Carolina Hurricanes

Canes’ Rask learning on the job

The Canes Victor Rask (49) works against the Buffalo Sabres' Cody McCormick (8) during a preseason NHL game.
The Canes Victor Rask (49) works against the Buffalo Sabres' Cody McCormick (8) during a preseason NHL game. cseward@newsobserver.com

Victor Rask was all set for a shootout attempt for the Carolina Hurricanes, intent on helping secure a victory over the Buffalo Sabres.

Rask skated up to the puck at center ice Tuesday and was on his way toward the Buffalo net.

The problem: The puck didn’t come with him.

Rask overskated the puck and whiffed on it. Luckily for him, he didn’t touch it and was able to circle back, retrieve it and try again. Didn’t score, though.

“Obviously that’s something that can happen to anyone,” Rask said Friday, smiling. “I was thinking, ‘Is this really happening?’ I’m not sure what happened. It’s never happened before, where I left the puck.”

Canes coach Bill Peters had an easy explanation.

“It’s called nerves,” Peters said. “He was a little bit wound up.”

But those are the things that do happen when you’re a rookie in the NHL. Everything is a new experience, there’s much to be learned and a rookie has to feel his way.

A year ago, Elias Lindholm was the rookie Swede in the Canes’ lineup. This year, Rask is that Swedish rookie.

The two have been linemates – Rask at center, Lindholm on the right wing. Jeff Skinner, who missed the first four games because of a concussion, was the left wing on the line in Friday’s practice.

Skinner was taken off injured reserve Friday and should play Tuesday when the Canes begin a four-game Western road trip against the Winnipeg Jets.

Rask, 21, has gotten increasingly more minutes in each game after making the NHL roster in training camp. He had a season-high 20 minutes, 30 seconds of ice time Thursday in the 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Rangers.

“Just trying to be consistent and play hard every game – that’s my focus,” he said.

Rask does not have a point but has been sound defensively. He has been particularly strong in the faceoff circle, as have the Canes, who lead the NHL in faceoff percentage (59.1). Through Thursday’s games, the Canes’ Riley Nash was fourth in the league (64.9 percent), Rask ninth (59.6) and Jay McClement 10th (59.4).

Rask said it was an area of his game he developed at a young age growing up in Leksand, Sweden, and also credits the help of Canes assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour.

“I’ve been playing centerman since I first started playing hockey, so I’ve been taking faceoffs,” he said. “It’s important. You get to start with the puck and I’m a guy who wants the puck a lot.”

McClement is a veteran player and Nash has become more proficient in the circle. But Peters said it was unusual to see a young player come into the league and do as well as Rask, a second-round draft pick in 2011 who played his first full pro season a year ago with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers.

“You notice it with young guys coming out of junior, they’re not as strong as an older guy and next thing you know they get dominated on the faceoffs,” Peters said. “That hasn’t happened to Victor.”

Lindholm, the Canes’ first-round draft pick in 2013, struggled on draws last season – winning 46 percent – but has won seven of 11 this season. But he’s not completely happy with his play, earning one assist in the Canes’ 0-2-2 start.

“You always want to produce goals and help the team to win,” Lindholm said. “I started off pretty slow and I’m feeling better and better. I need to keep working hard and hopefully the goals and points will come and we will win.”

Peters said Lindholm had been inconsistent but said the winger was strong on the puck and worked hard Thursday in the loss to the Rangers.

“He probably hasn’t had the puck on his stick as much as he would like, but hopefully that’s something that changes on this trip,” Peters said.

Lindholm is from Boden, Sweden, which he said is about a half-hour from Leksand. He played with Rask on Sweden’s national junior team and now is on the same line in the NHL.

“It’s always good to play with a good, smart center like him who works hard on both ends of the ice,” Lindholm said. “Hopefully we can create some more chemistry and start producing goals.”

Even some shootout goals.

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