VOORHEES, N.J. -- As he prepares for his 17th NHL season, Carolina Hurricanes forward Justin Williams believes he's learned the secret to thriving at an advanced hockey age.
"I think at this point in my career … I'm probably not going to get any faster," Williams, 35, said. "I know that. The trick is not to get any slower. I'm doing all I can to make sure that doesn't happen and you don't slowly fade away. I want to be an impact player for a long time and I plan on being one the next couple years as well."
Williams was an impact player with the Washington Capitals last season with 48 points in 80 games. His 24 goals were the most he's had in a season since he scored 33 with the Hurricanes in 2006-07. He's also been durable, missing three games the past six seasons.
He signed a two-year contract with the Hurricanes on July 1 and is being counted on to bring experience and leadership to a young team. The Hurricanes had an average age of 26.8 years last season, sixth-youngest in the League according to Hockey-Reference.com.
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Last season, five of the Hurricanes' top six in scoring were younger than 25, topped by forwards Jeff Skinner, who had 63 points (37 goals, 26 assists) in 79 games, and Sebastian Aho, who had 49 points (24 goals, 25 assists) in 82 games. Their defense is led by Justin Faulk, who has played in the NHL All-Star Game three times in six seasons, and Jaccob Slavin, who last season was one of seven defensemen with at least 30 points (34), a plus-20 plus/minus rating (plus-23) and 23 minutes of ice time per game (23:26).
It's that youthful core that motivated Williams to return to the Hurricanes. He played five seasons with them (2003-04 to 2008-09) and was part of the 2006 Stanley Cup championship.
"I really like the young, up-and-coming team they had," said Williams, who was among the NHL players participating in the 2017 Checking For Charity tournament at Flyers Skate Zone this past weekend. "I think their speed, and they're tailor-made for the way the game is played right now. They have a lot of really good, up-and-coming talent that's making the transition from being average players to good players and good players to great players. I don't know where the ceiling is, but I think it's pretty high."
The Hurricanes had 87 points last season, the most they've had in seven seasons, but they finished eight points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference, their eighth straight season without a playoff berth.
To remedy that, the Hurricanes added four players during the offseason with a total of seven Stanley Cup championships in Williams, goaltender Scott Darling, defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and forward Marcus Kruger. The latter three each won with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015.
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"I don't think you can ever have enough guys in your room with playoff experience, and more importantly, playoff success," Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis said. "That's seven Stanley Cups with those four guys alone coming into our locker room. We have a very young team and they're trying to find their way. We think the guys we picked up this summer not only are very good hockey players, but very good people and proven winners."
Williams owns three of those championships, including the two he won with the Los Angeles Kings (2012, 2014). That resume could make him an ideal captain for the Hurricanes, who haven't had one since Eric Staal was traded to the New York Rangers on Feb. 28, 2016.
Williams has never been a captain at any level, and said of becoming one now, "That's something that's not on my radar."
Instead, he's focusing on helping the Hurricanes end their playoff drought and his younger teammates reaching their potential.
"I'm there to help as best I can on the ice, off the ice, make the players better around me," he said. "That's what I've tried to do throughout my career and that's what I plan on doing there."