While the Hurricanes have rebuilt their prospect pool in recent seasons, they are still relying mainly on veterans in their lineup. Several rookies played for Carolina this season, but most did so in short stints. Eight Hurricanes players fit the NHL’s rookie criteria this season.
Casey Borer, D
Acquired 3rd round, 64th overall, 2004
After an 11-game stint in Carolina last season, Borer again started his year with the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate in Albany. Borer was recalled to Carolina in early December when the team was ravaged by defensive injuries, and in three games the 23-year-old defenseman averaged more than 11 minutes of ice time and had an even plus/minus rating with no points.
But for the second straight season, Borer’s development was hampered by injury. He suffered a knee injury near the end of the 2007-08 season, and this year was cut short when he suffered a serious — but not life- or career-threatening — broken neck in the Feb. 19 Albany River Rats bus crash. Luckily for Borer and the Hurricanes, he resumed skating near the end of the season and is expected to make a full recovery. Borer likely will return to Albany for the start of the 2009-10 season.
Zach Boychuk, C
Acquired 1st round, 14th overall, 2008
The Canes gave Boychuk, their top pick in last year’s entry draft, a shot to showcase his talent in Raleigh at the start of the season. After missing all of Carolina’s preseason games and participating in only non-contact drills due to wrist surgery, Boychuk played in the Hurricanes’ fourth and fifth games of the season before being reassigned to Lethbridge, his junior team in the Western Hockey League.
Boychuk went pointless in his two-game stretch with Carolina, but his speed and puck skills were evident. He joined Albany for two games after Lethbridge was eliminated from the postseason, and he will be given the opportunity to earn a roster spot next season.
Brett Carson, D
Acquired 4th round, 109th overall, 2004
Carson got his first sniff of the NHL this season, playing five games with the Hurricanes in December, and made a big impression. His 22- and 26-minute efforts in his first two NHL games proved that, while still rough around the edges, Carson was ready to carry his weight at the NHL level.
He was pointless with a minus-3 in five games with Carolina, but showed why he is a highly regarded defensive defenseman. With question marks surrounding the Canes defense next season, Carson will likely have an opportunity to earn a job in training camp.
Patrick Dwyer, RW
Signed as a free agent in 2006
Dywer was recalled from Albany four times in 2008-09, playing 13 games in Raleigh throughout the season. He scored one goal during his time with the Hurricanes, averaging more than eight minutes of ice time a game. But his biggest contribution came as a checker and penalty killer, where he proved more than capable of handling NHL duties.
While Dwyer faces an uphill climb in earning a spot with the Hurricanes next season, he could find a place in Carolina on the fourth line.
Dwight Helminen, C
Signed as a free agent in 2008
Helminen returned from Europe to sign with the Hurricanes and found his way onto the Carolina roster for 23 games. A reliable defensive center, Helminen provided depth down the middle for the Hurricanes and has even cracked the lineup for one of Carolina’s playoff games.
The 25-year-old had a goal and an assist with the Canes in less than seven minutes of ice time per game. Helminen will be a free agent following this season, but Carolina could look to keep him for depth.
Jakub Petruzlek, F
Acquired along with a conditional pick in 2008 for Brad Isbister in 2006
Petruzalek made his NHL debut in February and played two games with Carolina this season. He had one assist in his brief stint and showcased his hustle to the Canes’ front office.
He tied for the Albany River Rats point lead with 54 points in 77 games, but will need a new contract this offseason. If re-signed, Petruzlalek could compete for a checking line role with Carolina next season.
Bryan Rodney, D
Signed as a free agent in 2007
No player recalled to Raleigh this year made a bigger impression than Rodney, who in eight games with Carolina played well to lead GM Jim Rutherford to say he would have to play himself out of a spot with the Hurricanes next season.
Recalled three times during the season, Rodney showed the ability to make crisp outlet passes that rivaled any of Carolina’s defensemen. The 25-year-old had two assists with the Canes and finished with a minus-3, but it was clear he has the skill set to not only contribute offensively but also hold his own in Carolina’s end. With the Canes facing as many as four departures from their blueline (Dennis Seidenberg is a UFA, while Anton Babchuk is an RFA; both Nic Wallin and Frank Kaberle could be candidates for buyouts this offseason), Rodney seems to have the inside track for any openings.
Brandon Sutter, C
Acquired 1st round, 11th overall, 2007
The lasting image of Sutter’s rookie season will likely be of him laying motionless on the ice after a crushing hit from the Islanders’ Doug Weight. But Sutter held his own in 50 games with the Hurricanes this season, serving as one of the team’s top penalty-killing forwards while in Raleigh.
Sutter was assigned to Albany for a conditioning stint, then was a scratch with the Canes before returning to the River Rats once he was eligible to do so (when Red Deer, his junior team, completed its season). Sutter had no problems thinking the game at the NHL level, but the grind of his first pro season on his still-growing body led the Hurricanes to send him to the AHL and give him more ice time. With Carolina’s top three centers all signed for next season, Sutter will be battling to regain the fourth-line center job in 2009-10.