The question was posed Monday to Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters: should forward Valentin Zykov have been up with the Canes a month ago?
Zykov, 22, was recalled from the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ AHL affiliate, last week and has quickly provided some offensive thump. The AHL scoring leader with 32 goals, the Russian winger has three goals and two assists in his four games with the Canes, scoring the game-winner Monday in a 4-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators.
Zykov’s goal came after forward Warren Foegele, called up Sunday, had scored the Canes’ first goal in his NHL debut. Foegele, 21, then earned the primary assist on Zykov’s goal in the second period after a quick shot from the slot.
“Yeah, it’s exciting,” Canes coach Bill Peters said after the game. “You know you’re happy for them. They’ve worked hard all their life and all of a sudden they realize their dream. Their dream is to make the National Hockey League and they score. They gave us real good energy.”
Many Canes fans are wondering what took so long to get them to Raleigh. Hurricanes management would say the reasons are two-fold: give them more time to play and develop at the AHL level, in a system similar to Carolina's, and help the Checkers reach the AHL playoffs for a second straight year.
But it's easy now to say that energy and offense was needed by the Canes in February, during a month when they were 4-6-3 despite playing 10 of 13 games at home. In nine of the games last month, Carolina scored two or fewer goals, including a shutout on home ice by the New York Islanders, the worst defensive team in the league.
Peters initially said the plan was for Zykov to play five games, let the Canes get an assessment of his play, and then return to Charlotte for the Checkers' playoff push.
“That might change,” Peters said after Monday’s morning skate. “We’ll have a much better idea after his fifth game, then a much better idea at the end of the year.
“He’s been good but we’ll see as we continue down the path. There’s some things he needs to work on for sure, obviously, every young guy does. But he’s been very solid.”
The plan for Foegele, 21, was to play a couple of games this week, get his first taste of the NHL, and go back.
A former third-round draft pick by the Canes, the Markham, Ont., native in his first professional season. But that plan, too, could change.
The Checkers, whose owner Michael Kahn is a minority investor in the Hurricanes, needed a strong late-season surge to qualify for the 2017 Calder Cup playoffs. With a 39-26-3 record this season under first-year coach Mike Vellucci, the Checkers go into the final stretch of the regular season in solid playoff position.
The Canes, in turn, have faded out of playoff contention, allowing an opportunity to take a look at younger players -- though many Canes fans wanted to see them a lot earlier.
Zykov and Foegele aren’t the only Checkers getting their chance of late. A shoulder injury also has shelved Canes defenseman Brett Pesce and Justin Faulk has been out with an injury, allowing defenseman Roland McKeown to be called up and get in more games.
McKeown, 22, had more than 16 minutes of playing time Monday and had a career-best plus-3 rating after being on the ice for the Canes’ first three goals.
Peters was quick to credit former general manager Ron Francis, who has been reassigned by owner Tom Dundon, and the Canes’ scouting staff for their contributions. Zykov and McKeown were obtained in trades, and through the draft the Canes added such younger players as Sebastian Aho, Brock McGinn, Noah Hanifin, Phil Di Giuseppe and Foegele.
Center Martin Necas, the Canes’ first-round draft pick in 2017, is spending another season in his native Czech Republic and has been impressive. Necas, who has good offensive instincts, was among the best performers in the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.
“Oh, there’s guys coming,” Peters said. “There’s lots coming.”