TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - As the countdown to training camp reaches single-digit days, another sure sign of the beginning of hockey season is upon us in Traverse City, Mich.: the annual NHL Prospects Tournament.
The Hurricanes bring with them to Traverse City a talented bunch, with names like Haydn Fleury, Jake Bean, Julien Gauthier, Roland McKeown, Nicolas Roy, Sergey Tolchinsky and Alex Nedeljkovic, among skilled others, taking the ice.
But it's a short tournament - three round-robin games and a final match-up - and anything can happen.
"I think the team that jells first usually is successful in these kinds of tournaments," Fleury said. "We have a bunch of good players in here, so if they're comfortable and confident, that will take care of itself."
Leading the Canes' talented stable of prospects behind the bench is the Charlotte Checkers' new head coach Ulf Samuelsson and his assistant Peter Andersson. The two, joined by other skills coaches including Glen Wesley, Curtis Joseph and Cory Stillman, oversaw an hour-long practice on Thursday, a systems crash-course before the tournament begins on Friday.
"We took a quick look at the bigger tactical issues to make sure we're somewhat on the same page, but it's obviously hard to cover a lot of it in one meeting," Samuelsson said.
"[I want to] get familiar with the systems, the guys and the coaching staff," said Nedeljkovic, who is making his second tournament appearance. "We got a little bit familiar with everybody at development camp, and now we're on the ice as a full team playing against other team's prospects. We kind of get to know the guys better and have some fun."
What follows Thursday's team skate is four games in five days. Success early is beneficial, and consistency is key.
"You've got to get into that mindset that hockey's back," Fleury said. "It's good to come to this tournament, get four games quick and get back into it."
"It gets you back in game-shape, that's for sure. You skate all summer and that gets you in shape, but it's nothing like playing in games. Four games in a short period of time and go in to camp strong and ready," Nedeljkovic said. "It's a little bit of a challenge, but that's why you train all summer. … It might be a little rusty in the first period of that first game, but after that, once everybody has their feet under them and their legs going, it will be smooth sailing."
Video: Prospects talk about the Traverse City Tournament
Samuelsson and his staff tinkered with line options in Thursday's practice. There was the forward line of Hudson Elynuik, Roy and Gauthier. That's 6-foot-5, 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-4, a big line no doubt. There was also the trio of Tolchinsky, Lucas Wallmark and Valentin Zykov, two Russians and a Swede. Defensive pairs included Fleury with McKeown and Josh Wesley with Bean.
"It's sort of a clean slate with me and these players," Samuelsson said. "I really haven't seen them. I have a lot of other people's opinions on these players, but ultimately I have to get my own opinion. It's important for these players to give me that good first impression and show me what they can do."
The Canes, who won the tournament in 2009 and have finished in fourth place two years in a row, join the Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars and New York Rangers in the Ted Lindsay Division, opposite the defending back-to-back tournament champion Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings in the Gordie Howe Division.
Carolina opens its three-game round-robin slate on Friday at 4:00 p.m. against New York. The Canes then face Minnesota at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday and Dallas at 6:30 p.m. on Monday. The tournament concludes on Tuesday as the teams cross divisions to play their standings' equal; the two first-place teams will face off for the championship at 7:00 p.m.
"You can't really lose a game here if you want to make it to the finals," Fleury said. "We need to come out strong tomorrow and take care of the first game."
"[It's going to be] really intense. Everyone wants to make the team in big camp, so it's going to be pretty intense," Gauthier said. "I think everyone is happy to be here, so it will be great hockey."
"There are a number of players here that will probably be in the Checkers lineup, so I have a great opportunity here to get to know them, get to understand where they have been, where they want to go and how we're going to get there," Samuelsson said. "I'm really looking forward to these few days."
CarolinaHurricanes.com will have complete tournament coverage in Traverse City, and we have great news for fans wanting a peek at tomorrow's Hurricanes: live streaming of tournament games will be available both on CarolinaHurricanes.com and through the FOX Sports GO app.
For all the latest tournament updates and information, you can follow @MSmithCanes and @NHLCanes on Twitter, and we'll have live game updates on @Canes_Gameday for those who can't access the stream or simply crave hockey-related tweets.
2016 NHL Prospects Tournament
|DATE ||VISITOR ||HOME ||TIME (ET) |
|Fri Sep 16, 2016 ||Hurricanes ||Rangers ||4:00 p.m. |
|Sat Sep 17, 2016 ||Wild ||Hurricanes ||7:00 p.m. |
|Mon Sep 19, 2016 ||Stars ||Hurricanes ||6:30 p.m. |
|Tue Sep 20, 2016 ||TBD ||TBD ||TBD |