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Vatanen, Hamilton could return after pause for Hurricanes

Would make defense look 'pretty impressive,' Brind'Amour says

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

Sami Vatanen could return, and there's a possibility Dougie Hamilton could be back for the Carolina Hurricanes if the NHL season resumes from its pause caused by the coronavirus.

Each defenseman was sidelined by a lower-body injury when the season was halted March 12.

"That would be a positive," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said Wednesday. "If you get those guys back in the lineup, suddenly now the team looks a lot different with a Dougie Hamilton and Sami Vatanen in your lineup. Suddenly that [defense] corps looks pretty impressive. That would be interesting to see if that happens."

Hamilton fractured his left fibula Jan. 16, and Vatanen was injured Feb. 1 blocking a shot while playing for the New Jersey Devils. After being traded Feb. 24, he skated with the Hurricanes a few times but experienced a setback that prevented him from making his Carolina debut.

"We were told he was going to be ready the first week of March when we made the deal, and that didn't happen," Brind'Amour said. "Now I would say that would be for sure, but you never know."

Hamilton had 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists) in 47 games and was among the leading contenders for the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL before he was injured. Although most of the Hurricanes players returned to their offseason homes, Hamilton has remained in North Carolina to continue his rehabilitation.

Video: PHI@CAR: Hamilton goes five-hole for OT winner

Carolina said in February it was hopeful he could play by early April, but his return could be hindered because it's unknown when he'll have an opportunity to resume skating with the Hurricanes' facilities and other ice rinks closed by the pandemic.

"I do know that he's been progressing, and he wanted to get on the ice, I heard, but there's no rinks," Brind'Amour said. "But he at least reached out about the possibility of that, so that's a good sign."

The Hurricanes were getting healthier before the pause, with goalie Petr Mrazek returning from a concussion to play in a 5-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings on March 10. Goalie James Reimer was close to returning from a lower-body injury he sustained Feb. 22.

"He was probably a week away," Brind'Amour said. "And Petr was back, so we've got those guys back, which is good."

Defenseman Brett Pesce remains highly unlikely to play this season after having surgery on his right shoulder March 5.

"I don't know how long this (pause) goes, but he wasn't expected to come back until October," Brind'Amour said.

The Hurricanes (38-25-5) won their final three games before the pause and were tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference having played two fewer games.

Center Vincent Trocheck, who was acquired in a trade from the Florida Panthers on Feb. 24, and defenseman Brady Skjei, who was acquired in a trade from the New York Rangers on Feb. 24, were beginning to feel more comfortable. Forward Justin Williams, who signed a one-year contract Jan. 7 after sitting out the first three months of the season while contemplating retirement, scored in each of his five games before the pause and was clicking on the third line with Jordan Staal and Brock McGinn.

"It was probably some of our best games, a week, a stretch where everything looked how it was supposed to," Brind'Amour said. "So that was frustrating. We had some guys coming that hadn't had great years (that) all the sudden started scoring and you could just see their game coming together. Obviously, the timing is bad for everybody, but we were looking good."

Video: CAR@NYI: Trocheck cleans up rebound for OT winner

Brind'Amour has remained at his home in North Carolina with his family and used some of his free time watching video to aid the Hurricanes' preparations for the 2020 NHL Draft. With school closed, he's also helping his wife, Amy, with the home-schooling of their 8-year-old son, Brooks.

"I'm the PE (physical education) teacher. That's my role," Brind'Amour said. "We've got a nice little backyard, so we head back there when mom's done with the regular school. That's been our routine. You just make the best of it."

Like many, Brind'Amour stressed the importance of social distancing to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. He also expressed his support for healthcare professionals during this crisis.

"To all the medical people, what they're doing is incredible," Brind'Amour said. "There will be so many incredible stories when this is over of all those people. We're going to hear about those stories, and we should. They're the real heroes right now."

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