The Carolina Hurricanes will have six goalies in preseason training camp when they take ice for the first time Friday at PNC Arena.
But forget about a numbers game in net. All eyes quickly will be on just two: Cam Ward and Eddie Lack.
It’s an interesting twosome. Ward is the incumbent, the franchise goalie, the one who helped the Canes win the 2006 Stanley Cup as a 22-year-old rookie. Lack is the newcomer, younger, Swedish, engaging, ready to compete to be the No. 1 guy but not openly pushy about it.
“I’m just here to help the team as much as I can,” Lack said this week. “If they want me to play, I feel like I’m ready for that next step in my career where I can play a lot.”
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Both Ward and Lack are in the final years of their respective contracts, so that adds another dynamic. There has been talk of Ward and the Canes agreeing on an extension, but camp is beginning and the season beckoning without anything being signed.
“I’m just trying to take care of what I can control and that’s preparing the best I can to be great this year,” Ward said. “I feel when the time is right, that will all take care of itself.”
As will who will be in net. Canes coach Bill Peters plays no favorites. Get the job done and you get to play.
A year ago, Anton Khudobin came into training camp believing he would be the No. 1 goalie. But Ward was better. Khudobin spent much of last season as Ward’s backup, then was traded in June to the Anaheim Ducks.
Now, it’s Lack’s turn to challenge Ward.
“I kind of view it as a similar situation to last year with Anton,” Ward said. “We’re both going to be pushing each other to earn the right to be in the net. I feel that’s the way that it should be. We’ll take that into the exhibition (games) and then leave up to the coach’s decision as to what’s the best way to go.”
Lack, 27, was the Vancouver Canucks’ backup goalie the past two seasons – first for Roberto Luongo in 2013-2014, then for Ryan Miller last season.
“Each year everyone said I’d get 20, maybe 25 games,” Lack said, “and I ended up playing 41 games both years.”
Lack made the the most of his 41 appearances last season, posting an 18-13-4 record with a 2.45 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. With Miller out with an injury, he helped carry the Canucks into the Stanley Cup playoffs while becoming a fan favorite, with a large following on social media.
“It was fun,” Lack said. “It was just me waiting for my chance. The whole year I felt good but I didn’t think I got the opportunity to show it, you know.
“Too bad it took an injury to do that, but I was really happy to get the chance. Down the stretch I think I played some of my best hockey, especially in the NHL, so that was fun.”
Lack’s run ended in the first round of the playoffs against the Calgary Flames, when he was the losing goalie in three of four games and replaced by Miller. The Canucks were ousted in six games.
“I felt like I played three good games and one bad,” Lack said. “Obviously after the bad one I didn’t get another opportunity. I was disappointed we didn’t make it to the second round but it was a good learning experience for me and I was happy to get it.”
On the day Khudobin was traded to the Ducks, during the NHL Draft, the Canes obtained Lack from the Canucks. For Lack, it meant a new team, new division, new conference.
Many of his new teammates have no playoff experience. It has been six years since the Canes have been a part of the postseason – a frustrating dry spell for the franchise, for its fans.
If the Canes find a way to end that drought this season it’s likely Ward and Lack will have a lot to do with it. Ward would like the Canes to do more next spring than have a 10-year celebration of the 2006 Cup run.
“I’d love to see us get off to a good start and push to make the playoffs and see this city the way it was 10 years ago,” Ward said. “When that took place I don’t think there’s any better place to play hockey. That’s what we’ll strive for.”
Five camp questions
Will Noah Hanifin make the team?
Defenseman Noah Hanifin, the fifth pick of this year’s NHL Draft, left Boston College after his freshman year to play pro hockey. After missing the recent Traverse City (Mich.) prospects tournament because of an injury, the 18-year-old has a lot of work to do in camp to make the Canes’ roster.
If not Hanifin, then who on the back end?
Brett Pesce played well at Traverse City and Hadyn Fleury, the Canes’ first-round pick in 2014, is a year older, stronger and better. And there are a lot of defensive hopefuls such as Rasmus Rissanen, Danny Biega, Jaccob Slavin and Roland McKeown.
Are the forwards set?
It appears that way. There are 10 forwards on one-way NHL contracts and two others, Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm, who are locks. The addition of Kris Versteeg in last week’s trade with Chicago filled a spot. But the Canes might carry an extra forward or two on the regular-season roster.
The top line?
Canes coach Bill Peters has talked of looking at Rask centering Eric Staal and Lindholm. Two Swedes and a Staal. Interesting.
The camp surprise?
Keep an eye on Sergey Tolchinsky. The Russian forward is small but a sniper, and showed off some slick offensive moves at Traverse City.