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Williams Likely to Make Season Debut on Sunday

Williams: 'I'm ready to rock'

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

Justin Williams was one of the last players off the ice after practice on Saturday at Raleigh Center Ice. He unbuckled a few pieces of equipment and sat down in his locker stall.

He knew what was next.

"Am I ready?" he asked with a smile. "I'm ready. I'm ready to rock."

Just as his signing wasn't officially official until he put pen to paper 10 days ago, Williams' season debut won't be officially official until his name is listed on the lineup card.

But, it's likely that happens on Sunday when the Carolina Hurricanes host the New York Islanders at 5 p.m.

"Right now, he's taking warm-ups," head coach Rod Brind'Amour played coy. "I don't really know that he really needs that. We'll see."

The will-he, won't-he of warm-ups is a formality at this point. Williams is ready.

"I've been excited," he said, his excitement growing with every sentence. "Now, I'm getting a lot closer to playing an NHL game again, competing against the world's best. That's what I love to do."

Though he's ready - and has been for months, if you really ask him - Williams knows a mid-season return to the best league in the world is a unique situation with a specific set of challenges.

"It's just a little bit of time off, and most of the other guys in the league have a step up on you, a little more seasoning. I've got to play catch up," he said. "I don't have any [expectations]. You trust yourself and believe in your ability. That's what I'm going to be doing out there."

Brind'Amour doesn't have any expectations for the "new old guy," either.

"Hopefully he brings a lot of energy to our group, which we probably need right about now," Brind'Amour said. "I want him to get comfortable and up to speed. That's going to take a little bit of time."

With that in mind, Williams will likely skate on the Canes' fourth line with Lucas Wallmark and Brock McGinn. He might even see some power play time on the second unit, depending on how things play out in his debut.

"I'm not going to be thinking I'm going to go out there and score a hat trick my first game, but I'm going to think I'm going to be an effective player," he said. "That's what I'm here to do, and that's what I expect to be."

Based on line structure in practice, Jordan Martinook appears to be the odd forward out for Sunday. But even that could change between now and puck drop, and it will remain a fluid situation from game to game.

"It's certainly not going to be one guy all the time," Brind'Amour said. "It will be a rotation if we're healthy."

Williams' season debut is likely to give an emotional boost to a club that has dropped three games in a row and struggled to create much offensively in that stretch.

His return should also be a jolt of energy for the expected capacity crowd at PNC Arena. Imagine the roar from the 18,000-plus in the seemingly inevitable probability that Williams would be announced among the starting five for the Canes.

It's time.

"I'm nervous before every game I play. I'm going to have nerves, but the one thing you never question is your ability," Williams said. "I'm going to go out there, work my tail off and let my instincts take over."

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