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Training Camp

Lee Stempniak hoping for stability with Hurricanes

Well-traveled forward beginning season with 10th NHL team

by Kurt Dusterberg / Correspondent

RALEIGH, N.C. -- On his first day of training camp with the Carolina Hurricanes, Lee Stempniak navigated PNC Arena with ease. He dressed in the visitors' locker room before hitting the ice. Then he made his way through a couple of hallways to the weight room and finished up with the media in the home locker room.

Learning new arenas has become second nature to the 33-year-old forward. The Hurricanes are his 10th NHL team, a distinction that can viewed as a blessing or a curse.

"A lot of times, you equate being respected with staying with one team where the coach and [general manager] value you and want to keep you," Stempniak said. "But maybe they figure they can find someone else who can do it better, which is hard."

Stempniak's NHL career began steadily enough, playing three-plus seasons with the St. Louis Blues, but the subsequent years have been an odyssey. He has been traded six times in the past eight seasons, including four moves prior to the NHL Trade Deadline.

Video: Lee Stempniak: "Harnessing that potential"

"The first time when I was traded, from St. Louis to Toronto, it was a huge shock," Stempniak said. "I was having a really good start to the season. It took me a while to get comfortable. I didn't want to step on anyone's toes. I was pretty quiet, maybe more shy and reserved than I needed to be, and I think that can carry over into how you play. I think the big takeaway is when you get to a new team, at the end of the day, you're playing hockey."

During the past three seasons, Stempniak's tour of the League has picked up steam. He has been traded prior to the NHL Trade Deadline each season, from the Calgary Flames to the Pittsburgh Penguins, from the New York Rangers to the Winnipeg Jets and from the New Jersey Devils to the Boston Bruins.

Stressful? Absolutely. But the moves made for some great memories.

"It's been exciting for sure," he said. "When I went to Pittsburgh it was awesome. I got to play with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. I got to play in Winnipeg for their first playoffs since the NHL came back. To play in Boston, that's where I make my summer home. I got to play with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, who are two great players."

And there was the 2009-10 season, when the then-Phoenix Coyotes acquired him in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He scored 14 goals in 18 games for the Coyotes, helping them to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and earning Player of the Month honors for March 2010.

Video: DET@BOS: Stempniak nets rebound to pad lead

Stempniak now is in rare company. He's the seventh player to skate with at least 10 teams, and the only one who is active. Mike "Suitcase" Sillinger, a two-way center who retired in 2009, holds the NHL record with 12.

"Yep, I played with him," Stempniak said of Sillinger. They were teammates in St. Louis in 2005-06, when Sillinger reached double digits on his NHL sweater collection.

Remarkably, there are a few familiar names on the Hurricanes roster. Center Jay McClement is an old friend of Stempniak's from St. Louis, where they were rookie linemates. Forward Viktor Stalberg was a teammate in Toronto in 2009-10. Just to be sure that's a complete list, Stempniak scanned the locker room nameplates to see if he had forgotten anyone. He pointed his water bottle at one.

"I played with [defenseman] Ron Hainsey at the World Championships [in 2009]," he said.

Stempniak's familiarity with McClement has helped ease the transition with the Hurricanes. Their friendship has endured since their rookie seasons, when they lived in the same apartment complex and their girlfriends flew into St. Louis for visits. Their girlfriends are now their wives, and their families have grown. Eight years and nine teams later, Stempniak looks forward to a new era in their relationship.

"Our kids are going to preschool together," he said. "Funny how things change. Now we're doing play dates instead of the two of us doing dinner."

McClement is the most recent of several players to suit up with Stempniak with two teams. The Hurricanes' fourth-line center has a good idea why his friend can always find a team.

"One part of it is perplexing," McClement said. "He's a good player, he's been healthy and he's a pretty steady performer. But there have always been playoff teams looking for a guy like him. People are always looking for scoring wingers, so it's a testament to him. How many teams have looked to add him for playoff drives?"

Video: BOS@NYR: Stempniak scores after Bruins force turnover

As for the newest destination on his hockey resume, Stempniak is excited to play in Carolina. His confidence is high, coming off a 51-point season (19 goals, 32 assists), one short of his NHL career-best set in 2006-07. The Hurricanes need scoring and the power play could use a boost. With 39 NHL goals on the man advantage, Stempniak will have a chance to be an impact player.

Wherever Stempniak plays in the lineup, he expects to be a good fit. One season after playing on the fourth line with the Rangers, he skated on the top line with the Devils. That's another reason his phone keeps ringing every summer.

"That adaptability is something I take a lot of pride in," Stempniak said. "A lot of times when you change teams a couple times you wash out and don't get more opportunities. I take pride in the fact that I've been able to find a way to contribute and play my game and be a valuable member of the team wherever I go."

Stempniak has a little more job security now than in recent seasons. After signing a one-year contract with the Rangers in 2014-15, he attended Devils training camp on a professional tryout last season. On July 1, the Hurricanes signed him to a two-year, $5 million contract on July 1.

"The stability is very nice," Stempniak said. "But when you've been traded a few times, you know that's always a possibility so you don't put too much stock in that.

"It would be nice if Carolina was a long stop. I feel like with the way I play I could be a big asset to the team. I hope I can be a long-term fit."

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