Carolina Hurricanes

Young enough for you? Two rookie forwards, D-man on Canes’ opening-night roster

The Canes' Martin Necas (88) battles the Caps' Madison Bowey (22) for the puck during the second period of a preseason NHL game played between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Washington Capitals at PNC Arena on Sept. 29, 2017.
The Canes' Martin Necas (88) battles the Caps' Madison Bowey (22) for the puck during the second period of a preseason NHL game played between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Washington Capitals at PNC Arena on Sept. 29, 2017. cseward@newsobserver.com

Some of the guesswork during Carolina Hurricanes training camp has centered on whether rookies Martin Necas or Janne Kuokkanen could make the opening-night roster for the season opener.

Turns out, both will.

Canes general manager Ron Francis said Tuesday the two forwards were on the 23-man roster the team formally submitted to the NHL. Necas, from the Czech Republic, was Carolina’s first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and the youngest player in training camp at 18.

Another rookie on the roster is defenseman Haydn Fleury, 21, a former first-round pick who played last season for the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL.

Francis said veteran forward Lee Stempniak has been placed on injured reserve because of upper-body issues, creating the opportunity for Necas and Kuokkanen to make the roster. Defenseman Jake Bean, one of the Canes’ two first-round picks in 2016, was returned Tuesday to his junior team, the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League.

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The Canes' Janne Kuokkanen (59) avoids a check from the Caps' Nathan Walker (79) during a preseason NHL game played between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Washington Capitals at PNC Arena on Sept. 29, 2017. Chris Seward cseward@newsobserver.com

Kuokkanen, 19, was taken in the second round of the 2016 draft and left his native Finland to play junior hockey last season for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, finishing with 26 goals and 62 points in 60 games. After the season, he appeared in one Calder Cup playoff game for the Checkers.

Necas is allowed to play nine NHL games before triggering the first year of his three-year, entry-level contract. If he does not remain with the Canes, he could be assigned to Charlotte or return to the Czech Republic for another season with HC Kometa Brno in the Czech Extraliga, the country’s top professional league.

“Every game would be great, and if it would be nine games, it would be great,” Necas said Sunday. “Every game here is my dream.”

Necas said again Sunday that if he doesn’t stick with the Canes, his preference would be to go back home and compete for Brno. Francis has said he would let the player and his agent make that decision.

The Canes open the season Saturday, hosting the Minnesota Wild at PNC Arena.

Francis said the team would take it game by game with Necas, saying, “The biggest thing for us is making sure we do the right thing for him in his development, long term. We think his upside is tremendous. We think he is potentially a guy who can be a (No.) one or two center man for our organization for a lot of years.”

Necas, drafted as a center, was used at wing in the Canes’ final two preseason games. He alternated at center with Jordan Staal in Tuesday’s practice on a line with Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm.

“It’s been really exciting,” Necas said of camp. “It’s been great to be here with these guys and be part of this team.”

Asked if he surprised himself with how well he has handled his first NHL training camp, Necas said, “Maybe a little bit. I didn’t know if I would be here for a long time, so maybe a little bit.

“Everyone is so strong and fast. It’s the best hockey, best league in the world. … I just had to play my game and not be scared about some moves or scared on the ice. Just play with the puck and play my game.”

Kuokkanen also has played with confidence, first in the Traverse City (Mich.) prospects tournament before training camp and in preseason games. On Tuesday he was on a line with center Victor Rask and winger Teuvo Teravainen.

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip

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