GLENDALE, Ariz. - The time has come for another Carolina Hurricanes prospect to make his National Hockey League debut.
Defenseman Roland McKeown will become the fourth Hurricane this season to play in his first NHL game, as the Canes take on the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night. In practice on Friday, he paired with Noah Hanifin, who is coincidentally also his roommate for this leg of the Canes' road trip.
"You work your whole life towards this goal. To get game one, it's going to be real exciting," McKeown said. "I'm going to try to stay as calm as possible. I know at the end of the day I just have to treat it as another hockey game, as hard as it is to do, but I think that's the best way to have success."
"He's a good defender. He has good instincts," head coach Bill Peters said. "He gives us the balance of three lefties and three righties."
The Hurricanes acquired McKeown, along with a first-round draft pick that was used to select Julien Gauthier in 2016, from Los Angeles in exchange for Andrej Sekera in a 2015 trade deadline deal.
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McKeown, 21, is now in his second professional season, and he posted three points (1g, 2a) in nine games with the Charlotte Checkers prior to his recall earlier this week. In 2016-17, he recorded 11 points (1g, 10a) with the Checkers, and his three assists in five Calder Cup playoff games was top among team defensemen.
"I feel like in the second season pro you feel a lot more confident and comfortable in your abilities," he said. "Not everything is so new."
Also not new are the faces he's joining in the Canes' locker room. McKeown has logged substantial ice time alongside Haydn Fleury, who also made his NHL debut this season, both with the Checkers and at the NHL Prospects Tournament. At one point or another through his time with the organization, McKeown has also shared the ice with basically every other defenseman in the room.
"In Traverse City my first year we had Slavin, Pesce, Fleury. In development camp we had Fleury and Hanifin," he said. "To see that young D corps gives you the confidence in your ability that you can do the same, step in and cherish the opportunity here."
The faces are familiar and so is the system that both the Checkers and Hurricanes play. That, too, will ease the burden on the rookie blue-liner.
"To have that familiarity and to know what your job is out there without guessing or not knowing gives you the knowledge to know you can play in that system," he said.
"It should be seamless in that regard. He's played a lot of exhibition games for us over the last couple of years, and he's been around in camp," Peters said. "He's very well-versed in how we play, and he'll be able to go in, free up his mind and just play."
McKeown's dad, Neil, is already in Glendale, he said, and the hope is that his brothers will be able to fly in for Saturday night's game, as well.
"You only get one game No. 1, and it's one you'll remember forever. At the same time, as a team our goal is winning the game," McKeown said. "The best I can contribute is to stay calm and play how I've been playing down in Charlotte and carry it over to here."
McKeown's NHL debut is just one sleep away - that is, if he gets any at all.
"I don't know how much sleep I'll get," he said with a smile. "I'm going to try my best to stay calm."