The Hurricanes have added more competition to an already-intense battle for forward jobs with Friday’s signing of Patrick O’Sullivan to a one-year, two-way contract.
O’Sullivan, 25, had his best season with the Los Angeles Kings in 2007-08, scoring 22 goals and 53 points. However, his most recent season with the Edmonton Oilers fell short of that standard, as he mustered 11 goals and 34 points while most notably ranking last in the NHL with a -35 plus/minus rating. That ultimately led to an off-season trade to and subsequent buyout by the Phoenix Coyotes.
Those are the circumstances that allowed the Hurricanes to snap up a once-promising second-round draft pick in a low risk, potentially high-reward move.
”Last year wasn’t his best, but he’s had a 20-goal season in the NHL and scored 47 in his first full season in the minors, which is really impressive,” said General Manager Jim Rutherford. ”There’s a real upside to Patrick.”
“Frustrating is one of the words you’d probably associate with it,” said O’Sullivan of his most recent season in Edmonton. “You can do down the line at individual players’ seasons and not many were good, and some of us paid the price more than others. It was disappointing for me and not what I’m capable of.”
According to Rutherford, getting O’Sullivan on a two-way contract was important as it still allows younger players to challenge for roster spots. If he doesn’t return to his form of a few years ago, he can play in Charlotte (provided he clears waivers) without blocking a more-deserving prospect.
Conversely, if he shows during training camp that last year’s plus/minus was an aberration. Six of the bottom 10 finishers in that category came from the 27-47-8 Oilers squad, and his previous career low was a -8 with an L.A. team that also finished tied for last in the league. With 280 career games played, he could provide a much more experienced option than a handful of would-be debutants.
For his part, O’Sullivan believes he’s capable of a rebound season that would see him stick in the NHL.
“I had a good summer of training and time to think about my career and how things have gone,” he said. “At this point, I’ve played long enough in the league, have seen the ins and outs and have enough experience to know that you need to be consistent and contribute every day no matter how you feel. I’ve learned a lot of what it takes to be a professional.”
Although O’Sullivan can and has played all three forward positions in the NHL, both he and the Hurricanes (from their discussions with his former teams), agree that he’s most comfortable on either wing.
“We’ll see how camp falls and what certain guys are doing, but it’s good to have that flexibility,” said Rutherford. “It’s a real advantage to an organization.”
Besides the on-ice implications, the move is intriguing for O’Sullivan’s history with both the organization and the state of North Carolina. He’s been property of the Hurricanes before, if only for a split second, when he was acquired from the Kings at the 2009 trade deadline only to be flipped to Edmonton for Erik Cole in a three-team deal.
That makes it debatable about whether this should count towards the Hurricanes’ recent tendency to bring back former players, but there’s no doubt about one amazingly bizarre piece of hockey trivia. This marks the third time in the last four years that Jim Rutherford has ended up with both the player he acquired and the player he traded in one-for-one swaps at the same time:
- On July 18, 2006, the Hurricanes traded Josef Vasicek to Nashville for Scott Walker. Vasicek was re-acquired in exchange for Eric Belanger on Feb. 9, 2007, with Walker still on the roster.
- On July 1, 2008, the Hurricanes traded Erik Cole to Edmonton for Joni Pitkanen. Cole was re-acquired in exchange for Patrick O’Sullivan on March 4, 2009, with Pitkanen still on the roster.
- On March 4, 2009, the Hurricanes traded Patrick O’Sullivan to Edmonton for Erik Cole. O’Sullivan was signed as a free agent on Sept. 17, 2010, with Cole still on the roster.
That type of stat might even be too obscure for the Elias Sports Bureau, but one has to imagine that’s some kind of record.
Speaking of records, O’Sullivan, who spent the first eight years of his life in Winston-Salem before moving to Toronto to further his hockey career, has already made history as the first NHL player from the state of North Carolina. There’s a longer and not particularly pleasant story there that we won’t get into, but a good summary can be found here
“There won’t be any problems or limitations or anything like that,” said O’Sullivan of his return to the state. “I’ve seen a lot more things at a young age than most people have, but it’s made me who I am. If you asked me 10 or 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have given myself much chance to even play in the NHL.”
“Those (issues) are all behind him,” said Rutherford. “His personal life is very good, he got married this summer, and he’s looking to get back to that 20-goal season.”
Rutherford said that the addition of O’Sullivan will likely be the final change to the training camp roster. The GM added that he had also extended a two-way offer to free-agent defenseman Cristoph Schubert, but that the German defenseman had instead decided to play in Europe.