A month after the Carolina Hurricanes made a run to the Eastern Conference Final, I asked President and General Manager Don Waddell if the success the team had in the 2018-19 season changed the perception of the organization and the market, especially as it related to attracting free agents.
"100 percent. We put Raleigh on the map not only locally but nationally," he said. "Players want to be a part of winning organizations. I think we started something, and it's not going to just happen overnight, but I think we're now a destination that people at least want to talk about."
Ryan Dzingel sees that promise, both in the Hurricanes and the city of Raleigh, which led him to ink a two-year, $6.75 million contract with Carolina on Friday.
"I wanted to go somewhere where I believed in the team and believed in the city," he said. "Watching what they did last year, the run they went on and everything I heard about Raleigh and everything else around it, I thought it was a perfect fit for me and my fiancée and my family."
In scooping up one of the top remaining free agents on the market, the Hurricanes continue to strengthen their top-nine group of forwards that also now features center Erik Haula, acquired in a trade with Vegas in late June.
Dzingel, 27, posted a career season in 2018-19 with 26 goals, 30 assists and 56 points in 78 regular-season games with Ottawa and Columbus. He also crossed the 20-goal mark in the 2017-18 season and has only grown his year-to-year point total since making his NHL debut in the 2015-16 campaign.
A speedy forward with a dangerous shot, Dzingel's style of play and high shooting percentage are ideal fits for the up-tempo system head coach Rod Brind'Amour has installed.
"I put myself in situations to get open and use my shot. I think my speed and my shot are the two things that I rely on the most. I create a lot of chances," Dzingel said. "You want to go somewhere where you fit with their style, and that's obviously one of the biggest reasons I feel like I fit right in."
After being passed over in his first draft-eligible year, Ottawa took a flier on Dzingel with the 204th overall pick (7th round) in the 2011 NHL Draft.
He then spent three years at Ohio State, where he amassed 108 points (45g, 63a) in 110 games and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate player in 2013-14 before turning pro.
Wherever Dzingel fits in with the Canes - likely on the left side alongside Jordan Staal or Haula - earning that role isn't unfamiliar territory.
"I've been cut from a lot of teams as a younger kid. I was doubted my whole life. That's the way I run things. I compete and work hard," he said. "It's nice to come in and have to earn it. That's what I want to do."
That mindset, coupled with his work ethic, will endear the Wheaton, Ill., native to Brind'Amour's "earn it" mantra.
"I pride myself on working hard and doing what it takes in the summer to get me prepared for the regular season," Dzingel said. "I'm not a guy who is privileged enough or skilled enough to just come in and show up. I have to put the work in."
The Hurricanes have certainly put the work in this offseason to address some needs up front - depth down the middle and adding a transitional scoring punch - and in goal. The question of captain Justin Williams' future still looms large and a few restricted free agents are due new contracts, but the move to sign Dzingel helps paint a more complete picture of the Canes' lineup come Oct. 3.
"I believe in the group of guys we have. Obviously the back-end is pretty special. The forward group, there's a lot of young talent there," he said. "We're not coming to just make the playoffs. You want to win. Carolina and the city got a taste last year. We want to do more."