The Carolina Hurricanes started their season with no rookies in the lineup and no prospects pegged for their NHL debuts. But injuries and a persistent flu bug led to numerous short-term call-ups that pressed a top prospect into action and gave a few older prospects a chance to impress at the NHL level.
Tim Conboy, D Age: 26
In his first NHL shift as a call-up from Albany, rookie Conboy fought Avalanche enforcer Scott Parker, who at 6’5 and 240 pounds had three inches and 30 pounds on him. But Conboy held his own against the proven tough guy and later added an assist — a sign of good things to come.
Though called up to fill holes on defense due to injury, Conboy mostly played a fourth-line forward role for the Hurricanes. Along with fellow tough-guy call-up Wade Brookbank, Conboy helped transform Carolina into a tougher team that wouldn’t be pushed around. In 19 games, the St. Cloud State product had five assists and a plus-1. More telling were his 60 penalty minutes, 35 of which came in seven fights. Despite his rough-and-tumble reputation, Conboy was named the Albany River Rats’ selection for the AHL Man of the Year award for his work in the community.
Though he made a good impression and was a factor in limited ice time each night, Conboy — a restricted free agent — has a slim chance of earning a starting role with the Hurricanes in 2008-09.
Casey Borer, D Age: 22
Penciled in to one of Carolina’s future blueliners, Borer was rushed to Raleigh this season due to injuries in the defense corps, but performed admirably in his first taste of NHL action. Borer had a goal and two assists — with his first career NHL goal and assist coming in his second game Jan. 4 against Atlanta, and was minus-3 in 11 NHL games while playing an average of more than 15 minutes a night during his call-up.
Borer showed a knack for making timely defensive plays, both in recovering from positional mistakes and showing solid decision-making in odd-man assignments. Borer was also able to stay out of the penalty box, taking only two minor penalties in his time with Carolina.
Borer’s season came to an abrupt end after his reassignment to Albany when he injured his right knee and had surgery in early April. With the future of Glen Wesley and Bret Hedican up in the air, as both are unrestricted free agents and candidates to retire, Borer could have a shot at Carolina’s top six next year if he can recover from his injury. Borer will be in the final year of his entry-level deal.
Joe Jensen, C Age: 25
The Hurricanes acquired Jensen in late January from Pittsburgh for journeyman David Gove, and less than a month later the center was pressed into duty with the Canes. But Jensen’s NHL debut went about as badly as it could go. Recalled to fill a spot because the team’s forwards were ravaged by the flu bug, Jensen instead was the latest victim when he became ill on the bench of his first game, leading to a brief hospitalization in New Jersey. With the team’s regulars ready to return the lineup, Jensen was sent back to Albany the next day.
It took nearly a month, but Jensen was recalled again by the Hurricanes and scored his first NHL goal — and only point in six NHL games — in his second game back with Carolina. He was plus-1 and had two penalty minutes and six shots in his time in Raleigh.
Jensen, a restricted free agent, is a solid skater who can occasionally chip in offensively at the NHL level, but with the Canes depth at forward, he will likely have to accept a job in Albany with the hopes of being recalled again if he stays with organization.
Brandon Nolan, C Age: 24
After bouncing around for four seasons in the ECHL, AHL and Sweden, Nolan found a home in Albany and even had the opportunity to play six games with the Hurricanes. Nolan, the son of Islanders head coach Ted Nolan, showed good speed and the kind of gritty game needed to make it in the NHL as a grinder.
Nolan notched an assist in his NHL debut, but was pointless in the rest of his games and finished minus-2. Like Jensen, Nolan is a restricted free agent and if re-signed will likely return to Albany next year.
Joey Mormina, D Age: 25
The 6’6, 220-pound Mormina also made his NHL debut in 2007-08, playing his lone NHL game Feb. 14 against Pittsburgh. He finished even and had four hits in the game. Mormina’s value lies in his size and toughness. He plays tough and is willing to fight to protect his teammates.
Like everyone but Borer, Mormina is a restricted free agent. If re-signed, Mormina will be pegged for Albany.
Forward Pat Dwyer was also recalled to the Hurricanes, but did not play any games.