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Opportunity Knocks for Samsonov

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes

Given the number of injuries and illnesses the Hurricanes have come down with in recent weeks, it isn’t unusual to see some fresh faces on the ice as other players get a chance to prove themselves.

Enter winger Sergei Samsonov, who Carolina picked up on re-entry waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.  While more established at the NHL level than the players who have been cycling through from Albany lately, he probably has more to prove than any of them.

“I hope I can bring some offense,” he said after practice on Wednesday.  “I have an opportunity here to get my career back on track and hopefully I can benefit from it.  My first priority is to help the team make the playoffs and hopefully go far.”

The Boston Bruins chose Samsonov with the 8th overall pick in the 1997 draft, which was ironically acquired from Jim Rutherford and the Hartford Whalers as part of the trade which brought in Glen Wesley.  He won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie the next season, and scored a career-high 75 points in 82 games in 2000-01.

Since putting up 15 points in 24 playoffs games before the Edmonton Oilers fell to the Hurricanes in seven games, however, his production has dropped off to the point that Chicago couldn’t find a spot for him on their roster.

As the Hurricanes attempt to fill the void left by some of their injured players, most notably Justin Williams, Samsonov will be given the chance to rediscover his scoring touch and play a prominent role on his new team.

“He’s absolutely going to get the chance, and he absolutely is the player to do it,” said coach Peter Laviolette, who was an assistant coach in Boston for Samsonov’s aforementioned career year.  “It’s a real good opportunity for him, and it’s a good opportunity for our organization with Justin out of the lineup.  I’d like to think it’s a good fit for both parties and that it can work in the end.”

Samsonov was certainly put in a position to play a key role in his Hurricanes debut against his old club, as he looked good playing on a line with Rod Brind’Amour and Cory Stillman while logging 20:47 of ice time – third among Carolina forwards, behind only his linemates.

“It was great,” said Samsonov of his first game, a 1-0 win over the Bruins.  “I haven’t played much hockey in the last month or so, so it was nice just to go out there and have fun with those two guys, who are such great veterans.  It’s easy to read off of them, and I thought we had pretty good possession of the puck for most of the game, and we just weren’t able to score.”

“I thought that he did a really good job under the circumstances last night,” said Laviolette.  “He traveled all day, new team, new coach, new systems.  At times he looked real dynamic with the puck, and that’s exciting because that really fits in with the style that we play with.”

As for why he experienced such a dip in production since he started last year with Montreal, only scoring 30 points in 86 combined games with the Canadiens and Blackhawks, Samsonov said it’s merely a matter of making his chances show up on the scoreboard.

”I have to just start putting the puck in the net,” he said.  “It’s weird, I’ve been getting chances, I’ve been getting shots on net, and they just haven’t been able to go in for me, so this is something I need to work on.  I feel like I do get those chances, and it just hasn’t happened in the last year or so.  It’s just something I have to figure out.”

With Williams and other players out of the lineup, he’ll certainly have the chance to do that now on a team that could use him.
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