The Carolina Hurricanes had one of
the highest profile rookies on the roster in 81 of 82 games this season, and
Eric Staal ended up in the top ten for rookie scoring with 31 points in his
first year in the league. After that,
the Hurricanes rookie picture gets a little murky as it is with most
teams. Will this player or that break
through soon, eventually, or never, and become a full time contributor at the
For most of the rookies from
Carolina, 2003-04 was a year of baby steps, but it’s difficult to rule any of
them out just yet. And for Staal, he
graduates with honors heading into his sophomore year where even more will be
expected of him.
Eric Staal, C – Selected in the first round, 2nd overall, in
the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. (Age 19)
It was expected that the second
overall pick in the 2003 Entry Draft would spend another season in Peterborough
of the OHL to help in his development, but when he had a stellar pre-season,
leading all players with pre-season goals, the Hurricanes were practically
forced to keep the then 18-year-old with the club. That type of scoring was just what they needed for the regular
season and so they couldn’t let Staal return to junior. It also didn’t hurt that a veteran like Jeff
O’Neill was already a fan of Staal, calling him the best player in camp. And so the Canes signed Staal to a
three-year contract for a 2003 draftee maximum base salary of $3.72 million.
Early in the season he began to draw
comparisons to Joe Thornton, who was the first overall pick in 1997. On October 23rd, in the sixth
game of his career, Staal notched his first career goal against the Bruins in
the first period that was assisted by O’Neill on a 2 on 1 rush, and then in the
third he got his first assist on an O’Neill goal in a 2-0 victory.
However, rookies almost never make a
seamless transition to the NHL, and it was no different for Staal. He ended with a very respectable 31 points
in his first campaign, higher than Thornton who collected only 8 in his rookie
year through 55 games, but Staal wasn’t able to keep the Hurricanes from having
the worst goal production in the NHL for the 2003-04 season (2.10 GFA), which
contributed greatly to them missing the playoffs for the second straight
There were ups and downs in Staal’s
first season to be sure. There was the
coaching change in December, and then in early February Staal played in the
YoungStars game in Minnesota at the All-Star weekend where he opened scoring in
the game, and hit the post a few times after that. He had an assist in his first game after the All-Star break and
then proceeded to go through a long slump of 11 games without a point. He had a six game pointless streak in March
during which he missed his only game with a torso injury, but then he ended the
season strong with 4 points in the final 5 games. It was undoubtedly a tough season for Staal to go through but he
gained a lot of valuable experience even without a playoff run.
No one doubts that when Staal, 6’3”
and 182 lbs, has body size to match his hockey ability he’ll surely be a
superstar in the league. And being
ninth in scoring among rookies this season was a strong first step in that
Ryan Bayda, LW – Selected in the third round, 80th overall, in the 2000
NHL Entry Draft. (Age 23)
A lot of ink has been used already
in covering Ryan Bayda’s young career, and he has long been expected to give
the Hurricanes some scoring talent on the left side.
Not a big player, Bayda had a
stellar college career with the University of North Dakota, amassing 146 points
in 127 games. He then went on to play
for the Lowell Lock Monsters of the AHL and had 45 points in 56 games prior to
this season. And he even had the
beginnings of a breakthrough at the NHL level last season when he collected 14
points in 25 games. But the quick and
undersized Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native wasn’t able to stick with the team
out of training camp this season and was sent back to Lowell to gain more
In total, he had a decent season in
the AHL, earning 22 points in 34 games, but the majority of his time was spent
with the Canes. He was first called up
on October 23rd after he had 6 points in 4 games with Lowell,
earning an AHL player of the week honor along the way, and he wasn’t sent back
until January 13th. In that
time, he played in 31 games but only managed to notch 2 goals and 1
assist. After trades and injuries, the
Hurricanes gave Bayda another shot and called him up on March 10th,
and in 13 games he got his final 3 points of his NHL season. He was given some opportunities on the top
line with Francis and O’Neill, but most of his season was spent on the checking
line, which can partially explain his lack of output. But it is still a bit of a mystery where his scoring went this
season with the Hurricanes after his strong showing last year.
It was a step back for Bayda, but
not so bad that he would be given up on just yet. He was a team worst -14 for the year, but not far behind were
Francis and O’Neill who were both -12.
With such a strong start at the AHL level this season, followed by
futility with the Hurricanes, perhaps lost confidence is to blame, and it could
have extended to his play at the AHL level later in the season as well. Last season he had had a .81 PPG with the
Lock Monsters, but in 2003-04 his AHL PPG was .65.
Allan Rourke, D – Acquired via trade from Toronto Maple Leafs for Harold
Druken on May 29, 2003. (Age 24)
Rourke made his NHL debut on October 28th
in a 3-0 win over the San Jose Sharks, while his first point wasn’t until
February 23rd in a 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs, the team that
traded him to the Hurricanes last year.
His first goal came in a 3-2 win over the Islanders on March 27th,
and he ended the year with three points.
At this time it looks like Rourke is
going to be a fringe NHL player, but there is a chance he could develop into a
His offensive ability on the backend
is one of the draws for the 24-year-old but he is going to need more time to
develop to see if he can be more than an AHL contributor.
Michael Zigomanis, C – Selected in the second round, 46th
overall, in the 2001 entry draft. (Age 23)
Zigomanis appeared in 19 NHL games last
season and scored a few goals along with an assist. As the 2003-04 season drew to a close, Zigomanis was again given
a chance to show what he could do with the Hurricanes, but had only 3 assists
in 17 games. Three of the games came during a mid-February call up, and the
rest in March.
A capable faceoff man with good
offensive ability and instincts, Zigomanis has been developing his defensive
abilities the last few years and is getting stronger in that area as well. At the AHL level his scoring is not an
issue, whatsoever. This season he led
the team easily with 52 points in 61 games with the next closest being Calgary
Flames prospect Martin Sonnenberg
who had 42 points in 48 games.
The 23-year-old has decent size, and
has been successful in the AHL but, like Bayda, the Hurricanes are left waiting
for him to turn it up at the NHL level.
He’s got more chances coming next season, and is expected to stick at
some point in the near future.
The Rest of the Rookies (under 5 games played this season)
Czech Republic born Tomas Kurka had a decent mini-campaign
with the Hurricanes last season, getting 3 goals and 2 assists in 14
games. This year, however, he was
statistically invisible at left wing in three games, with 3 shots on goal as
the only evidence he played. It was
just three games, of course, and at 22 years of age Kurka’s future looks
bright. He scored a goal in his first
game last season, and he was in a three-way first place tie for goal scoring
among Hurricanes prospects in Lowell this season with 17 (Zigomanis and Pavel Brendl were the others).
Damian Surma was called up for the final
game of the regular season and earned an assist. Last season Surma also appeared in one game for the club, and had
one goal. That makes him one of the few
point per game rookies for the Hurricanes.
All kidding aside, the 23-year-old is expected to be a checking line
winger in his career, but he should be given another chance to keep his point
scoring streak going when next the NHL season begins, if the Hurricanes
franchise still exists after the CBA fallout.
Brett Lysak got the chance to play in
his first NHL game on March 19th when Staal went down with a torso
injury. The 23-year-old only played in
one other game after but in total he had only 6:47 of ice time in 2003-04. It was only a taste of the NHL for the
former WHL scoring sensation from Edmonton, Alberta. His career appears to be heading in the direction of a checking
line center, and his strong skating and feisty play will aid in that role.
Finally, defenseman Brad Fast also made his NHL debut, and
it came in the final game of the season.
In it, the 24-year-old scored his first career goal, and it wasn’t
meaningless within the context of the game.
With 2:26 left in the third and the Hurricanes down 6-5 against the
Panthers, Fast potted the game-tying goal, sending the match to overtime. And in overtime the future power play
specialist came close to assisting on the game winner. With Lowell, Fast made it to 18th
in the AHL for defenseman scoring with 25 points (10 goals, 25 assists). Fast was originally drafted 84th
overall by the Hurricanes in 1999.