RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes opened their training camp on Thursday as players underwent physicals and testing and a team meeting.
Head coach Bill Peters and his staff prepped for 57 players to step onto the ice at PNC Arena on Friday morning.
Following another season of missing the National Hockey League (NHL) playoffs, its sixth in a row, Carolina is hoping to put an end to that streak.
However, what will be different at camp for that to happen?
Firstly, the learning curve will be shorter for returning veterans who now understand what Peters expects in terms of work ethic and the system of play they will employ.
The training wheels for them will be off and they’ll jump right into scrimmages to prepare for upcoming preseason games that begin next week.
New acquisitions like goaltender Eddie Lack, defenseman James Wisniewski, and forward Kris Versteeg, will have to be quick reads on the entire process, and with the experience that all three possess in playing in the postseason, that shouldn’t be a problem.
For the 20-plus younger prospects who will suit up, many coming off a fourth-place finish out of eight teams at the recent Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament, many have started and will continue to learn and understand Peters’ expectations.
Coupled with what new Charlotte Checkers head coach Mark Morris adds to their plate, there will be little time for them to take a breather, literally and figuratively.
The pace will be quick and the intensity high to perform at a level to match the expectations of management and the team’s fan base.
With as many one-way contracts that players hold, the few open spots that do exist on the opening night roster, can and will be contested.
Though, it must be understood that the fight for a spot may not be as open as many think.
That doesn’t mean system players like Zach Boychuk, Brendan Woods, Brock McGinn, Patrick Brown, Sergey Tolchinsky, Rasmus Rissanen, Danny Biega, Trevor Carrick, or Brett Pesce, to name a few, don’t get a serious look to make the decision-making tough for the coaching staff.
That will all happen, and it will be different than past training camps because there are so many more young and upcoming players who will push a player with one-way contract to work harder to earn and keep a spot.
Regardless of all that, Peters is clear in his approach though – nothing is guaranteed.
It was evident last season, his first in readjusting the culture of the team’s practice habits and team play, that he would challenge even top-level and salaried players, the ones who should be in the lineup and scoring, to meet expectations.
If not, then they would watch others do that from the press box, as many experienced last season.
Being a healthy scratch became common place, a new occurrence for a team that didn’t dare do that for years prior.
Anyone that didn’t believe that it could happen could only look at the experience of now-departed forward Alexander Semin, who sat more games than many thought would ever happen.
Semin wasn’t the only one, as even then-rookie Victor Rask was a healthy scratch for two games last season, the only two he missed during his first full NHL season in which he produced 33 points (11g, 22a).
The message is clear, the approach and the plan is laid out.
There’s not much to ask questions about out for the group of 57.
Carolina’s training camp will start at the next level compared to the last.
Those in attendance, media and fans alike should expect to see more contact and competition – the way this team must learn to play to become defensively responsible and offensively productive.
Some may think that certain players should be spared from the potential of incurring injury.
Injuries have plagued the Hurricanes for the past three years in particular, and hindered previous lineups coming out of camp from reaching their full potential.
It happens out of bad luck and circumstance.
However, fear of injury can’t change how hard this team must work just to earn a win, let alone stringing enough of them together to earn 90-plus points by the end of the regular season.
Thus, with many more capable up-and-comers, a more abundant prospect base competing to show if they are NHL-ready, hopefully the next-man-up circumstance will surface, rather than the reality of ‘we’re in big trouble because we don’t know who’s gonna’ fill that spot’.
Hopefully, that will be the biggest change coming out of camp – knowing that it won’ matter any longer who’s in and who’s out of the lineup.
Instead of focusing on a handful of individual players to carry the load, a true team identity will make it hard to discern any superstars from the pack.
They’ll all reap the rewards of winning games and suffer defeat as a collective.
If that were to happen, that will be the biggest change and improvement this team will have made in over six years, and make the difference in finally earning a chance to compete in the postseason.