Some young Canes hang on with the big club

Young players believe staying in NHL more beneficial than minors

Staff writerOctober 29, 2010 

— Carolina Hurricanes rookie Jeff Skinner has found a place to live in the area and no longer needs a hotel room.

In other words, the team has made the hard-and-fast decision that Skinner will be with the Hurricanes this season and not be returned to his junior hockey team.

With the New York Islanders sending rookie Nino Niederreiter back to juniors on Thursday, Skinner, 18, also is the youngest player in the league.

As for a couple of other Hurricanes rookie forwards, things are a bit more tenuous. Their hotel living continues.

Drayson Bowman and Zac Dalpe have been used in recent games on the Hurricanes' fourth line centered by Patrick Dwyer. Canes coach Paul Maurice has been pleased with the energy and effectiveness of the line.

But with Jiri Tlusty now back from a two-week conditioning stint with the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League and Patrick O'Sullivan still competing for playing time, the Canes have a glut of healthy forwards. Tlusty and O'Sullivan were scratches Wednesday as the Canes lost 3-0 to the Washington Capitals in their home opener at the RBC Center, but that could change.

The Hurricanes have a road game tonight against the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden, then return for a home game Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It's possible O'Sullivan and Tlusty each could play in a game.

"There's tension coming to the rink every day wondering what your fate's going to be," Bowman said before the Caps game.

Not that Bowman's complaining. It's a numbers game, and barring injuries, someone's going to the Checkers.

Tlusty, 22, has a one-way contract that pays him $500,000 whether at the NHL level or in the AHL.

He had major knee surgery after an injury in the AHL playoffs last season, and the two weeks of conditioning and five games in Charlotte have him eager to get in the lineup.

"The knee feels really good," he said.

O'Sullivan, 25, signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Canes as training camp began and has played in 285 NHL games. It's hard overlooking his experience.

"In order to be a pro, you've got to put all that out of your mind," Bowman said. "When you find out you're in the lineup, that all goes away and you focus on the task at hand. It affects you away from the rink more than it does here at the rink."

One hockey axiom is that most young players benefit more from playing, say, 20 minutes a night in the AHL than six a game as a fourth-liner in the NHL. It's more of a big-picture view of a player's overall development.

But Dalpe, 20, and Bowman, 21, are content getting fourth-line minutes with the Canes.

"People may not agree with that, but it's better for my mental standing here than to be down there [in the AHL]," Bowman said, smiling. "Anyone down there would tell you the same. I mean, the goal is to be in the NHL, and I want to do everything I can to stay here."

The pay is much better at the NHL level, of course. Dalpe's entry-level contract, for example, pays him $550,000 at the NHL level and $65,000 at the AHL level this year.

But it's more than about the money, Bowman said.

"The practices here have to be better than they are down there," he said. "Even though I've only played six minutes in a couple of games, I'm still getting better every game, and I don't think it's hindering my development, personally.

"Obviously, they [management] may feel differently. But I want to show 'em I can stay here, and if something happens where I should get an opportunity to play a few more minutes, I can jump up and take that."

Dalpe, who was playing college hockey at Ohio State this time last year, made his NHL debut this season but has been scratched in one game. Bowman has played in all eight in the Canes' 4-4 start, without a point.

Dalpe, who has one assist, said there's only one thing he can do: Keep his head down and keep working.

"Absolutely, especially as a young guy," he said. "As an older guy, you get traded here or something, it's an easier transition. But as a young guy you've definitely got to work."

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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