Carolina Hurricanes' 2013 Preseason Preview and Storylines to Watch
The Columbus Blue Jackets will be in town as the 'Canes kick off their six-game preseason schedule at 7 p.m. inside of PNC Arena.
With less than three weeks remaining until opening night, Kirk Muller and Co. will seek to use the training camp slate to sort out a cornucopia of young NHL hopefuls and get a better feel for the franchise's many new offseason additions.
What should fans watch for over the next dozen days of Hurricanes action? A complete preseason preview lies below.
The Hurricanes begin the preseason Wednesday and close it on Friday, Sept. 27 with home contests against the Blue Jackets and Sabres, respectively.
Sandwiched in between is a four-game road trip to Buffalo, Quebec City, Montreal and Columbus. The match versus the Canadiens in Quebec marks the second consecutive preseason the 'Canes have played an official home game outside of Raleigh; they defeated Winnipeg 4-0 in Charlotte in September 2011.
The team surely hopes the unusually lengthy road trip will provide valuable experience in hostile atmospheres for a plethora of up-and-coming prospects.
Newcomers Seek Comfort Zone
Nine summer acquisitions—forwards Aaron Palushaj, Nathan Gerbe and Radek Dvorak; defensemen Mike Komisarek, Ron Hainsey, Andrej Sekera, Matt Corrente and Mark Flood; and goaltender Anton Khudobin—will bring their prior NHL experience to Carolina for the first time this preseason.
For all but Hainsey and Sekera, however, a big league role is far from guaranteed, and a quick transition is an absolute necessity.
Palushaj, a defensive forward specialist, and Gerbe, a former 31-point scorer, will compete with a boatload of minor league up-and-comers for bottom six jobs.
Meanwhile, Komisarek, Corrente and Flood will help to add bulk to a very deep defensive unit, and Khudobin will hope to outduel incumbent Justin Peters for the backup goalie gig.
“I’m taking it day in and day out,” Sekera told team reporter Michael Smith Monday, echoing the thoughts of many of his fellow newcomers. “Learning the system, learning the habits of the other guys, what they do, what I should do, where I should be. It’s getting better each day.”
With the 'Canes historically playing each dressed player for 10 minutes or more in preseason games, all nine should receive a solid opportunity to acclimate themselves to the climate in time for October.
Defensive Pairing Puzzle Continues
The rehab setback that eliminated Joni Pitkanen's chances of playing in the 2013-14 season knocked the Hurricanes already shaky defensive outlook into chaos.
While his top-four spot was quickly filled with free-agent signing Hainsey, the projected pairings for this coming autumn are still very much blurry.
Justin Faulk and Tim Gleason, the two returning members of the unit's upper tier, played together in Pitkanen's absence late last season. Conversely, it seems highly uncertain whether they'll remain together this time around.
Steady bottom-pairing anchor Jay Harrison and promising youngsters Ryan Murphy, the club's 12th overall selection in 2011, and Brett Bellemore, a standout from last spring's injury bedlam, are also in strong contention for one of the six or seven available jobs.
In Sunday's Red-White scrimmage, Muller ran pairings of Gleason-Komisarek, Faulk-Sekera, Harrison-Murphy and Hainsey-Corrente. Hainsey's increased familiarization with the squad should soon propel him up the depth chart, though, further complicating the formula.
Watch closely for a clearer defensive picture to emerge over the next two weeks of action.
When 23-year-old former first-round pick Zach Boychuk signed his third consecutive one-year contract in August, we practically wrote him off for dead.
In the weeks since, he's done everything he possibly can to prove that assumption wrong.
Boychuk scored twice in Saturday's scrimmage to lead his squad to a 2-1 victory and impressed experts and onlookers alike throughout the weekend. After years of toiling in the AHL, the Albertan sniper appears more motivated than ever before.
But he still faces an uphill climb to an NHL opening-day appearance. Fellow Charlotte Checkers teammates Drayson Bowman, Zac Dalpe and Chris Terry all registered points in Sunday's high-stakes game, and 2013 'Canes like Riley Nash and Kevin Westgarth are all out to retain their roles, as well.
Highly touted junior league prospects Brock McGinn and Victor Rask and 2013 fifth overall pick Elias Lindholm will all contend strongly in the mix, too, with the latter all but certain to receive a spot.
For more on the enormous competition for fourth-line forward slots, read our feature from earlier in the offseason.
As the depth chart begins to come into focus ahead of the Friday, Oct. 4 regular-season opener, the Hurricanes fanbase and coaching staff should learn plenty about the team the Hurricanes will ice this autumn.
Make sure to keep a close eye on the 'Canes as the preseason rolls along.
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