The Carolina Hurricanes were one of three NHL teams to open the season without a player on injured reserve.
After dealing with a long-term leg injury to Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner’s third-career concussion at the outset of the 2014-15 campaign, this season’s clean bill of health was a fresh breath of air.
In an almost predictable cosmic tease, that lasted only three minutes and 16 seconds, as defenseman James Wisniewski slumped to the ice on his second shift, just 47 seconds into his time as a Hurricane. He required assistance from a pair of teammates to be helped down the tunnel to the locker room and did not return to the game with a lower-body injury.
Head coach Bill Peters said wishfully after the game that he hoped it wasn’t serious, as Wisniewski limped around with a brace on his left knee.
Following a Friday afternoon MRI, the Hurricanes received the sobering news on the exact extent of Wisniewski’s lower-body injury: a torn ACL in his left knee that will require surgery and will sideline the defenseman for an estimated six months.
Just as the Canes searched for answers last year on how to live long-term without Staal, a big minute-eater who was utilized in all situations, they will be doing the same with Wisniewski, who was acquired from Anaheim in June in a draft-day trade.
“We looked at our team, and an area we wanted to improve on was defense,” Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis said on June 27.
Wisniewski paired with John-Michael Liles leading into the first game of the season, a veteran duo that was more than capable of moving the puck up the ice with ease. The 31-year-old defenseman has also quickly established himself as a voice in the Canes’ locker room.
“He’s a skilled defenseman who can give you offense on the power play. He’s got a great shot. I think he’s sneaky tough,” Francis said in June. “He’s just a competitive, competitive guy. We’re trying to get that kind of culture in our organization, and we think he’ll fit in nicely in that regard.”
After Wisniewski left Thursday’s season opener, the Hurricanes were reduced to five defensemen for the balance, and Justin Faulk shouldered the load, logging a game-high 29:28 of ice time.
“Faulker was real high last night,” Peters said after Friday’s practice in Raleigh. “His numbers (ice time) will go up from last year, regardless, but we don’t want him in and around the 30-minutes mark, and we should be able to control that a little better at home the next two nights.”
Michal Jordan, a healthy extra on Thursday, will draw into the lineup as early as Saturday, according to Peters.
“He should be in the lineup for the foreseeable future,” Peters said.
The Hurricanes also recalled Danny Biega from Charlotte to help patch the hole on defense. The 24-year-old defenseman made his NHL debut with Carolina last season, skating in 10 games and tallying two assists.
“It’s a great opportunity for all those young guys,” Peters said. “The old guys always had to step up. They’re obviously going to have to play big, valuable minutes.”
is the Web Producer for the Carolina Hurricanes.Email