Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters keeps mentioning Victor Rask and the good things he has done in training camp.
That’s reassuring to Rask, 21, a Swedish center hoping to make the Canes’ roster.
“I’m always happy to hear when someone is happy about me, to get a compliment,” Rask said. “I’m just trying to do my best every day.”
With center Jordan Staal sidelined three to four months with a broken leg, Rask’s chances of playing for the Canes this season have improved exponentially.
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Monday, Peters said Rask and Riley Nash were being considered for the second-line center position – or “2-hole” as Peters calls it.
“Any injury is bad and especially when a key guy gets hurt who is a huge part of the team,” Rask said. “I will just continue to do my best and see how far that takes me.”
Rask was a second-round draft pick for Carolina in 2011. Some scouts believed he had first-round talent, but there were questions about his maturity and consistency on the ice.
Rask came to North America that fall and excelled for two seasons in junior hockey for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League.
He got a taste of the American Hockey League and professional hockey with the Charlotte Checkers during the 2012-13 season, getting in 10 games, then played his first full season with the Checkers in 2013-14, finishing with 16 goals and 23 assists in 76 games.
“It’s a learning process, your first year pro,” Rask said. “You have to stay consistent all the time. It’s the pro level and everyone is harder and tougher in the games. By the end of the season I was pretty comfortable with how I was playing and just built from that coming into this season.”
Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said Rask needed time to get accustomed to the grind of pro hockey – the travel, the games, the competition.
“He went through bit of a rough stage early but the last two months of the season he was one of our best players,” Daniels said. “He had a lot of patience with the puck and his hockey sense really stood out. For a young guy, he has no panic to his game and seems to make the right play every time.
“It’s a big jump from junior. It was a matter of just having that confidence he had in junior at the next level.”
Rask showed confidence in his play in the recent prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich., scoring four times and adding four assists in the Canes’ four games. He carried that into training camp, impressing Peters and management with his sound overall play.
“Victor Rask looks like he wants to push to be on our team and play some valuable minutes,” Peters said.
Rask played his first game against NHL competition last Tuesday against the Sabres, getting more than 17 minutes of ice time. On Wednesday, he had a little more than 13 minutes of playing time in a 4-2 win over the New York Islanders.
Rask was solid enough defensively and good in the face-off circle, winning 11 of 16 draws against the Sabres and eight of 11 against the Isles.
“Everyone knows it’s exhibition games but I felt pretty happy with the way I played and I’m excited to get in more games,” Rask said.
As for feedback from Peters, Rask said it has been the same: “Good job and keep working.”
Daniels said he noticed a difference in Rask, 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, in camp, that he appears stronger and is moving better. Rask, in turn, credits a good summer of conditioning in Sweden, with an emphasis on improving his leg strength.
With Staal sidelined, Peters said the big man will be replaced “by committee.” Rask wants to be on it.
“The opportunity is there, for me and for others,” Rask said.