Bill Peters will have his say as the Carolina Hurricanes’ new coach, and Ron Francis will weigh in as general manager.
As for the Canes’ forwards, and there will be a lot of them at preseason training camp, all they can do is compete and hope the numbers game works in their favor when the final roster is set.
The Canes weren’t active in NHL free agency this year. A part of that decision, Francis said, was to allow some players drafted and developed by the organization to have their opportunity to stick with the big team.
Forward Zach Boychuk, a first-round pick in 2008, led the American Hockey League with 36 goals last season for the Charlotte Checkers. Maybe it’s his time.
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“It’s at the point where you don’t want to ever say never but it’s kind of a make-or-break year,” Boychuk said.
Or Chris Terry. The forward, drafted in 2007, got in 10 games with the Hurricanes last season while also having a solid year in Charlotte.
“I spent some good time down there and learned to be a complete player,” Terry said of the AHL. “I think the next step is to be that kind of player up here and be a full-time player in the NHL.”
Brock McGinn and Victor Rask are two younger guys drafted by the Canes who should be on the training camp roster. They’ve been competing for Carolina in the Traverse City (Mich.) prospects tournament.
But the signing of free-agent forwards Jay McClement and Brad Malone could complicate things for the Boychuks, Terry and others looking to make the team.
Both McClement and Malone have one-way contracts. Both were signed to address specific needs.
“McClement, he’s a big guy,” Francis said. “He’s good on faceoffs, he’s a good penalty killer, he’s a responsible guy. Malone is big. He skates, he’s physical, he bangs bodies, which is something we felt we didn’t have in that role.”
The addition of the two forwards – McClement played for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and Malone with the Colorado Avalanche – could leave just one open forward spot in the lineup. The Canes also could opt to carry an extra forward or two on a 23-man roster to begin the season.
“There are spots that are open and guys know that,” Francis said. “They’ll be fighting and battling to get those spots.”
And it just won’t be Boychuk, Terry, McGinn and Rask battling. Patrick Brown, Ben Holstrom, Brendan Woods … it’s a long list.
“I’ve been on the other side of that the past three years going into training camp (with the Avalanche) – everybody fighting for a job,” Malone said. “Whether you have a one-way contract or two-way contract, it doesn’t matter. They’re going to take the best guys they think can make this team a winner.”
McClement, 31, was brought in to replace Manny Malhotra as the fourth-line center and be counted on to take key faceoffs. Francis also wanted more size and bite on the fourth line, and Malone is listed at 6-foot-2, 207 pounds.
Malone, 25, describes his play as “pretty north-south” and said his role was to “be physical and be responsible on both sides of the puck, especially on the defensive side of things.”
Looking at the Canes’ forward mix, Peters’ top six forwards could include Eric and Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Alexander Semin, Jiri Tlusty and either Nathan Gerbe or Elias Lindholm. Third-line possibilities include Riley Nash, Pat Dwyer, Boychuk and Terry. McClement and Malone appear slotted for the fourth line. That’s 13 forwards.
But the Canes like McGinn’s grit. Rask has played well at Traverse City. Brown was signed out of Boston College this year and impressive in the Canes’ prospects camp in July. Sergey Tolchinsky is an intriguing player.
Boychuk, 24, had the 36 goals last season and was second in the AHL in points (74). In 11 games with the Canes, he had a goal, three assists and a plus-2 rating – solid numbers, but ultimately not good enough to stay up.
“You can’t play scared when you get here,” Boychuk said. “You can’t be over-thinking things. You have to let your instincts take over. That’s what I’ve learned the last couple of years and hopefully it helps me this year.”
The Canes begin their on-ice work in training camp Friday. Let the numbers game begin.