Bill Peters is eager to get started. He’s ready to lace up the skates, put on a whistle and take the ice with the Carolina Hurricanes.
At 49, Peters is a first-year NHL head coach directing his first NHL training camp. While his big-picture job is to mold the Hurricanes into a playoff-caliber team, this training camp is more about about quickly learning new systems and Peters’ way of doing things.
On Friday, on the ice at PNC Arena, that job begins. The players’ medical tests have been completed, and they all posed Thursday for team photos.
“It’s real exciting,” Peters said. “From the beginning, you’re coming in your office, but it’s different (before camp). You’re doing your work and getting prepared. But now ”
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The Canes invited 51 players to training camp and will play seven NHL exhibitions – the first Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets at PNC Arena.
Team captain Eric Staal said he expects an immediate emphasis on “the work ethic, the execution and the habits you develop and want to build going into a season.” The competition, especially with a new coach promising a “clean slate,” should be intense.
Here’s a look at some of the questions to be answered in training camp.
Who’s the No. 1 goalie?
Cam Ward wants to be the guy, but so does Anton Khudobin.
Khudobin had the best goaltendering numbers last year, enough to stake his claim to the No. 1 job. Ward has a Conn Smythe Trophy – albeit eight years old – in his house and has long been the franchise goalie.
Peters has said the two have a lot of practices and the seven exhibitions to make their case. Some early back-to-back sets in the regular season and a number of road games could allow both to get in and play.
“We’re going to need them both,” Peters said.
How long will the learning curve be?
Peters doesn’t think the players will need a long adjustment period to learn his systems and style of play. Neither does center Jordan Staal.
“There are always the little details you can work on, like face-off plays and other things and that stuff will come with a little bit of time,” Staal said. “But for the most part, in terms of getting the system down and working out the kinks, hopefully it will happen pretty quick.”
Who’s on the lines?
Peters has talked of having Eric Staal centering Jiri Tlusty and Alexander Semin. The initial groups for camp were announced Tuesday and there was Jordan Staal with Tlusty and Semin, and Eric Staal with Skinner and Elias Lindholm. Riley Nash was placed with Nathan Gerbe and Zach Boychuk, and Jay McClement with Brad Malone and Patrick Dwyer.
Peters also has broached the idea of having Eric and Jordan Staal on the same line at times.
“Wherever he uses me, whether with Jordan or different spots up and down the lineup, I’m just happy to be on the ice,” Eric Staal said.
What player could surprise?
Forward Victor Rask comes into camp off an impressive performance in the Traverse City (Mich.) prospects tournament, finishing with four goals and four assists in four games. Also showing some offensive flash was Sergey Tolchinsky, a forward who has some flair to his game.
But someone could show some real grit in camp and earn a spot on the fourth line. Brock McGinn, Patrick Brown, Ben Holmstrom and Brendan Woods are among the forwards who will look to stay in Raleigh and not take the trip to Charlotte and the AHL Checkers.
Can Haydn Fleury make the team?
Fleury was the No. 7 overall pick of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and another No. 7 pick – Jeff Skinner – came into camp four years ago, made the Canes’ roster and had an immediate impact.
But Skinner is a forward, a goal-scorer, a sniper. His offensive skills allowed him to make the jump from junior hockey to the NHL, offsetting his defensive deficiencies.
Fleury is a defenseman, and while he has good size at 6-3 and 207 pounds, skating ability and smarts, the Canes have eight D-men ahead of him who played 40 or more games in the NHL last season.
“He does a lot of good things, but it’s a tough position for a young guy to play,” general manager Ron Francis said.
Odds are, Fleury will head back to the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. But that’s what camp is for – to make decisions.