger story out of this round of cuts might be who is sticking around in Raleigh for now, most notably defensemen Ryan Murphy and Justin Faulk and forward Riley Nash. Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice hasn’t been shy in praising each of them throughout training camp, and it seems they have earned some time with the big club, at least for now.

Nash remains with the team because of his performance in training camp, as Maurice has often referred to him as the “most-improved” player from the beginning of last season to today. As the 13th forward, Nash also can step into the lineup in place of Tuomo Ruutu, who is nursing an injury. Maurice said that Ruutu wouldn’t play in back-to-back games yet, implying that he’ll see game action this weekend either in Raleigh or Nashville.

“He had a real good camp,” Maurice said of Nash. “We look at him as a player who will play some games for us this season.”

Faulk and Murphy, who have both wildly impressed in camp, also live to see another day in the Triangle.

“On pure performance in the games that he’s played, he’s got an opportunity to start the season in our lineup,” Maurice said of Faulk.

As an 18-year-old, Murphy cannot play in the American Hockey Leauge; he can either stay with the Canes for the season or be sent back to Kitchner, a decision that will be have to made before he plays 10 games with Carolina. With seven signed defenseman already on the roster, there’s a good chance we will see Murphy returned to Juniors. (Though, probably not until after he gets a couple of games here; he’s earned them.)

Ultimately, because of the bottleneck at defense, Faulk will probably be sent down to Charlotte, where a full season of development will make him more than ready for NHL action next season.

At the same time, Maurice doesn’t rule out making a move with one of the other defensemen.

“I’ve got a couple of guys who I think can play better than they’ve played,” he said. “I was in a hurry to get down on the forwards. I’m not in as big of a hurry to get down on our defenseman if we have to carry a few more. Eventually we have to get down to 23 at most, and we’ll probably look at carrying 21 or 22 out of the gate early.”

For a few of the guys sent down to Charlotte today, this won’t be the last they see of the RBC Center this season. Samson, for instance, had a very strong camp in the eyes of Maurice. But when it came to the depth chart, he didn’t fit above Jokinen, Dalpe, LaRose or Dwyer.

“They left an impression, and now they have to continue to make one,” he said.

Even though the roster will have to be trimmed slightly again, Maurice likes the group of 24 that the team has assembled.

“There seems to be an outstanding feel in that room,” he said. “Hanging around with each other, they like each other. They seem to be a big group right now.”

Looking Back at Last Night’s Game in Winnipeg

Defensive zone coverage is the chief concern for Maurice coming off of a 3-1 loss to the Jets at MTS Centre last night.

That said, the Canes did have a younger team on the ice and a defenseman in Derek Joslin that was seeing his first preseason action since missing the beginning of training camp with mono.

Tim Brent scored the lone goal for the Canes before the Jets tallied three in the third to secure the win. Tlusty factored in with the primary assist on the goal, and Maurice said he was one of the best forwards on the ice last night; because of this, Tlusty skated on the third line in practice today with Brandon Sutter and Chad LaRose.

“He was blocking shots, finishing checks, making plays. Really, proving that he could play in that role,” Maurice said. “I still think there’s some scoring here, but at the very least he can do what he’s doing now. If he can do that, he’s a good player for us. He’s had a great camp. I’m very, very excited for him.”

Despite taking a loss, Brian Boucher had a strong game in net, as he made 35 saves.

“He’s an NHL goaltender who knows his job and knows his role,” Maurice said. “He brings a calm to the net, his rebound control is a big part of that, and he’s a good pro.

“Brian has done a great pro thing here for a veteran guy – he’s played on the road with two light squads in front of him.”

Notes: Cam Ward will start in net tomorrow night against Columbus … Who will play in Nashville is undecided; Maurice said they would see how Ward feels, and it could be split between the two.

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