VANCOUVER -- Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal doesn't want to hear about being in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes less than a month into the season.
As Staal prepared to return against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday after missing five games with an upper-body injury, he admitted it was upsetting to hear the winless Hurricanes already being linked to the 2015 NHL Draft lottery and a shot a McDavid as the consensus No. 1 pick.
"A little premature," Staal, who turns 30 on Wednesday, said after the morning skate. "Yeah it bothers me, but our record is 0-fer so it's not that surprising at the same time."
Getting Staal back should help the Hurricanes when they try to avoid a winless October and stop building on a franchise-worst 0-5-2 start under new coach Bill Peters.
Staal had a goal and an assist in his first two games before getting hurt against the New York Islanders on Oct. 11, and returns to anchor the top line and power play. But Carolina is still without his brother, fellow center Jordan Staal, who is expected to miss the first three or four months after breaking his leg in a preseason game. That has forced the Hurricanes to use young centers in unfamiliar roles early this season.
"You get a new coach, new system and you want to play as hard as you can to get a win for him right of the bat and it's been extremely difficult," Staal said. "Obviously we've had some key injuries to people we need big roles from has been tough, but we have to find a way."
In addition to missing Staal, the Hurricanes were without skilled forward Jeff Skinner for the first four games. Nathan Gerbe, who was fourth in team scoring last season, will miss a fourth straight game Tuesday with a lower body injury.
"Close, close, close, thought we'd have him, but not going to happen," Peters said of Gerbe, who shed his yellow non-contact jersey in the morning skate Tuesday after wearing one in practice Monday.
Getting Staal and Gerbe back should help the League's third-worst offense. So too could a game against a Vancouver team that has also struggled at times to adjust to its third defensive system in three seasons under new coach Willie Desjardins.
Scoring was the biggest concern coming into the season, but defending was a question mark after a couple of lopsided losses during a three-game road trip last week.
Getting defenseman Ryan Stanton back from a groin injury will help, but he will miss at least one more game despite returning to the ice Monday and skating again Tuesday.
"He's real close," Desjardins said.
As for an offense ranked fifth in the NHL with 3.25 goals a game and a defense ranked 23rd while averaging the same number against, Desjardins said the latter can take longer to implement.
"Offense a lot of it is being creative. You can't say 'go here' because it depends where the defensive guys are," he said. "But defense is more structure, where you are here and make them go where you want them to. So defense does take more time because that's what you are trying to teach. The offense you are kind of letting happen more."
Peters hopes wins will start happening more once Carolina gets one.
"You get that first one out of the way and then everybody relaxes a little bit and you don't squeeze the stick quite as hard and you can take off from there," he said.
Here are the projected lineups:
Jiri Tlusty – Eric Staal – Alexander Semin
Jeff Skinner – Riley Nash – Elias Lindholm
Chris Terry – Jay McClement – Zach Boychuk
Brad Malone – Victor Rask – Brody Sutter
Andrej Sekera – Justin Faulk
Tim Gleason – Ryan Murphy
Ron Hainsey – John-Michael Liles
Scratched: Jay Harrison, Brett Bellemore
Injured: Patrick Dwyer (lower body), Jordan Staal (leg), Nathan Gerbe (lower body)
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Radim Vrbata
Chris Higgins – Nick Bonino – Alexandre Burrows
Brad Richardson – Shawn Matthias – Zack Kassian
Derek Dorsett – Linden Vey – Jannik Hansen
Alexander Edler – Christopher Tanev
Dan Hamhuis – Kevin Bieksa
Luca Sbisa – Yannick Weber
Scratched: Tom Sestito, Frank Corrado
Injured: Ryan Stanton (lower body)
Status report: The Canucks had an optional skate Tuesday but center Brad Richardson and defenseman Luca Sbisa, who each missed practice Monday, took part and will play against Carolina. Captain Henrik Sedin, who also missed practice Monday, was playing soccer with teammates in the hallway outside the locker room in the morning and said he will play. With Staal activated off injured reserve, the Hurricanes sent center Patrick Brown back to Charlotte of the American Hockey League. Peters said Dwyer, who skated in a regular jersey Tuesday, is close to returning.
Who's hot: Staal hasn't played in more than two weeks, but with a goal and an assist in his first two games is the only player with an active offensive streak on the struggling Hurricanes. … Bonino, Vancouver's new second-line center, has two key go-ahead goals and three assists during a three-game point streak and with seven points in eight games is helping quiet questions about secondary scoring.