RALEIGH — Operating under the assumption that it remains far too early to accurately judge the NHL readiness of any of the young players fighting for spots on the Carolina Hurricanes' roster, and also that one preseason game is not a valid sample for assessment, I nevertheless feel comfortable making this statement:
Jeff Skinner is going to be a heck of a player for the Hurricanes. It's only a question of when, and whether "when" is "now."
The camp buzz is all about Skinner. The Hurricanes' higher-ups have made it perfectly clear that they're high on Skinner and think he can be a goal-scorer in the NHL right now. And maybe he can. He certainly spent enough time around the net in Friday's 2-1 loss to Nashville.
"He is getting better," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said, "without question."
I'm not totally on board, not yet, as physically impressive as Skinner is for his age and as well as he played Friday. It takes an exceptional player to make the jump straight from juniors to the NHL, and even future All-Stars aren't always ready to make an impact immediately.
For now, I'll reserve judgment, but if the people making the decisions see Skinner that way, then it doesn't matter if I do or not.
So Skinner will no doubt take one roster spot. If Patrick O'Sullivan keeps scoring he's going to take another. That would leave two spots open if Jiri Tlusty's knee is ready to go, three if he isn't. Drayson Bowman, Zac Dalpe and Pat Dwyer look like the top candidates for those spots at this point.
That group is tough to separate. Bowman knows his way around his own end of the ice and hustled to beat out an icing Friday. Dalpe has impressed in camp and will be back in the lineup tonight after getting Friday off. Dwyer's work ethic is impossible not to respect.
Still, it's funny how quickly these things can change. For more than a year now, this was supposed to be the training camp where Zach Boychuk took his anointed place in the lineup, perhaps even on Staal's line. As things stand now, Boychuk would be among the odd men out.
The situation remains fluid, with O'Sullivan an example of how the depth chart can restructure itself based on only a few preseason performances, so anything's still possible. But cuts down to just a few extra players will come after tomorrow's game at Atlanta, and that hangs over everyone on the bubble.
"You come to the rink every day, and it's tough to shake," said Bowman, who is making a solid case. "It's a competitive camp, and it's really going to be a battle to the end. It's just about doing everything you can do, so you have no regrets."
On defense, there are fewer moving parts, with five players on one-way contracts, Jamie McBain likely to take the sixth spot and competition between Casey Borer, Brett Carson, Bryan Rodney and Bobby Sanguinetti for the seventh spot.
Based on the dangerously immobile Anton Babchuk and Jay Harrison pairing Friday - on the ice for both Nashville goals - that's an area that could still use an upgrade, but the Hurricanes' financial situation is unlikely to permit that.
The Hurricanes would be so lucky to have the same competition on the blue line they have at forward, where at least one NHL-ready player is going to end up in Charlotte. It won't be Skinner, who has to be returned to his junior team if he doesn't make the NHL roster, but that's looking like a moot point anyway.