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As the summer months turn on the calendar, anticipation builds for the start of training camp.
But there's nothing quite like that first day. Without fault, year after year, day one ushers in a renewed sense of excitement. Hope springs eternal, and optimism abounds.
Split into two groups, the Carolina Hurricanes began the on-ice portion of their training camp on Friday morning at PNC Arena, and here are the headlines.
Crisp Pace Sets Tone
It was 8:30 a.m. on Friday when the first whistle blew, signifying the official start of training camp.
"I thought it was a really good first day. I thought the group this morning was really engaged, really good. Guys moved the puck really crisply," assistant coach Steve Smith said. "The guys were excited to be back, and we're excited to be here as well."
"I thought for day one, usually it can be a little clunky but it was crispy," forward Jordan Staal said. "Guys were moving the puck quick and skating well. It looked crisp, and hopefully we can build on that."
Video: The Canes open 2016 training camp
Though a swelling number of players have been skating at Raleigh Center Ice over the last month, training camp denotes the beginning of more structure, order and direction.
"It was a good pace," said forward Jeff Skinner, who is entering his seventh NHL season. "A little rust coming off, but that's what the first day is for. Keep building and keep working hard."
"It's nice after a long summer to just get back into the swing of things. There's always a lot of excitement for day one. I actually thought today was pretty good," defenseman Justin Faulk said. "Guys were moving pretty well, zipping the puck pretty good. Sometimes guys get a little too antsy out there and end up going 100 miles per hour, not really focusing on what they need to do. Today was a pretty good one I thought, and hopefully we can keep that going forward."
"Everyone has the right approach, and guys look pretty good," free agent acquisition Lee Stempniak said.
Knowing how vitally important the start of the season is to their long-term success in 2016-17, the Hurricanes are already looking toward Oct. 13, opening night in Winnipeg that begins a 10-day long road swing through Western Canada and Philadelphia.
"It's a small line," defenseman Ron Hainsey said. "Really, the first two months of the season can set up the last four months depending on how it goes, so it's important that everyone is ready to go from the start."
"You don't make the playoffs in the first week of the season but you certainly can put yourself out of the playoff race in the first week of the season," Smith said.
"It all starts right now," forward Andrej Nestrasil said. "You want to get ready. You want to make sure your legs are going, and you want to make sure you're dialed in."
Youth and Competition
The Hurricanes are young. You barely need two hands to count the number of players in the locker room who are at least 30 years old. At 35, Ron Hainsey is the elder statesman. Jay McClement and Lee Stempniak are both 33, reunited in Carolina after breaking into the league as rookies with St. Louis in 2005-06.
"At least I've got one ally," Stempniak joked.
Video: Lee Stempniak: "Harnessing that potential"
Youth, especially on the back-end, is going to play a critical role in the Canes' chance at success this season. How will defensemen Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin respond in year two? What's next for rookie forward Sebastian Aho? Will someone like Haydn Fleury or Roland McKeown or Sergey Tolchinsky from the Traverse City crew step up in camp and earn a spot on the team?
"There are young guys with a lot of potential. They've shown they can play pretty well," Faulk said. "It's a good mix. We've got some vets who have been around a while, played on a few teams and can probably fit in pretty quick."
"I think it's a team with a lot of potential. I think a lot of the success for our team is going to be harnessing that potential. Guys need to take the next step individually, and new guys coming in need to fit in and complement the players that are here," Stempniak said. "Hopefully we can collectively make the difference and be in the playoffs this year because I think we have the ability to do that."
Youth doesn't suggest immaturity, either.
"I'm just trying to step up and maybe be a little bit more of a leader along with guys like Brett (Pesce) and Jaccob (Slavin), guys who have been through it for a year," said defenseman Noah Hanifin, who is all of 19 years old.
Competition in camp over the next few weeks is going to be fierce. This crop of 57 players is skilled and deep, perhaps more so than in recent memory.
"[Competition] raises the bar, and that's what you want. You want guys pushing each other, going after that spot and making it hard on guys," Staal said. "It gets you going and gets you to push yourself even more."
Video: Noah Hanifin: "We're all here to earn a job"
"We're all here to earn our job and keep working hard," Hanifin said. "Nothing is given here."
"What I like this year is there is a lot of guys who can compete for a spot," Nestrasil said. "It drives everybody every day to get better and better. It's business. You're fighting for your own job."
Smith and Brind'Amour Lead the Charge
Canes head coach Bill Peters is with Team Canada in Toronto and will be until the conclusion of the World Cup, so assistant coaches Steve Smith and Rod Brind'Amour are handling coaching duties in the interim. Joining Smith and Brind'Amour on the ice were goaltending coach David Marcoux, and Charlotte Checkers coaches Ulf Samuelsson and Peter Andersson.
"He set a plan in place about a month ago with us. We went over it again a couple weeks back. He's basically trusted Roddy and I to go through it," Smith said. "The mandate has been to be prepared for the first game of the season, making sure we're sharp and in shape."
Video: Steve Smith: "Get off to a good start"
The consensus in the locker room was that, aside from the novelty of not having your head coach lead the skates, the message and expectations remain clear.
"I think Smitty and Roddy are doing a good job getting the message across," Faulk said. "They help out throughout the season anyway, and they're there to explain things the whole time. It shouldn't be too much different, and hopefully we've got it all down so when Bill comes back it's not too crazy."
"The coaching staff has done an unbelievable job already," Staal said. "Today was a good day. It was quick, crisp and fast. That's what Bill is always preaching, and that's what we got today. I'm sure he'd be happy with it."
→ Defenseman Haydn Fleury did not skate with the first group this morning, but he did do some on-ice work around lunchtime. He's nursing a lower-body injury he suffered during the first game of the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich.
→ It was good to see forward Andrej Nestrasil, who suffered a fractured vertebra in Toronto on Feb. 25, back on the ice today. And he was pretty happy about it, too.
"Back's feeling fine. It's felt fine for a long time now," said Nestrasil, who was outfitted in a yellow, no-contact jersey today. "Hopefully I'll get rid of that jersey as soon as possible. I don't like to look any different than the other guys out there. I felt pretty good. … I really enjoyed it today."
Video: Nestrasil: "I just want to get it out of the way"
Nestrasil, as you can probably imagine, is itching to get back into game action.
"This has been such a long process and I've been waiting for such a long time that I just want to play games," he said. "I just want to get into it and have fun. I love the atmosphere of the game, the people in the stands."
→ The Hurricanes held an abbreviated intrasquad scrimmage this morning, something that's on the schedule for the first three days of camp. Group A topped Group B 2-1 today. "1-0!" Faulk shouted as he left the ice victorious. Sergey Tolchinsky netted the first goal of the scrimmage for Group A, bursting down the wing with speed and sniping one top shelf. He's building on the strong showing he had in Traverse City.
→ Ron Hainsey's dry wit on the Hurricanes' stockpile of young, talented defensemen: "There's not going to be any left for other teams to have."