The Carolina Hurricanes will have three rookies on the back end — and an All-American look to it — for Friday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Defenseman Jaccob Slavin, recalled this week from the Charlotte Checkers (AHL), will make his NHL debut against the Leafs. Noah Hanifin will be playing his 16th NHL game and Brett Pesce his 12th.
Slavin, 21, will wear No. 74 and will be paired with Justin Faulk, so there’s that to consider. Pesce, 21, will be with Ron Hainsey and Hanifin, the 18-year-old, paired with John-Michael Liles.
Slavin, like most rookies, said his first NHL game will be a “dream come true.” He said the games in Charlotte, in his first professional season, have prepared him for the system used by Canes coach Bill Peters and that he was used in all situations with the Checkers.
“It’s really helped me grow and has been a tremendous learning experience,” Slavin said.
Hanifin was born in Boston and Slavin in Denver. Pesce is a New Jersey native, Hainsey from Connecticut, Faulk from Minnesota and Liles was born in Indiana. Faulk and Liles have been members of U.S. Olympic teams — Liles in 2006 and Faulk in 2014.
“And it’s not just an all-USA group but all-college, too,” Hanifin noted.
True enough. Hanifin spent last year at Boston College and Faulk won an NCAA title in 2011 at Minnesota-Duluth. Pesce was at New Hampshire the past two years and Slavin at Colorado College. Hainsey played at UMass-Lowell and Liles at Michigan State.
“The veteran guys we will lean on quite a bit,” Peters said of the defensive pairings. “We need this veteran guys to talk to them and be a flaming influence.”
— The influx of the large Toronto media corps made for a crowded Canes locker room and Eric Staal again got much attention.
Staal has yet to sign a contract extension with the Canes, so that was one topic. Another was in trying to get the Canes back to winning and moving in the right direction again.
“Every night you have to make sure you’re ready to go competitively and have your mindset right,” Staal said. “It’s a tough league and you have to make sure you’re at your best every night, no matter where you are in the lineup, and it’s no different for me every time I go out there.”
Staal and Faulk are tied for the Canes’ scoring lead with 12 points and Staal has a plus-one rating through the first 18 games. Only Staal and defenseman Ryan Murphy, also plus-1, have plus ratings this season.
Asked about playing with the uncertainty of the contract extension, Staal said, “I’m doing just fine. To be honest, I haven’t thought about it a ton, I haven’t worried about it a lot.
“I’m more worried about what I’m doing here day by day to help this team. That stuff will kind of take care of itself.”
— Defenseman Ryan Murphy, who suffered a concussion last week against the Philadelphia Flyers, did some skating on his own before the morning skate. Murphy will miss his second game.
Taking the extra skating after the workout were forward Andrej Nestrasil and defensemen Michal Jordan and Tim Gleason, an unsigned free agent.
The lines at the skate had Eric Staal at center with Chris Terry and Kris Versteeg, Victor Rask with Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm, Jordan Staal with Joakim Nordstrom and Riley Nash, and Jay McClement at center with Nathan Gerbe and Brad Malone.
Cam Ward will be the starting goalie for the Canes (6-10-2), winless since a 3-2 overtime victory over the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 7. Skinner scored with 3.3 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. The Canes had lost the previous two games before Ottawa.
— While the Canes and Leafs (6-9-4) have similar records, Toronto’s five-on-five goal scoring differential is minus-2 (28 scored, 30 against.) The Canes are minus 18 (20 for, 38 against).
The Leafs also had four power-play goals and a shorthanded goal in beating Colorado 5-1 in their last game.