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Williams Welcomed Back by Canes Teammates

Slavin: 'He's a great player, a great guy and a great teammate'

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / CarolinaHurricanes.com

Sebastian Aho's Instagram caption, a simple two words and six capital letters, said it all: LET'S GO.

The photo, from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, featured Aho and Justin Williams, next-stall locker room neighbors a season ago.

Yep, Aho was happy to have No. 14 back with the Carolina Hurricanes.

"Willy is Willy. Everyone loves him. Good guy," Aho said after practice on Thursday. "He's out there competing trying to get into game shape, I guess, but he looks good to me. He hasn't played in a long time, so it's probably just as much mental as it is physical. Whenever he's ready, I'm sure he'll help us a lot."

That sentiment rang true throughout the locker room after Williams signed a one-year deal with the Canes and rejoined the team at practice the next day.

"It was awesome. He's been out for a while, but he didn't look like he missed any time," Dougie Hamilton said. "He was very sharp. He's so smart, and his hands are so good. He didn't lose any of that, for sure. I think he'll be good pretty soon. It's exciting for us."

"Willy is a special guy. He brings a certain personality to this group that's super rare to find. To have him back is awesome," Jaccob Slavin said. "He's a great player, a great guy and a great teammate. I can't say enough good things about him. It's awesome to have him back. He brings a smile to everyone's face. It's exciting."

RELATED: WILLIAMS BACK AT CANES PRACTICE

Adding Williams to the mix is akin to a trade deadline acquisition for the Canes. Except, they didn't have to make a trade, and the acquisition is someone who was in the locker room as recently as eight months ago.

The transition is seamless, the new face not quite so new.

"Most of the guys know him. Easy guy to get to know," Aho said. "Even if you don't know him 100 percent, you get along with him. It's a good addition to our group."

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"There's a different dynamic with the team this year than we had last year, but he already fits into this group well. Everyone, for the most part, knows him," Slavin said. "We'll hopefully pick up right where he left off last year. We want to get back on track here, and he has the mindset of doing that, too."

"I said to him before practice that it felt like I was in a time warp," Hamilton said. "It was cool to see him out there. He can come in, he's comfortable and everyone knows him."

Most everyone, at least. There are a few faces in the room now that weren't here in May. Though, at one point or another, paths have surely crossed.

RELATED: WILLIAMS RETURNS READY TO COMPETE

Erik Haula is one of those new faces, though he got a head start on getting to know Williams while the two shared ice when Haula was working his way back from a knee injury.

"I got to know him a little bit. I hadn't met him really before that. It was good I had that time to get to know him a bit," Haula said. "He's a guy you want in your room, for sure. He's been through it all. He's a great leader, like he's known for. We're happy to have him."

For Haula, Thursday felt like just another practice day.

"I don't think it was any different," he said. "He's going to come in with a great attitude. He's determined. That's great, and that fits in with what we want to do."

There remain some uncertainties about Williams return - when will he make his season debut, and who will he play with? - but one thing is for certain: The Canes are happy to have him back.

"I think we're a better team today," Haula said.

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