After a weeklong training camp, the Carolina Hurricanes’ roster is set.
The team completed its final roster moves on Friday, assigning 19-year-old defenseman Ryan Murphy to Kitchener of the OHL and, after he cleared waivers at noon, assigning forward Tim Wallace to Charlotte. The Canes recalled forward Jeremy Welsh to bring their count of forwards to 14. The team will additionally carry seven defensemen and two goalies for a total of 23 players, the roster limit for NHL teams.
“I thought it was a good week,” said head coach Kirk Muller. “I thought our guys were into it, which we all knew they would be. Conditioning-wise, they pushed themselves. Focus-wise with the details, they were good. And they really seem to be bonding well.”
With two extra forwards and one extra defenseman on the roster, some combinations are yet undecided. But, Muller said, the first three forward lines are set for Saturday’s game in Florida.
The first line features Eric Staal flanked by Zach Boychuk on the left side and Alexander Semin on the right.
For the 23-year-old Boychuk, this is a prime opportunity to prove himself in the NHL. After signing a one-year deal in July, now is as good a time as any.
“This is my time,” the Airdrie, Alberta, native said. “I think a lot of people out there are trying to figure out if I can do it at the NHL level like I’ve done it at the AHL level. I’m ready to answer those critics, and I’m really looking forward to getting this season started.”
In 37 games with the Charlotte Checkers this season, Boychuk led the team in scoring with 32 points (16g, 16a).
“Playing in Charlotte has helped all of us that are up here with the team,” he said. “Playing that system everyday and playing some hard and intense games against some of the best players in the world, I feel like everybody is ready to go here, and I’m no different.”
The Canes’ second line places center Jordan Staal with wingers Jeff Skinner and Zac Dalpe, another Checkers forward featured in a prominent role. This marks the third straight season Dalpe has been in the Canes’ opening night lineup.
Is the third time a charm?
“I hope so,” the 23-year-old said.
Despite making the team out of training camp each year since 2010, Dalpe has played in just 31 NHL games over two seasons. He averaged 7:56 of ice time in 15 games during the 2010-11 season and 9:35 in 16 games last season.
“With the first two years, there was maybe some uncertainty in my game,” he said. “The first year, maybe I was nervous and felt like I didn’t belong. Last year, maybe it was the same thing. But this year, I feel like I’ve really matured as a player. I think it’s time to make that final jump.
“If you don’t put pressure on yourself, you aren’t going to succeed,” he continued. “You don’t want to be hard on yourself but you want to set standards, and that’s what I’ve done.”
Like Boychuk, Dalpe continued to produce in the AHL, even in a year that saw the talent level of the league jump exponentially due to the influx of NHL-caliber players. Dalpe ranked second on the Checkers in scoring with 28 points (13g, 15a), despite adjusting to the more permanent wing position.
“I’ve played 40 games already, and I know what the grind is like. I’m there. I’m at the conditioning I want to be,” he said. “This would be mid-season for me. I’m excited. I’m not nervous one bit. I’m just excited. I’m going to prepare for this game like I do in the American League.”
Muller, who adjusted the top two lines earlier in the week to showcase the organization’s young talent, has no qualms with giving Boychuk and Dalpe regular ice time. He added that he could even promote Drayson Bowman, given the right situation.
“I just feel like they bring young energy, and the fact that they’ve played half the season has to be a bonus. The first full 60-minute game is going to be a test in conditioning for the guys,” he said. “They deserve to get that shot, and if we have to adapt, we’ll adapt, but I’d like to start off that way.”
The third line, which has evolved this season into more of a scoring line, slots Jussi Jokinen in the middle with Jiri Tlusty and Chad LaRose on either side of him, players who have all seen time in the top six at one point or another.
“We’ve got guys that are very flexible and adjustable which gives me the opportunity to experiment,” Muller said of the third line. “I’ve got a great group that’s willing to make a sacrifice if it’s better for the team.”
“We are really confident in our team. We have four really good lines, a good mix of D and two really good goalies,” said Jokinen, who scored 30 goals in 2009-10. “There are two really good players playing with me. Jiri had a breakthrough year last year, and he’s ready to play. LaRose brings his own element. He’s underrated skill-wise. He can score goals, make plays and win lots of battles.”
The one forward line not yet set in stone is the fourth. And the Canes have options. On Saturday, the coaching staff will pare down the group of Tim Brent, Patrick Dwyer, Kevin Westgarth, Welsh and Bowman into a trio, a decision that might be made on a game-by-game basis.
“I think the fourth line is going to be very valuable,” Muller said. “Depending on our opponent, whether we feel like it’s a fourth line that we want more size and make it more of a physical line, I think we have that opportunity now. If it’s a line where we think we’ve played a lot of games and we need a fourth line to play, compete and put production up, that will be important some nights. And some nights we might go seven D. It all depends on the schedule.”
Muller said the team will get a look at the Panthers’ forward groupings on Saturday before making final roster decisions. For example, don’t be surprised to see the Canes insert Westgarth into the lineup should George Parros dress for Florida; the two enforcers were Pacific Division rivals since breaking into the league.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of flexibility with the fourth line this year,” Muller said. “I’m very comfortable playing any of those five forwards tomorrow night.”
On defense, Tim Gleason and Joe Corvo will be paired together, as will Joni Pitkanen and Justin Faulk. The third duo will feature Jay Harrison and either Jamie McBain or Bobby Sanguinetti, another decision that will be finalized on Saturday.
Just as quickly as it began, training camp is in the rear view mirror. Now, it’s time to drop the puck.
“I think the level (of play) will be pretty high because everyone is so excited to perform,” Muller said.