With the first chirp of the whistle and the first drill drawn up on the whiteboard, hockey is back and Carolina Hurricanes training camp is officially underway.
Here are five observations from the first on-ice portions of training camp.
1. New Guys
New Hurricanes James Wisniewski, Eddie Lack and Kris Versteeg took the ice for the first time today, and this much is already evident: they bring a good dose of personality to the Canes’ locker room.
Says Wisniewski about his personality: “I’m just kind of an outgoing person. Some might find me talking out quite a bit, but I like to get guys going and keep everyone involved. … We have to have fun coming to the rink. If you’re not having fun coming to play one of the best sports in the [world] for a living, then there’s something wrong. I like to come in here and keep it loose. When you get out on the ice, you work hard.”
Says Lack about his taco fanaticism (and, yes, the tattoo is real): “It started when a journalist asked me about my favorite food. It just escalated from there. I’ve been keeping the reputation going with a couple of tweets. I have a lot of meaningful tattoos on my body, but I wanted something fun too.”
Says Versteeg about what he brings to the team: “I’m bringing myself. I like to have fun, enjoy the game and enjoy coming to the rink. If that rubs off on anyone else, then that’s great. That’s what you want. For myself, I just try to bring everything I can, not just in one specific area. I like to bring some goals, assists, good play on the ice, in the room maybe a little bit of deejaying here and there, something to pump up the boys.”
Character and some characters, indeed.
2. Hanifin Skates
Because of a minor injury sustained in Team USA’s World Junior Evaluation Camp in August, Noah Hanifin was held out of the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich. Training camp and the exhibition season is really the first best look the coaching staff and fans alike will have of the Hurricanes’ fifth-overall draft choice.
“I’ve never seen him play a hockey game live. People talk about him making our team, but I’ll have a better answer once we’ve seen him play a little bit,” head coach Bill Peters said. “I’ve seen him in prospect camp and on tape, but I’ve never seen him play.”
With that in mind, Hanifin figures to be utilized in a game situation sooner rather than later.
“I’d like to get him in early and often, for sure, and find out exactly what we have,” Peters said.
Hanifin, meanwhile, is anxious and raring to go.
“Yeah, I can’t wait,” he said. “I don’t know when everyone will be playing, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
After missing the Traverse City tune-up, Hanifin’s first day on the ice was a noticeable step up from his summer training.
“It’s fast. You can tell,” the 18-year-old blueliner said. “The way these guys play, everything they do is strong. They move the puck fast, and they’re strong on the puck. It’s an adjustment, but I love playing at that level.”
3. Traverse Crew
Of the 57 players in camp, 20 competed with the Hurricanes in Traverse City. That group includes a handful of players who have already begun their professional careers, another handful that will make that jump this season and one invitee.
Aside from the obvious jump in skill level once veterans are mixed in, settling in on the ice today should have been a rather smooth transition after a four-games-in-five-days stretch wrapped up on Tuesday.
“Our team played very well there,” said Peters, who took in two of the four games live. “Those guys are coming in to try to earn a spot.”
Brock McGinn missed the last game in Traverse City after receiving a stick, elbow or helmet (or a combination of the three) in the face on Monday, and he sported a cage today. Not like that will stop him from hitting like a truck.
4. Lines and Pairs
It’s the first day on the ice. Especially since camp is currently functioning in three separate groups, forward lines and defensive pairs utilized today likely won’t resemble the lineup that the Hurricanes ice on Oct. 8 in Nashville.
With that being said, there are certainly combinations Peters and his staff are evaluating. For example, Jordan Staal and Versteeg paired together today, regardless of who filled out their line. Canes Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis said after making the trade with Chicago that he expects Versteeg will be a top-six forward, so that could be one combination that sticks together moving forward.
And if you ask Versteeg, he’s just fine with that. When prompted to name who in the Canes locker room was the toughest to play against, he offered a quick answer.
“Jordan Staal. He’s really hard to play against. He’s such a big guy and takes up so much ice. He always found a way to get in your way and a lot of your linemates’ ways, too,” Versteeg said. “Just being on his line and seeing how he can turn pucks over, how long his reach is and how powerful he is. He was someone I hated to play against, and I’m really happy to be on his team now.”
5. It Starts Today
A new season is a new beginning but the goal remains constant and is common throughout the league: make the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup.
The 82-game regular season is a marathon, and Versteeg, a two-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Chicago Blackhawks, has a wealth of experience from which to draw.
“The NHL season, no matter if you’re on a good or bad team, there are highs and lows,” he said. “It’s the team that can get out of that low the fastest. When you’re playing good, you can ride that wave and good feeling and get those wins when you can.”
Though he’s relatively new in the locker room, Wisniewski knows exactly what sort of culture Peters and the Canes are building.
“High-intensity. Come to work. But [Peters] always says to have fun coming in here. It’s OK to smile coming into the locker room,” he explained. “But when you get on the ice, you work. We want to be one of the hardest-working teams in the league.”
The Hurricanes haven’t qualified for the postseason since 2009. They’re once again out to end that drought.
“These last few summers have been real long. We were talking about it yesterday in the team meeting that we’d love to have a shorter summer upcoming,” Cam Ward said. “The goal is to get back to the playoffs. That’s what we’ll be striving for, and it starts today.”
is the Web Producer for the Carolina Hurricanes.Email