As well as Zach Boychuk
and Zac Dalpe
have played in recent weeks, their current stint with the Hurricanes could be coming to an end as veterans continue to heal.
If Ryan Carter, the team’s fourth-line center, could return from a lower-body injury in time to face the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night, something coach Paul Maurice thinks is possible, then another forward would have to exit the lineup. Maurice didn’t say who that might be, but the 21-year-old recalls from Charlotte are in that mix.
With Tuesday’s successful return of Jussi Jokinen from injury, both players saw their ice time drop – particularly Dalpe, who had been playing left wing with Brandon Sutter but yielded that spot to Jokinen. Dalpe logged just 4:28 and did not take a shift in the third period.
“(Jokinen) was going to have to earn the right to push somebody out of a spot, and he did,” said Maurice.
That left Dalpe centering the fourth line, a spot that will certainly be taken by Carter when healthy.
“Now we’ve got some decisions to make that will be interesting, because we’ve had some young players play well and we’re going to have some guys coming back that were playing well on their way out,” said Maurice.
If Jokinen had been healthy enough to play last week’s game against the New York Rangers, Maurice said that he would have taken a veteran, possibly Sergei Samsonov, out of the lineup before removing Boychuk or Dalpe.
With Jokinen taking a spot among the top nine forwards that both young players need to remain with the Hurricanes – at this point, the team would rather they play 20 minutes a night in the AHL than just four in the NHL – that outlook may have changed.
If one or both of them do end up going to back to Charlotte – Jiri Tlusty is also thought to be nearing a return – it won’t be because the Hurricanes are unhappy with their play. For the most part, Boychuk hasn’t looked out of place on the top line with Eric Staal and Erik Cole, while Dalpe’s 3 goals during his six-game recall probably surpassed expectations.
“I think they can bring a lot of confidence back to Charlotte should they be sent back down,” said Jason Karmanos, the Hurricanes’ vice president and assistant general manager in a recent interview with CarolinaHurricanes.com. “They’ve both come up and made an impact. They’ve scored some goals and been a part of some big plays that have helped us win games. That can only be a positive thing for them.”
While Carter is a sure bet to slot comfortably back into the lineup when healthy, Tlusty’s situation is less certain. The Czech winger, who is enduring a tough run of injuries that began with knee surgery last spring and caused him to miss most of training camp before suffering his recent upper-body ailment, might not jump right back in. He’s already been on one conditioning stint this season (he could go on another if both sides agree), and has also been a healthy scratch at times.
If he can pick up where he left off before his Dec. 16 injury in Atlanta, the 22-year-old could have a spot when he comes back.
“Jiri was playing very well before he went down,” said Maurice.
Although much has been and will continue to be made of games against teams slightly ahead of the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference playoff picture – they’ll face off against Tampa Bay, Boston (twice) and the New York Rangers in the next eight days – Maurice said that Thursday’s match-up against the 10th-placed Sabres should not be overlooked.
“We’ve been pretty good against everyone who has been below us in the standings this year, and we need to be dominant against those team and we need to start splitting against the teams that are ahead of us.,” he said. “That will put us in a good spot.”