When the Carolina Hurricanes announced their team captains last week, one name was noticeably missing: Victor Rask.
Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk were named co-captains and Jeff Skinner a permanent alternate captain for the 2017-18 season. A year ago, when the Canes didn’t have a captain, all three served as alternate captains along with Rask – four players with A’s on their jerseys.
Why no Rask this year? Canes coach Bill Peters said it wasn’t that Rask asked not to be a captain. Nor was it some reflection on Rask’s play last season, when the Swedish center, by his own admission, was not consistently at his best.
Rask said Monday that he wasn’t miffed about the decision or consider it a slight.
“No, absolutely not,” he said. “We have really good leaders in this group. It doesn’t matter if you wear an ‘A’ or not. It’s just one those things.”
So no bruised feelings?
“No,” he said. “As I said, we have a lot of leaders and I just want to be a part of it. That’s the way we wanted to go and that’s the way we will do it.”
One way to lead is to be one of the team’s best players in games, when it counts. Rask did that in the season opener Saturday against the Minnesota Wild, contributing a goal and assist in the Canes’ 5-4 shootout victory.
Had Minnesota not scored in the final second of regulation – and the Canes still believe the Wild should have been called for goaltender interference – it would have been Rask with the winning goal to complete the comeback victory. His top-shelf shot from the right circle, off a pass from a spinning Sebastian Aho, gave the Canes a 4-3 lead with 1:34 left in the third.
“Really good play by him, that pass was right in my wheelhouse,” Rask said.
Peters said he met with Rask before the captains were announced to talk things over and said Rask was “real good about it.”
“He wants to concentrate on having a good year for himself, individually, that leads to us being good collectively,” Peters said.
Peters said in looking at the top two centers on each team in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference, that Rask is “right there with those guys and it’s a real good group.”
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, John Tavares, Nicklas Backstrom … it’s a strong collection of centers in the conference.
“He’s right there,” Peters said. “He just wants to concentrate on his game and make sure everything is in order and contribute to the team in that regard.”
Rask, 24, had shoulder surgery after the 2015-16 season, limiting his offseason conditioning. Given a six-year, $24 million contract extension and the “A” that he said was a “huge boost,” Rask finished with 16 goals and 45 points in 82 games last season – decent numbers but a dip from the year before and not what he or the Canes expected.
But Rask played for Sweden’s gold-medal winners in the 2017 World Championship after the season. He worked on a quicker, more explosive stride in training. He feels good.
There’s just no “A” this season.
“He’s going to have a good year,” Skinner said. “He’s still such a young guy and his future so bright that when he looks back this will really be just a footnote.”