In some ways, it feels like the Carolina Hurricanes magical 2018-19 season just ended. In other ways, it feels like we've been without hockey for too long.
In any case, summer is over, training camp is here and hockey is back.
The Hurricanes used Thursday morning to check off logistical items - physicals, medical testing, headshots and the like - before skating onto the ice in two groups, Team Pride and Team Passion, for the first day of training camp on Friday.
Ahead of that, on the heels of a busy final week of the offseason, let's empty the notebook.
What We Learned in Nashville
Though the Hurricanes had a 10-spot dropped on them in the first game of the 2019 NHL Prospects Showcase, the way the team responded in the next two games spoke volumes about the skill and character assembled by this organization.
Give credit to the coaching staff, led by Charlotte Checkers head coach Ryan Warsofsky, for taking an extremely young and green group - virtually half of the roster consisted of invites - and making it a competitive bunch against teams that boasted much more experience.
"[They learned] what it takes to play for the Carolina Hurricanes, the mindset and philosophy we have," Warsofsky said. "You hope, individually, they get better. Skill development, whether in the video room or on the ice, they're learning. That was the most important thing. I thought we got better each and every game. There were some inconsistencies in our game, but that comes with the age of some of these kids. They're just learning this game and the pro hockey style. It was impressive to see."
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First-round draft pick Ryan Suzuki ranked tied for first among all skaters in points (6) and assists (4). Janne Kuokkanen (1g, 3a), Eetu Luostarinen (2g, 2a) and Chase Priskie (2g, 2a) each tallied four points in three games.
Those are all names the Hurricanes were hoping to see set themselves apart from the field, and they certainly did that in Nashville. The next step is for them to carry that confidence into training camp, regardless of whether they make the big club.
A week prior to the start of training camp, the Hurricanes scooped up a top-four defenseman from the open market, almost casually going about improving what's already one of the best blue lines in the NHL.
The Jake Gardiner news was announced seemingly out of the blue, but the Canes had been in contact with Gardiner and his representation for some time, according to Hurricanes President and General Manager Don Waddell.
The two sides eventually found the same neighborhood, dollars-wise, and from there, the Canes and Gardiner hammered out a four-year deal with an average annual value of $4.05 million.
Gardiner could have upped his AAV had he signed a one- or two-year deal elsewhere, but the 29-year-old defenseman wasn't interested in revisiting the unrestricted free agent market again so soon after what he called "an interesting summer."
"I saw a team on the rise, a Cup contender for sure. My wife really likes the area. It just seemed like a really good fit and a really good team," he said. "I believed in myself and knew that something was going to work out. … It was good to finally get it done."
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Gardiner has totaled 45 goals and 200 assists (245 points) in 551 career NHL regular-season games and is a proven commodity on the power play - that's a boon to a man advantage that ranked 20th a season ago.
"For us to have success again, I think our power play has to be a big part of it. I think we have enough guys that we can throw a couple good power plays out there," Waddell said. "Watching him, the way he controls the blue line, he keeps teams on the edge because he's not just a straight shooter. He's a guy who can make plays with the puck. Knowing the forwards we have that he can get the puck to, I feel very comfortable that he'll be a big addition for us on the power play."
Gleason Weighs in on Gardiner
Hurricanes Director of Defenseman Development Tim Gleason played in 39 games with the Maple Leafs after being traded to Toronto on Jan. 1, 2014. The 2013-14 season was Gardiner's third in the NHL, and Gleason joked he played with him "before he had facial hair."
Quips aside, Gleason had this to say about the latest addition to the Canes' blue line: "He's an offensive threat. He puts up the points. He's a good power play guy. He can skate well. He's got some playoff experience, as well. I think he'll be a great fit. It will be a big boost, especially on the offensive side of things. He can definitely move and skate with the puck. He's also a great person, too."
Thumbs up from No. 6.
Van Riemsdyk Still Recovering
Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk underwent surgery on his left shoulder in early May after suffering an injury in the first period of Game 2 in the Second Round of the playoffs. His recovery time was estimated at four to six months, and the Hurricanes don't expect van Riemsdyk to take contact at the outset of camp.
"I don't expect him to be ready for the start of the season," Waddell said. "It just depends on how things go for him. There's no reason to rush him back in game one or game two. It's a long season. If we're going to go deep, we're going to need him. We'll be very patient."
For the first time in quite some time, the Hurricanes enter training camp with expectations. After a run to the Eastern Conference Final, the questions no longer are about ending a painful, exasperating playoff drought but rather about how the team can build off the wave of momentum from a season ago.
"Teams are going to look at you a little differently, maybe respect you a little more and know they have to give their best," Jordan Staal said at Media Day. "That just means we have to keep raising the bar and keep pushing each other to raise our own expectations."
Time for the first whistle of camp. Let's go.