There are high expectations for the Carolina Hurricanes this season after their busy off-season. They brought in three players who will see a lot of minutes and Cam Ward got a much needed backup goaltender to keep him fresh between the pipes. But there are still some questions that need to be answered, like who will play on Jeff Skinner’s line?
Erik Cole left Raleigh for the Montreal Canadiens’ generous contract and the Canes didn’t re-sign veteran Cory Stillman after acquiring him from Florida at the deadline. That leaves two open spots on the top line that need to be filled. Obviously, captain Eric Staal will center the top line but it may take a month into the regular season to find the best combination. As of now, the two leaders for the top line are Skinner and Anthony Stewart. The quick Skinner, however, will be more of a checking target this year in the NHL so their wont be any mercy.
The best thing would be to keep the Jussi Jokinen– Tuomo Ruutu– Skinner second line, but that seems unrealistic since two newcomers would have to take over on the top line. That won’t happen. But the Hurricanes made it clear after locking up Ward for a few more years, they are looking to build around Staal and Skinner so why not put them together?
The two young skaters played together on the power play and lead the team in scoring so they have the potential to rally the team and have more offensive consistency. The Canes were just points away from a playoff berth and this season, their off-season activity entails that their goal is to lock up a playoff spot and possibly be sleepers to make a run around May. If Skinner starts alongside Staal, the sophomore will have pressure from every Caniac because they have seen what Skinner, fresh off his Rookie of the Year season, is capable of doing. But where does that leave the other Hurricane forward?
Don’t be surprised to see Chad LaRose, newcomer Alexei Ponikarovsky, or prospect Zac Dalpe on the opposite side of Jokinen and Ruutu. It appears that Brandon Sutter will center the third line and Tim Brent will be on the fourth line. That makes seven forwards fighting for 4 starting spots. Though this isn’t by any means a transition year, it’s a very young Hurricanes team that has a lot of questions to answer during training camp this month and it will be competitive.
The first preseason game is September 19 at the Buffalo Sabres. In 10 days, the real dog fight begins as numerous AHL prospects fight for their spot on the team.