DeCock: Fewer questions for Canes, but less time for answers

ldecock@newsobserver.comJanuary 14, 2013 

— For once, the Carolina Hurricanes enter training camp with more answers than questions, even if some of those answers arrived mere minutes before the team took the ice for the first time.

The offseason, long ago as it was, consisted of net gains and not losses, and the enthusiasm generated by the addition of Jordan Staal, Alexander Semin and Joe Corvo was only mildly tempered by the ridiculous lockout that delayed the start of camp until Sunday, as evidenced by the early crowd at PNC Arena.

Many of those fans arrived unaware the Hurricanes had handed their backup goalie position to Dan Ellis by shipping Brian Boucher back to the Philadelphia Flyers, or added the toughness they desired by acquiring Raleigh resident Kevin Westgarth from the Los Angeles Kings for Anthony Stewart and a pair of draft picks.

That settled those issues, although the Hurricanes would still like to add one more big forward if the opportunity arises. And even if there aren’t as many as usual, there are still important matters to be addressed and decided in this very abridged training camp.

Jordan Staal’s arrival might have gotten more attention, but he’s a known quantity. The same cannot be said of Semin, and how well the Russian adjusts to his new life and new team will have a lot to say about the Hurricanes’ success. He provoked a few oohs and aahs from the crowd Sunday, and linemate Eric Staal, for one, was impressed.

“It’s just fun to be on the ice, fun to be out there with some teammates and it felt good for Day 1,” Staal said. “He’s definitely got the skill. We know that, playing against him for years now.”

It also remains to be settled how many of the players who have been in Charlotte (AHL) will make the team. Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, Tim Wallace and Jeremy Welsh are all here fighting for what may turn out to be anywhere from 2-4 spots. Zac Dalpe is not at the moment, but is still very much a part of that battle. Ellis and defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti look to be aboard as well.

Wallace, 28, adds some much needed size. Bowman, Boychuk and Welsh might have to displace veterans Tim Brent and Andreas Nodl, but they’ll be given a fair shot – as will Dalpe, despite his current absence.

“Our young players in Charlotte have had a great first half,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller. “We just said to them, ‘There’s only 20 spots and competition is open over the week.’ It’s going to be trial and error a little bit in the beginning, but when the door opens you have to take advantage of it. I don’t think coaches have the luxury this year of being as patient as you would like.”

Some questions are more existential: Can a third line of Nodl, Jussi Jokinen and Pat Dwyer generate enough offense to take advantage of the matchups created by the two Staal lines? Who fills the Tuomo Ruutu spot with Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal? (Chad LaRose is getting the first look.)

Is this largely unheralded defensive corps capable of becoming more than the sum of its parts, as happened here in 2006 and 2009? Does the reasonably mobile group have the muscle and grit to weather the physical storm of a compressed schedule?

Training camp itself is only seven days long, one is already in the books and the opener looms Saturday. There may not be much to be decided, but given the timeframe, it’ll be to be decided quickly.

DeCock:, @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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