Last season, the Carolina Hurricanes came to training camp knowing the roster was set. Carolina’s roster again seems to be in place with camp looming, but this year it figures to include a rookie among the opening-night starters.
Carolina will have more than 30 forwards in camp and returning players account for 11 of the 12 forward spots for the upcoming season. The 12th spot — fourth-line center — seems to be a lock for rookie center Brandon Sutter.
Sutter, the team’s first-round pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, has been all but assured the final roster spot on the team. With Eric Staal, Rod Brind’Amour and Matt Cullen penciled in for the top three center slots, Sutter will have the chance to play limited minutes and learn from the wealth of knowledge the three incumbents can provide.
This year’s first-round pick, Lethbridge Hurricanes forward Zach Boychuk, will also be in camp, but offseason wrist surgery will likely keep him out of any preseason games and limit him to skating-only drills, thus greatly diminishing any chance he has to force Carolina to consider promoting him to the NHL to start the season.
Other notable forward prospects who will attend training camp include Drayson Bowman, Bobby Hughes, Chris Terry and Nick Dodge. While they’ll likely all be back with their respective AHL or CHL teams to start the year, Carolina has always had the policy that a roster position can be won if the player is convincing enough.
The addition of Joni Pitkanen and Josef Melichar, coupled with the return of Anton Babchuk, leaves little room for a young defenseman to break through and make the Canes roster out of camp. With five other NHL veterans on one-way deals and grinder Tim Conboy capable of playing on the back end, there is simply no space for the likes of Casey Borer or Brett Carson.
That being said, Carolina GM Jim Rutherford has said the team is looking to deal a defenseman — most likely veteran Frank Kaberle — to get under the team’s self-imposed budget before the start of the season. With Conboy playing mostly fourth-line forward duties in his time in Carolina, that means one or two injuries on the back end could lead to a call-up for one of Carolina’s young blueliners.
Borer and Carson would be the most likely candidates, with Borer holding the edge as long as he’s fully recovered from offseason knee surgery — and staying at Chez Brind’Amour in the time leading up to camp will surely better prepare anyone for the rigors of camp and the season.
While the Carolina crease will be guarded by Cam Ward and Michael Leighton in 2008-09, the team’s NHL camp could go a long way in determining where and what roles the other goalies will land in the minors.
Both Justin Peters and Daniel Manzato will attend camp and are the frontrunners to battle for the starting job with Carolina’s AHL affiliate in Albany. Hurricanes assistant coach Tom Rowe spent the past four seasons as the River Rats’ head coach and general manager, so his familiarity with the two goalies — plus the fact that the man replacing him, Jeff Daniels, held Rowe’s job in Carolina last year — could help shape who winds up as the starter in Albany.
Also attending will be 2008 sixth-round pick Mike Murphy. Murphy drew oohs and aahs at times during the Canes’ prospect camp with his acrobatic and unorthodox netminding — even stoning Hall-of-Famer Ron Francis multiple times — so training camp will give Carolina’s brass and the fans another look at the promising young goalie. On top of that, free agent goalie David Leggio — a college teammate of Canes prospect Nick Dodge at Clarkson — earned an invite to camp. With Murphy a lock to head back to major junior with Belleville, Leggio could earn a contract with Carolina’s ECHL affiliate, the Florida Everblades, and hold the starting job there.