They can’t really be called auditions, although they almost seem that way.
In the past few weeks, with the regular season beginning to wind down, the Carolina Hurricanes have brought in forwards from the Charlotte Checkers, their AHL affiliate. Derek Ryan made his NHL debut, at 29, played two games and scored a goal. Brendan Woods was recalled last week and played three games.
This week, it’s Brody Sutter. A former seventh-round draft pick by Carolina, he’s the latest to be called up from the Checkers and will play Tuesday in the Canes’ road game against the Washington Capitals.
“It could be one game, it could be two, and all you can do is try to extend it as long as possible and hopefully make an impression,” Sutter, who appeared in four games with the Canes last season, said Monday.
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No forward has extended his stay with the Canes longer this season than Phil Di Giuseppe. He’s now at 36 games and counting since his recall in early December from Charlotte, and has joined center Victor Rask and left winger Jeff Skinner in forming the Canes’ most productive line of late.
Di Giuseppe, 22, has goals in his past two games and five points in his past four.
“He’s had a good season for us,” Canes coach Bill Peters said Monday. “Our winning percentage when he has been in the lineup has been really good.”
All I’ve tried to do is work hard and prove I belong in this league and on this team.
Canes’ Phil Di Giuseppe
Di Giuseppe, who played college hockey at Michigan, made his NHL debut Dec. 5 against the Montreal Canadiens. He scored his first NHL goal three days later on the road against the Dallas Stars.
Last week, Di Giuseppe had another NHL first: a game-winning goal. With the Canes and Boston Bruins in overtime, he followed up a Skinner shot, gathered in the puck, pivoted and whipped it into the net for a 3-2 road victory at TD Garden.
Di Giuseppe had a hard time Monday explaining what followed next. He dropped down to one knee and swung his right arm in a motion that was part fist pump, part shooting an arrow, William Tell style.
“Just a spur-of-the-moment thing,” he said. “I’m not sure what it was. I was really excited.”
No complaints from Peters, who said, “Have some emotion, have some fun. Have some passion.”
When the Canes drafted Di Giuseppe, it almost went unnoticed. It was on the second day of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh, a day after the Canes’ big trade with the Penguins that brought Jordan Staal to Carolina.
The trade had Pittsburgh puzzling and overshadowed the rest of the Canes’ selections. Among those picks were Di Giuseppe and forward Brock McGinn in the second round, goalie Daniel Altshuller in the third and defensemen Jaccob Slavin and Trevor Carrick in the fourth.
Di Giuseppe called his three years with the Wolverines a “building block,” especially under the tutelage of longtime Michigan coach Red Berenson. In 2014-15, his first full pro season, the Maple, Ont., native had 11 goals and 19 assists in 76 games for the Checkers – decent numbers but nothing special.
But Di Giuseppe appeared to be in better physical condition and more intense at the Canes’ training camp this season. While he began the season with the Checkers, he finally got the call.
“All I’ve tried to do is work hard and prove I belong in this league and on this team,” he said. “Whether it’s scoring or hitting I just try to give them a little bit of a boost.”
One setback was his first diagnosed concussion. Di Giuseppe fell into the boards in the Jan. 2 game against Nashville, missing six games and then going to Charlotte for a brief conditioning stint.
Di Giuseppe returned to the Canes’ lineup Jan. 21 against Toronto. Now back on the line with Rask and Skinner, he has played with a physical edge, contributed points and looks like a player who should be in the Canes’ plans moving forward.
“You can never be too fast in this league and I want to work on my footspeed and quickness,” Di Giuseppe said. “That’s a big part of the game these days.”
One thing Di Giuseppe apparently is lacking is a nickname, and in a sport where everyone seems to have one – Skinny, Wardo, Nesty, Faulker.
“Just Phil,” he said, shrugging.