With the NHL trade deadline passed, player changes made and 20 games left in the season, Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters says he has the freedom to mix, match and experiment.
Want to take a look at rookie defenseman Rasmus Rissanen and let him make his NHL debut? Peters can do that.
Want to take a look at Elias Lindholm at center? Peters can do that.
Want to use both Jordan Staal and Eric Staal at center, or look at different defensive combinations? The freedom is there.
Peters said he was “toying around” with the lines Wednesday at practice, adding, “Everything is fair game.” That approach could continue until April, when Peters’ first season as an NHL head coach ends.
The Staals have played on the same line of late – Jordan at center, Eric on the left wing. And while Peters may again have them together Friday when the Canes host the Minnesota Wild, Eric was centering a line with Nathan Gerbe and Andrej Nestrasil on the wings Wednesday and Jordan Staal had Chris Terry and Alexander Semin as his wingers.
Lindholm, in his second NHL season, has been used mostly on the wing this season but was centering Brad Malone and Patrick Dwyer at practice.
“We’ve got all the freedom in the world,” Peters said. “We’ve got to make sure what we know exactly what we have.”
The Canes (24-31-7) no longer have defensemen Andrej Sekera and Tim Gleason, and forward Jiri Tlusty – all traded a few days in advance of the Monday deadline. Carolina acquired defenseman Jack Hillen in sending Gleason to the Washington Capitals.
Hillen made a quick trip to Long Island for the Canes’ game Saturday against the New York Islanders, then traveled to Chicago for the game Monday against the Blackhawks. He was given a personal day Wednesday to return to Washington, be with his family and pack for the move to Raleigh.
“He looks like he knows how to play and he’s an experienced guy,” Peters said. “We need to know exactly what we have there so we can make intelligent decisions this summer.”
Hillen is due to become an unrestricted free agent, as will Dwyer and defenseman Brett Bellemore. General manager Ron Francis’ to-do list may include preparing for the NHL draft, free-agent signings and trade possibilities, and perhaps using a contract buyout.
“We can’t go into the summer wondering if a guy can play in a certain situation,” Peters said. “We have to have the answers, whether a yes or a no.”
Rissanen is one of those question marks. While he has been effective this season with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, can he handle all that comes with playing the position in the NHL?
Peters said Rissanen, recalled Monday from the Checkers, could play against the Wild. If not then, Rissanen probably will play Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers.
“We want to get him in right away but we want to make sure we put him in a position to be successful,” Peters said.
No complaints from Rissanen. A sixth-round draft pick by Carolina in 2009, the Kuopio, Finland, native is happy to finally be getting a look from the big club.
“I had a lot of good games down there (in Charlotte) and I think I’m ready to play here,” Rissanen said Wednesday.
Rissanen, 23, had a goal and 10 assists in 52 games with the Checkers and now has played 240 AHL games in Charlotte. The NHL call-up was his first.
As for making his NHL debut, Rissanen said, “I’ve thought about it a little bit. It’s going to be special, a dream come true.”
Rissanen said he prides himself on being hard to play against in the defensive zone, and said he has worked in Charlotte on being better at joining the rush and “being more offensive and being more active.”
Regardless who’s in the lineup or at what position, the Hurricanes’ objective remains the same: win as many of the 20 games as possible and set a foundation for next season.
“We’ve been playing better lately and we want to keeping building for next season,” Lindholm said.