Canes forwards sense career 'window' closing

calexander@newsobserver.comSeptember 17, 2013 

— Maybe they can hear the footsteps. Or sound of skates.

If not, maybe they should.

For the past few years, Drayson Bowman, Zac Dalpe and Zach Boychuk always seemed to be among the hot names in Carolina Hurricanes training camps, a trio of young forwards seemingly linked together, all looking to play their way onto the roster and stay there.

Now, they’re a little older. Soon, they could be the ones being pushed by Brock McGinn, Victor Rask, Brody Sutter, Sergey Tolchinsky and others.

“I think they all know where they are in their careers,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said. “This is an important camp for them. Because, you know, as everyone’s career is going along now, you’re talking about the McGinns and the Rasks, and there’s a new bloodline coming through and pushing the envelope.

“The reality is you have a window of opportunity and it’s only for a few years and you have to grab it when you can, because the next crop of young guys are right on your heels.”

The Hurricanes will play the first of six preseason exhibition games Wednesday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets at PNC Arena. Cam Ward will be in net and forward Elias Lindholm, the Canes’ first-round draft pick this year, will play his first game against NHL competition.

Bowman and Dalpe will be in the lineup – Bowman on the top line with Eric Staal and Alexander Semin. Boychuk will not play, but with the Canes set for three road games in three nights beginning Thursday, he’ll get his chance this week.

Bowman is 24 and Dalpe and Boychuk are both 23. The three have spent the past three or four seasons bouncing between the NHL and the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League.

All have had outstanding NHL games but not enough of them. After the NHL lockout ended in January, Boychuk started the Canes’ season opener against Florida on a line with Staal and Semin, but did not play another game with Carolina.

“It’s a matter of these guys being consistent and playing the game well, not only with the puck but without the puck,” Muller said. “This is their opportunity.”

“I want to be a full-time NHL player,” Boychuk, who scored twice in Saturday’s scrimmage, said. “I took this summer to really prepare (and) now I want to prove some people wrong.”

Bowman was moved to Staal’s line after Jiri Tlusty was injured Friday. In Sunday’s Red-White game, Bowman had a goal and an assist for the Red Team, and Dalpe scored for the White.

Tlusty has returned to practice and soon should reclaim his spot on the Staal line – Muller calls it “The Big Three.” But Bowman, who played 37 games for the Canes and 37 in Charlotte last season, has been impressive.

“He’s an NHL skater,” Muller said. “He’s got an NHL goal-scoring shot. He’s got the tools.”

Asked if he had tired of the trips between Raleigh and Charlotte, Bowman smiled.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I feel like I belong here. Hopefully I’ve shown that and I just want to keep it going in the exhibition games, to try and build on what I have done here and hopefully show I’m willing to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Dalpe will play on a line with Jeremy Welsh and Chris Terry in the preseason opener. Like Bowman and Boychuk, he can sense his career “window” is perhaps starting to close.

“My approach to the camps the last three years has been the same. I want to stand out on the ice and show what I can do and don’t go too far out of the box,” said Dalpe, who played 10 games with the Canes last season. “Play hard and be hard to play against. I just want to be a little more consistent and be a full-time NHL player.”

They all do. But chances are, all three won’t be.

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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