Nothing about Patrick O’Sullivan’s season to this point has been typical. He’s hoping to change that starting Wednesday.
After starting the season on the Hurricanes’ opening-night roster and playing both games in Helsinki, the talented left wing sat out as a healthy scratch for 10 of the Hurricanes’ next 15 games, calling it, “Something I’ve never had to deal with before in hockey.” He has yet to play in the month of November, but will get a shot in the team’s next game against the Ottawa Senators.
However, he’ll still face something of an uphill battle. He’s slotted to start on the fourth line, where he’s played the majority of his games in a Carolina sweater, and will have to earn his place in a more traditional scoring role.
“There are times on days you sit where you say, ‘This is not fun and this is not what I want to be doing,’” he said. “There’s a lot of work I had to put in, and it’s building towards playing the role I want to play.”
While O’Sullivan has been working as hard as he can to emulate game action at practices and morning skates, well after the majority of the team has already hit the showers, there’s clearly no substitute for game action. Coach Paul Maurice understands that when weighing his expectations of the 25-year-old with a 53-point NHL season under his belt.
“I don’t expect magic,” he said.
What Maurice is looking for is an intensity level that he feels has been missing from some of O’Sullivan’s games this season. On two separate two-game stretches, once in the preseason and once in his last two games on Oct. 29 and 30, Maurice said he liked the player’s effort in game one but was less than thrilled with game two.
“He has a certain skill set that allows him to do some good things with the puck, but beyond that, all players have to bring a certain intensity level,” said Maurice. “On that line with Matsumoto and Kostopoulos, whoever we’ve used there has been very good for us. They’ve created things, and not just tried to hold water. If he can match the intensity of the other two, there’s more skill on that line and they maybe be able to do some things.”
That intensity will be key to O’Sullivan’s future with the team, as Maurice acknowledged the near impossibility of generating notable offensive numbers in under 10 minutes of ice time per game. For O’Sullivan to make a real contribution, he’ll have to be in more of a scoring role, which he hopes to earn by paying his dues on the fourth line just as Jussi Jokinen and Sergei Samsonov have done in recent weeks.
“It’s part of what he’s been battling through his whole career,” said Maurice. “He has upper-line offensive skill, but he just has to prove that he can be on the ice for enough minutes for that to become a factor.”
He’ll have more competition for a lineup spot now that the Hurricanes have claimed right wing Troy Bodie on waivers from Anaheim. Bodie will likely play in one or both of the Hurricanes’ games this weekend, with O’Sullivan one of the players he could replace. The two are more or less opposites as players, with Bodie bringing less skill but considerably more toughness and size, making himself every bit the prototypical fourth-liner that O’Sullivan is not.
Bodie could also help Tom Kostopoulos take some pressure off defensemen Tim Gleason and Jay Harrison, who are two of the more rough-and-tumble players on the roster.
“I think there are certain teams that we need it against and certain teams we don’t,” said General Manager Jim Rutherford of Bodie’s grit. “You’d rather have them in that fourth-line position, because you can’t afford to have defensemen getting thrown out of the game or sitting in the penalty box most of the night.”
In the coming weeks, Rutherford said that he would need to sort out the situation at forward, with the team now carrying 14 as of Tuesday’s waiver claim. Bodie would need to again clear waivers for an assignment to Charlotte of the American Hockey League, with Anaheim then getting the opportunity to snap him back up if they so desired. Or, Bodie could earn a spot and force the Hurricanes to make a decision on a player like O’Sullivan, who is also on a two-way deal that would require waivers.
For O’Sullivan, who is still living in an area hotel away from his wife in Toronto, a quick and positive resolution would be ideal.
“It’s been a weird situation,” he said. “I’m still kind of in limbo, and even though I’ve been here for two months I’m far from settled. I hope something will change soon, but there’s no point worrying about it now.”