Valentin Zykov will make his NHL debut Thursday against the New York Rangers, but the Carolina Hurricanes won’t be easing the Russian forward into the lineup.
Zykov will be on Jordan Staal’s line opposite winger Sebastian Aho. Whether that’s the top line or second line — Victor Rask is centering Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm on another line — is debatable, but Zykov could get top-six minutes among the forward and be used on the power play.
“I think he’ll come in and give us some energy and should be physical,” Canes coach Bill Peters said.
Zykov, 21, was recalled Wednesday from the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ AHL affiliate, and has given Checkers coach Ulf Samuelson some strong, heavy play this season. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 224 pounds, he gives the Canes some needed size.
“With the first game there’s always a little nerves,” Zykov said after Thursday’s morning skate at PNC Arena. “I guess I need to remember it’s still the same game. It’s still hockey.”
Zykov, from Saint Petersburg, was drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Kings, 37th overall, in 2013. When the Canes dealt forward Kris Versteeg to the Kings in February 2016 ,at the NHL trade deadline, they got Zykov in return.
“I would say everyone is kind of surprised by trades,” Zykov said at the Canes’ preseason camp. “Trades are a part of hockey, so you have to be ready for that.”
Zykov spent most of the 2015-16 season, his first in professional hockey, with the Ontario Reign of the AHL. He said he was slowed by a bursa sac injury, but after the trade was able to get in two games the Checkers before the season ended.
Asked to describe his style of play, Zykov said, “Bring pucks to the net and create scoring chances. Go into the hard areas, win the battles.”
The Canes can use more of that after scoring 11 goals in their past six games (1-3-2). Zykov has scored 15 goals for the Checkers.
The Canes’ other lines Thursday will have Derek Ryan at center with Teuvo Teravainen and Lee Stempniak, and Jay McClement centering Joakim Nordstrom and Patrick Brown. Brock McGinn (upper-body injury) skated in a yellow, no-contact jersey and Phil Di Giuseppe (upper-body) did some work before and after the skate.
The defensive pairs were Jaccob Slavin-Justin Faulk, Noah Hannifin-Brett Pesce and Klas Dalhbeck-Ryan Murphy.
Cam Ward will be the starting goalie after Eddie Lack made the past two starts in road games at Arizona and Colorado.
The Rangers (43-22-2) have won their past two and three of four, ripping the Florida Panthers 5-2 on Tuesday. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said goalie Henrik Lundqvist and forwards Rick Nash and Michael Grabner would miss the game with injuries —- Antii Raanta, who shut out Tampa Bay 1-0 in his last start, will be in net.