5 Carolina Hurricanes Players with the Most to Prove During the Preseason
The Carolina Hurricanes begin the seven-game preseason schedule on Sunday afternoon, 161 days after the conclusion of their unsuccessful 2013-14 season.
The meaninglessness of the preseason is cliche, but meaninglessness is not to be confused with pointlessness. For many of the 51 players invited to Hurricanes training camp, there are roster spots to be earned, confidences to be restored and roles to be molded.
The arrival of new head coach Bill Peters wipes clean the preferences of the previous coaching staff. Every player has an opportunity to carve out a new role and win over Peters' preference. The win-loss results of the preseason may not mean much, but the results in terms of team chemistry and composition certainly do.
Which players have the most on the line during training camp? A breakdown of five in particular falls on the coming slides.
D Tim Gleason
Longtime fan favorite Tim Gleason has a lot to prove.
Like a gambler losing big in Vegas, Gleason essentially blew all the clout he had accumulated over the years as a shutdown defenseman in a few months, running himself out of Raleigh and directly into the Maple Leafs' late-season train wreck.
Now, it's time for Gleason to turn his career around—quickly. The 6'0" rearguard turns 32 in January and seemingly lost all of his mobility last season; proving he still has worth as an ultraconservative defenseman will help him get back on the ice regularly in 2014-15.
In a surprisingly deep and extremely competitive 'Canes defensive unit, Gleason must shoulder the onus of re-establishing his career starting immediately.
C Riley Nash
The offseason addition of veteran Jay McClement and strong September of youngster Victor Rask has suddenly jeopardized Riley Nash's spot in the opening-night lineup.
Nash quietly played 73 games last season, tallying a respectable 10 goals and 24 points and positive Corsi rating. He's far from a flashy player, however, and boasts neither the defensive and penalty-killing prowess of McClement nor the upside of Rask.
At only age 25, the 6'1" center should develop into a strong scoring threat for the bottom six. Nonetheless, Nash isn't overly physical (despite his large frame) and hasn't yet rounded out enough to emerge as a dependable third-line center.
In need of a noticeable preseason performance, Nash appears slated to receive a great first opportunity on Sunday, as he will center Elias Lindholm and Jeff Skinner while Eric Staal rests, according to Michael Smith of Hurricanes.com. As the News & Observer's Chip Alexander reported on Twitter, "[Ron] Francis, [Bill] Peters have praised Rask's play in recent days. One has to think Nash has picked up on it."
No. 20 will need to make an impact this preseason; otherwise, he may slip out of the Hurricanes' lineup with as little fanfare as when he slipped into it.
RW Alexander Semin
The controversy over the status of Alexander Semin's health seems to have cooled—No. 28 has been participating fully in the opening days of training camp, including a breakaway goal in Friday's scrimmage.
The focus can now shift to rebounding from an injury-nagged 2013-14 campaign in which he tallied only 22 goals and 20 assists and attracted another tsunami of largely sensationalized criticism.
Semin's unfortunate and inexplicable drop-off in shooting percentage since his Washington Capitals years has been well-documented, but it's bound to regress back toward the mean eventually. In the meantime, though, the 30-year-old winger will have to prove his first-line worthiness to Bill Peters, who may or may not be a subscriber to the silly yet widespread negative connotations associated with Semin's name.
Don't expect him to make more than three or four appearances in the preseason, but his play in the games in which he does appear will be telling.
RW Chris Terry
Sporting just 13 games of NHL career experience, Chris Terry enters as a long shot to make the team; he's already below fellow forward prospects like Zach Boychuk, Brock McGinn and Rask on the depth chart to begin with.
But the one card Terry does have in his pocket—the shootout—is an ace of spades.
Terry is the only active player with more than one career NHL shootout attempt and a 100 percent conversion rate (he's 2-for-2 lifetime). He's also 16-for-35 on AHL attempts over the past four years, including 4-for-6 last season. The 'Canes, conversely, have won just four of their last 15 shootouts as a team, and their two best shootout scorers—Alexander Semin and Nathan Gerbe—have both yet to convert since coming to Raleigh.
Not only will the Hurricanes' performance in any preseason shootouts be worth analyzing but so will the impact of Terry's unique skill in his quest for an opening-night roster spot.
G Cam Ward
He doesn't deserve to be. A 10-12-6 record and .898 save percentage should always be inferior to a 19-14-2 record and .926 save percentage, but, somehow, it isn't. Peters & Co. are apparently content to open the preseason with Ward and Khudobin being viewed on the same plane in the competition for the No. 1 job.
For his own sake, Ward must take advantage of such an opportunity.
It seems wholly impossible that he could actually win the starter's job, yet a strong preseason body of work could earn Ward a role at least greater than that of a full-time backup—as well as yield him some much-needed praise and confidence.