Luke DeCock

Camp has begun, but Canes still waiting for Finns’ finish — DeCock

The Carolina Hurricanes Jordan Staal, foreground, watches as a play is diagramed as the team holds the first day of on-ice training camp at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Sept. 23, 2016. The first game of the regular season is Oct. 13th in Winnipeg; the home opener is Oct. 28th against the NY Rangers.
The Carolina Hurricanes Jordan Staal, foreground, watches as a play is diagramed as the team holds the first day of on-ice training camp at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Sept. 23, 2016. The first game of the regular season is Oct. 13th in Winnipeg; the home opener is Oct. 28th against the NY Rangers. cseward@newsobserver.com

No one really noticed the absence of Bill Peters on Friday, with the Carolina Hurricanes coach still serving with Team Canada at the World Cup on the first day of training camp. Assistants Rod Brind’Amour and Steve Smith ably ran practice in his stead, and Peters will be back soon enough.

Still, after months of waiting, there was definitely something missing Friday: a few Finns.

Of all the changes the Hurricanes made in the offseason, none were bigger than the addition of Teuvo Teravainen via trade and the decision to bring Sebastian Aho over from Finland. On a team that struggled to convert scoring chances, they are expected to do just that. But as of Thursday night, they were both still on national-team duty with Finland at the World Cup.

With Finland eliminated, Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis said Teravainen and Aho are expected to join the team on the ice Monday morning. Only then will it feel like training camp is really under way.

By the time they get here, the Hurricanes will be mere hours away from their first preseason game, at the Washington Capitals on Monday followed by a trip south to play the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. But the unveiling of new players is always one of the highlights of training camp, which can otherwise be a long, grim slog, and the on-ice participation of the two Finns will be as eagerly anticipated as the preseason games the rest of the team will play.

Their arrival is the single biggest change to the Hurricanes. It’s not Eric Staal’s departure. The Hurricanes adjusted to that relatively quickly last season, assuming new roles and finding success in the standings after the trade deadline, albeit with the annual caveat that they were under no pressure at the time.

The goaltending hasn’t changed, with Cam Ward and Eddie Lack still in net, and the other new arrivals – Lee Stempniak, Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg – will bolster the third and fourth lines. There are a bevy of young players at various stages of their careers who have the potential to demonstrate considerable growth – if Elias Lindholm is ever going to be more than a complementary player, now’s the time to show it – and the Hurricanes are counting on that, but it’s the Finns who have the most potential to provoke positive change.

Teravainen showed skill and ability with the Chicago Blackhawks. What he lacked was opportunity on a team loaded with superstar forwards. He’ll get that opportunity here, all the ice time he can handle. At 22, he should just be coming into his own, and after scoring 13 goals last season, there’s no reason he can’t show substantial improvement in a more substantial role. Perhaps more promising: a 4-6-10 line in 18 playoff games in 2015.

And at the risk of pushing the already-too-high expectations for Aho even higher, he has been playing against adults for years now and should have an easier time than most making the jump to the NHL. The Hurricanes weren’t going to bring him to the Traverse City rookie tournament, to give him a break after a very long season, but he ended up making Finland’s national team and playing four games, which may not help with his fatigue issues but will certainly be an invaluable experience for the 19-year-old.

Oddly enough, Finland’s biggest issue in a disappointing World Cup was an inability to score. The Hurricanes, 27th in scoring a year ago, are counting on Teravainen and Aho to help remedy just that deficiency.

They will be on the ice Monday, when training camp really begins.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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