RALEIGH — Zac Dalpe was wearing a red jersey Tuesday and was the right winger on a line with Eric Staal and Alexei Ponikarovsky at the Carolina Hurricanes' practice.
Dalpe, 21, appears to have claimed a roster spot with the Canes, although neither Dalpe or Canes coach Paul Maurice will say that - yet.
But Dalpe's spot, on the top line, says a lot. It also leaves some other young forwards anxious, especially with roster cuts to be made this week.
Drayson Bowman, 22, is one of the forwards wondering who is staying and who will soon be at the Charlotte Checkers' training camp. So are Zach Boychuk and Jerome Samson. All three have stalls in the Canes' home locker room at the RBC Center, but that can change quickly.
"Obviously the intensity has picked up, as it should, but it was high to begin with," Bowman said Tuesday. "It can't get much higher for the guys competing for spots."
Everyone is looking for signs or hints, subtle or otherwise: Who's wearing what color jersey in practice, who's on what line, who's talking to the coaches in practice, what Maurice is telling the media.
The Hurricanes are making their first trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba, for tonight's exhibition game against the Winnipeg Jets. The Canes ripped the Jets 4-0 on Sunday in Charlotte, but will face a more veteran team tonight before a sellout crowd at the MTS Centre.
Maurice is taking 29 players but leaving four veteran forwards in Raleigh: Staal, Ponikarovsky, Chad LaRose and Tuomo Ruutu.
"We'll put players in (the lineup) that we feel either have something to prove or something to gain, players who may be right on the cusp of making our hockey team," Maurice said. "This is a big game for them."
For the young guys, it could be the make-or-break moment.
"Time is running out," said Boychuk, 21. "This game against Winnipeg is huge for me. Hopefully I'll get to play and show my stuff and show I deserve to be here. The pressure definitely is heightened."
Boychuk, Bowman and Samson offer an interesting contrast. Boychuk, from Airdrie, Alberte, was the Canes' first-round draft pick in 2008. Bowman, born in Grand Rapids, Mich., was a second-round selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
Then there's Samson, 24. A native of Greenfield Park, Quebec, he was undrafted, signing with the Hurricanes as a free agent in July 2007.
"I had to come in, prove myself and make an impression," Samson said.
Dalpe, Samson, Boychuk and Bowman all played for the Hurricanes last season but spent most of the year with the Checkers - the Canes' American Hockey League affiliate - and helped Charlotte reach the Calder Cup playoffs.
Used on a scoring line with the Checkers, Samson had 26 goals in 53 games and was named to the AHL All-Star Game. But in 23 games with the Canes, Samson mainly was used on the fourth line, hustling and banging with little opportunity to show his offensive skills.
"I get frustrated sometimes. I won't lie," he said. "I believe I belong here and I could play here. All my career I've kind of had a bumpy road, but I just get there somehow and keep proving people wrong."
Samson and Dalpe returned Sunday to Charlotte and scored in the win over the Jets at Time Warner Cable Arena, the Checkers' home ice. Samson's goal came after he won a puck battle in the Jets' zone, wheeled out of the corner and scored on a sharp-angled shot.
"I worked hard all summer and my mentality is 'no regrets,' " Samson said.
Bowman rejoined the Checkers for the playoffs last year after playing the last 14 regular-season games with the Hurricanes.
"It was enough but we need more," Maurice said. "He's still got something to prove."
Boychuk, Samson, and the others?
"All of them," Maurice said. "I don't have complaints about their training camps, but to get to that next level you're either going to have to have some special performances in games, in the practices, too."
Maurice realizes some young players are fixated on being on the roster on opening day, but his advice has been consistent.
"Keep knocking on the door," he said. "Eventually they either knock it down or it doesn't happen for them."