Canes Now

For Hurricanes’ Erik Haula, a knee scar is a reminder of how fast things can change

The long, fleshy scar on Erik Haula’s right knee is reminiscent of another time, the ragged kind once seen on football players from the 1960s and ‘70s.

In those days, a serious knee injury meant “going under the knife,” not the arthroscopic or keyhole surgeries that were to come and now are common.

Haula’s knee injury last season was very serious. And unique, the Carolina Hurricanes center said.

“The knee specialist said he has one in his career for a hockey player,” Haula said in a recent media interview.

Haula, 28, was playing for the Vegas Golden Knights last season when there was a hit along the boards in the neutral zone that appeared relatively innocuous. Patrick Marleau was the Leafs player and his hit on Haula a clean body check in the Nov. 6 game in Toronto.

But Haula took an awkward fall, his right leg twisting and bearing his weight as he fell backward.

“Dislocated patella with chipped bone and cartilage inside the knee,” Haula said of the injury. “There are certain things they can’t do arthroscopically. They have to open it up.”

The surgery, handled by Dr. Robert LaPrade, was done in Vail, Colo. What followed were months of painful rehab and repeat visits to Vail, with the carrot for Haula being the chance of possibly returning during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But the Golden Knights were eliminated in the first round by San Jose. Then came a trade, to Carolina, in late June.

“Ten weeks without walking is kind of tough and couldn’t drive for the first eight,” Haula said. “Mentally it tests you quite a bit. I probably wasn’t the most pleasant person. It was a long process and I needed a lot of help. But the support, and being positive, is a big thing.”

Getting back on the ice

Haula’s wife, Kristen, was supportive and positive -- huge in his recovery, he said. And eventually he got back on the ice.

A native of Pori, Finland, Haula said he skated about 30 times before Vegas’ season ended, noting, “I got after it pretty good.”

The Golden Knights couldn’t duplicate the magical playoff run of their inaugural season of 2017-18, when the expansion team reached the Stanley Cup final and became the NHL’s best feel-good story. Haula was a big part of the Vegas success that season, scoring a career-high 29 goals after being taken in the expansion draft by the Golden Knights.

Haula played just 15 games before the injury last season and had two assists in the Golden Knights’ 3-0 win over the Canes in Las Vegas on Nov. 4, the game before the injury in Toronto. He said his return, had Vegas made the second round of the playoffs last season, was not completely assured.

“If I’m honest it was probably good that I didn’t play, looking at just the big picture and knowing how I felt a month ago, two months ago,” he said. “That will probably make me feel better and last longer long term.”

For much of the Canes training camp, Haula has been the third-line center behind Sebastian Aho and Jordan Staal. He played in four of the six preseason games, notching one assist, proved to be responsible defensively, was used on the penalty kill or power play and was very effective on faceoffs.

Carolina Hurricanes forward Erik Haula answers media questions during preseason training camp at PNC Arena. Chip Alexander

Sharing a bond

With a player coming off a knee injury, there are always questions, especially in a sport with the grind of 82 regular-season games. For the Canes, a healthy and productive Haula is needed.

Canes forward Nino Niederreiter was once Haula’s teammate with the Minnesota Wild and now shares another bond with him: both were traded to Carolina. Haula, who played college hockey at the University of Minnesota, spent parts of four seasons with the Wild, playing 266 games -- that after being a seventh-round draft pick by Minnesota and the 181st player chosen in the 2009 NHL Draft.

“He’s a great skater who can make great plays for you,” Niederreiter said. “Coming off an injury like that, you’re just happy to see him out there again. The way he plays he’s capable of doing anything for the team. He’s a strong guy and he knows what his role is.”

Being traded is always a shock to the system but for Haula, listed at 6-0 and 200 pounds, the transition to a new team has been a mostly smooth one. He has one year remaining on his contract, with a salary-cap hit of $2.75 million, and is due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

That’s not on his mind, for now. It’s returning to the form he showed before the injury.

“At first when I got the surgery it was, ‘You’ll be lucky if you’re ready for training camp,’” he said. “Those things are not things easy to hear. For sure mentally I’ve gotten stronger through the whole thing and I’m blessed that I feel good and a hundred percent ready to go for the season.”

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Carolina Hurricanes forwards

With jersey number, name, birthplace, age, position, height and weight

20 Sebastian Aho

Rauma, Finland, 22, Center, 6-0, 176

The Canes’ most dynamic offensive player, Aho settled his contract issues by signing an offer sheet from the Montreal Canadians that the Canes quickly matched. Now, can he top last season’s 30-goal, 83-point output? Cap hit: $8.454 million.

11 Jordan Staal

Thunder Bay, Ont., 31, Center, 6-4, 220

The Canes have a new team captain for 2019-20 and Staal is the man. His work ethic and willingness to match up against the opponents’ best forwards is something Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour can identify with and respects. Cap hit: $6 million

86 Teuvo Teravainen

Helsinki, Finland, 25, Wing, 5-11, 191

Still seemingly an underrated player, he might have the nastiest shot on the Canes. Joined Aho on the penalty kill last season and the added aggressiveness helped his overall game. Was second to Aho in points with 76. Cap hit: $5.4 million.

21 Nino Niederreiter

Chur, Switzerland, 27, Wing, 6-2, 218

Did Minnesota general manager Paul Fenton really trade “Nino” to the Canes for Victor Rask last season? Fenton did, one reason he’s no longer GM. Niederreiter had 30 points in 36 games for Carolina after the one-for-one trade. Cap hit: $5.25 million.

18 Ryan Dzingel

Wheaton, Ill., 27, Wing, 6-0, 190

The winger should fit easily in Brind’Amour’s built-on-speed system and Canes are counting on him for 20-plus goals. Dzingel missed time in training camp after sustaining a lower-body injury in a preseason game. Cap hit: $3.375 million.

56 Erik Haula

Pori, Finland, 28, Center, 6-0, 193

Haula scored a career-high 29 goals for the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18 but had much of last season wiped out by a knee injury. Traded to Carolina, he is in a contract year, due to become an unrestricted free agent. Cap hit: $2.75 million.

23 Brock McGinn

Fergus, Ont., 25, Wing, 6-0, 187

His Game 7 double-overtime winner against the Washington Caps in the 2019 playoffs will always be remembered, but the Canes expect the hard-charger to improve on his 10-goal, 26-point season from 2018-19. Cap hit: $2.1 million.

48 Jordan Martinook

27, Brandon, Manitoba, Wing, 6-0, 196

Became one of the team personalities in his first season with the Canes and now has been selected as an alternate captain in his second year. Can bump up and down between lines and play wing or center. A gritty gamer. Cap hit: $2 million.

37 Andrei Svechnikov

Barnaul, Russia, 19

As the No. 2 pick of the 2018 NHL draft, Svechnikov was expected to have an instant impact for the Canes and did. He had 20 goals, although none on the power play, and has the speed and power to be a force on the ice. Cap hit: $925,000.

13 Warren Foegele

Markham, Ont., 23, Wing, 6-2, 198

Hustled his way on to the team out of training camp last year, experienced the highs and lows of a rookie, then had some big moments in the playoffs. He’s determined to be more consistent this season and Canes need him to be. Cap hit: $746,667.

71 Lucas Wallmark

Umea, Sweden, 24, Center, 6-0, 178

Received chance to play last year when Rask was injured in preseason and took on a bigger role after Staal was injured during the season. His versatility was a plus for the Canes and he could improve his 10-goal, 28-point output. Cap hit: $675,000.

88 Martin Necas

Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic, 20, Wing, 6-2, 189

Is this the year the former first-round draft pick finally sticks with the team? He has the speed and offensive creativity but can he be effective all over the ice? If not, he’ll go back to Charlotte for another season. Cap hit: $863,333.

Salary source:

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.