What now for the Carolina Hurricanes?
Two games into the preseason schedule and the Canes are dealing with the loss of Jordan Staal, out indefinitely with a broken right leg.
Staal is the Canes' best defensive center, and on a team with generally little size its biggest, strongest player. He has served as an alternate captain. He adds so much to the lineup and in the locker room.
A little after noon Tuesday at PNC Arena, Canes coach Bill Peters was talking about Staal's potential and what he could offer to the team this season.
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"Jordan is a hard guy to play against," Peters said. "He's an easy guy to put out there as a coach because he's responsible defensively and has a great body and can wear on guys. You start playing certain teams and they have big centers and he's a great matchup guy, but we want him to play in both ends of the rink.
"There's more offensive upside there. We're not going to use him solely to check. He's going to be with guys that are going to be able to generate offense."
Nine hours later, in Buffalo's First Niagara Center, that plan took a hard turn.
Staal and the Sabres' Josh Gorges tangled in front of the benches, the two fell to the ice and Staal was left grimacing in pain. He had to be helped to the locker room and was on crutches after the game. General manager Ron Francis later said Staal suffered a broken bone in the lower right leg.
How long will Staal be out? Until he returns to Raleigh and the doctors make a complete prognosis, no one can say.
In the short term, Elias Lindholm likely will be moved from wing to center and could center a line Wednesday night in the preseason game against the New York Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y. Center Victor Rask could begin the regular season on the Canes' roster.
Rask, 21, played well in the recent Traverse City (Mich.) prospects tournament and has been sharp in Canes training camp. The 6-2, 200-pound Swede is coming off his first full professional season -- with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) -- and already had made a good impression on Peters and his staff with his overall play before Staal's injury.
The Canes have other options at center. Riley Nash centered the third line last season. Center Jay McClement was signed as a free agent in the offseason. Brad Malone, another free-agent signee, played center while in the Colorado Avalanche system.
Staal, 26, had not missed a game since the 2012 trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins, playing all 48 in the lockout-shortened 2013 season and 82 last season. He had been injury-free since a tough run in Pittsburgh late in 2010 when he was sidelined after foot surgery, then fractured his hand when hit by a puck in a Pens practice.
Staal made some changes to his offseason training regimen this summer, traveling with brother Eric to Connecticut to consult and work with trainer Ben Prentiss, whose NHL clients at Prentiss Hockey Performance include the Canes' Nathan Gerbe.
During the Canes' informal skates before training camp began, Eric Staal said he sensed Jordan was ready for a special season.
"I think it's a big year for him," Eric Staal said. "He took this summer serious, as far as training goes. He's definitely in the best shape I've ever seen him in. He has to feel confident about that and can go from there."