Canes' Muller: We want to give Staals chance on same line

calexander@newsobserver.comJune 27, 2012 

— The big trade was no sooner completed Friday night when the question arose: Would the Carolina Hurricanes have brothers Eric Staal and Jordan Staal playing on the same line next season?

Canes coach Kirk Muller said Wednesday that they would.

Well, initially. For starters, at least in some of the Hurricanes’ preseason exhibition games.

“I think that’s the great opportunity with training camp, to experiment,” Muller said. “We’ve got lots of (preseason) games. The first initial thing, right now, we definitely want to give them an opportunity to play together in those games and see if there’s chemistry.

“Lots of times, until you put guys together ... you know, you’ve got to get a feel for it. I know they have a little history from before. But I think it makes sense right now to start off with them and see how they work together.”

The Hurricanes were the talk of the NHL Entry Draft on Friday – in Pittsburgh, no less – when the deal was announced. Jordan Staal, who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the 2009 Stanley Cup and had become one of the league’s best two-way centers at 23, was traded to Carolina.

The Canes, in return, sent center Brandon Sutter, defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin and their first-round draft pick this year – No. 8 overall – to the Pens.

Eric and Jordan Staal both are natural centers and have primarily played at center during their careers. But Eric Staal played the wing for Team Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics and the two Staals played on the same line – briefly – for Canada in the 2007 World Championship in Moscow.

That was the “little history” referred to by Muller, who missed the draft last week as he attended to a family matter in his hometown of Kingston, Ont.

Muller said he hated to lose Sutter, who’s also 23. He was the Canes’ best defensive forward and an alternate captain.

“When you’re talking about elite players like this you’re always in a position where you have to give up some quality people,” Muller said. “In this case, with Brandon ... he was a special player – young guy, part of the young group that’s starting out and a part of the core.

“But we know it’s not easy to get players like Jordan. The opportunity presented itself and I think it makes our team better. He’s a big body, which we were hoping to get into our lineup up front. He’s versatile, he’s won, he’s young. It’s the type of player we want to be a part of our system here.”

Muller was at Raleigh Center Ice on Wednesday to watch the on-ice session of the Canes’ rookie conditioning camp, which runs through Saturday. So were Ron Francis, vice president of hockey operations, and Jason Karmanos, executive vice president and assistant general manager.

A lot of eyes were trained on Jeremy Welsh, the 6-3, 210-pound center from Union College who should be a candidate for a roster spot when the Canes’ preseason training camp opens.

Welsh, 24, signed as a free agent with the Canes in April, just hours after Union was beaten in the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla. He then played in the Canes’ regular-season finale against the Florida Panthers, making his NHL debut and holding his own, before returning to Union.

“He already looks a little bit stronger than the last game,” Muller said. “If I was him right now I’d look at the situation and say there’s opportunity her. … He’s the type of player we’re looking for, to get more size in our lineup.

“It’s up to him. He’s still got to earn that spot, but certainly there’s an opening there for him.”

Welsh said he understands the “earn it” part. He said he has been working out in Calgary with a personal trainer, aiming for this week’s conditioning camp.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity but I have to keep up my end of the bargain,” Welsh said.

“I just want to keep leaving a good impression.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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