With the reacquisition of center Matt Cullen and free-agent signing of forward Jeff Hamilton this offseason, plus seven defensemen and two goalies under NHL-only contracts, the Hurricanes seem poised to begin the 2007-08 campaign without any prospects or rookies on their roster.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be jockeying for position among those looking to make their way to the NHL.
At forward, the Canes will get their first up-close look at 2007 first-round pick Brandon Sutter. It is possible that Sutter could make the Hurricanes, like Eric Staal did in 2003-04 in his first pro camp. But with 13 forwards signed to pro contracts, Sutter would need to have a huge camp to make the team. He will likely spend at least one more season in Red Deer of the WHL.
Bobby Hughes, Jakub Petruzalek and Nicolas Blanchard all start their first full professional campaigns after joining Albany late last season. All three should get looks at camp but seem destined to spend at least this season in Albany. Hughes, who was 10th in the OHL in scoring last year, has the best shot at earning an in-season promotion to Carolina.
CHL prospects Harrison Reed, Drayson Bowman, Justin McCrae, Stefan Chaput and Chris Terry will all attend camp but should be sent back to their respective major junior teams. Mike Angelidis split time between the Everblades and River Rats last year and will be fighting for a spot in Albany. Kirk MacDonald – another late-season addition to the River Rats – will be at camp but is signed to an AHL contract with Albany.
The biggest question entering camp will surely be "Is Bret Hedican and the rest of the defense going to be healthy and effective?"
So far, all indications are Hedican’s hip and back problems have improved. That being said, Hedican is 37 years old and is joined on the blueline by ageless wonder Glen Wesley (39 at season’s start), plus Frantisek Kaberle, who had to have minor knee surgery after arriving in Raleigh that will hold him out of the start of camp. Tim Gleason will be a key component, but his rough-and-tumble style has led to some injuries in the past. Mike Commodore and Nic Wallin have proven to be generally durable, and Dennis Seidenberg is a serviceable reserve for the big club, but the defense corps is certainly a concern.
If Hedican’s health again becomes an issue or another blueliner suffers an injury, it could open the door for a prospect to make an impression at camp and either earn a job at season’s start or make a case to be the first call-up from Albany.
Given the relative youth of the Canes’ defensive prospects, free-agent signing Noah Babin seems to have the inside track to be the first prospect called up. He will, however, need to move ahead of veteran Wade Brookbank, who was signed to a two-way contract this offseason to provide veteran depth on the back end. Though he was undrafted and has only 16 professional games under his belt, Babin played four seasons for Notre Dame and is already 23 years old. That experience and his performance last year in Albany would likely put him ahead of higher-rated, yet younger, prospects Casey Borer and Brett Carson, who could both use more seasoning at the AHL level. Mark Flood could also get consideration, while Steve Ward will attend camp but is under contract with Albany, not the Canes.
The Hurricanes are set in net, with Cam Ward coming back as the No. 1 netminder and John Grahame penciled in backup.
Justin Peters seems to be a lock as the starter in Albany, but veteran Michael Leighton, who was acquired at this year’s draft, would probably get called up in case of an injury at the NHL level. Daniel Manzato and Kevin Nastiuk will get looks in camp, but both seem destined for the ECHL, one as a starter with the Canes’ affiliate, the Florida Everblades, and the other to be loaned out to another team.
The Canes will hold physicals Sept. 13 and are set to begin on-ice activities Sept. 14. The first of six preseason games will be Sept. 16 against the Washington Capitals at the RBC Center. The Canes will then play Nashville in a home-and-home, the Capitals in Washington, and close out with another home-and-home with Columbus. Carolina opens the season at home against Montreal Oct. 3.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.