September 28, 2010 // 1:41pm ET
Anticipation Builds in Carolina
By Bob Wage, TheFourthPeriod.com

RALEIGH, NC -- It's just over a week from the opening night and fans of the Carolina Hurricanes are brimming with excitement.

Unlike last year when the roster was set before training camp even started, there are jobs available this season and several players are in the mix to claim them. One or two newcomers might even work their way into the top-six forwards and nothing is etched in stone for this Hurricanes team that missed the playoffs last season.
 

Eric Staal and Brandon Sutter will be the first and second line centers but there will be a battle royal to see who will center the third line and several players have a legitimate shot at that gig.

Last season Patrick Dwyer saw duty there, (7G 5A) and Carolina GM Jim Rutherford said recently that he would be given a chance to earn that spot again but a couple of "young and restless" prospects will be nipping at his heels. Zac Dalpe left Ohio State after two seasons, traveled to Albany at year end and promptly scored seven goals in his nine-game debut for the River Rats. He's played very well in Traverse City recently (4GP 2G 2A) and would have to be considered a front runner presently.

The Hurricanes traded a second round draft pick to Edmonton for Riley Nash, who needed some friendly convincing to move on from Cornell a year early. Nash comes highly recommended by none other than Ron Francis, so coaches will be watching this player very closely.

Added to the mix is Jeff Skinner, Carolina's first round pick in this year's draft and seventh overall. Everyone is talking about this 50 goal scorer from the Kitchener Rangers who played center during his successful junior career. Skinner led Carolina's prospect team in scoring during the successful Traverse City Tournament.

There is also the chance that one of those players could be moved to wing and if they impress they could see time in the top six. Other young players to watch this camp include Zach Boychuk, Jiri Tlusty, Drayson Bowman, Jerome Samson, Matt Kennedy, Chris Terry, and Jared Staal.

With several prospects knocking on the door to get some veteran Canes in their contract years need to have bounce-back seasons if they want to keep their jobs. Rutherford recently told the press that Erik Cole, Sergei Samsonov, and Chad LaRose were at the crossroads of their careers and that they needed to step up this season. Jussi Jokinen is also in a contract year but he is coming off a 30-goal season and management would be tickled pink if he could repeat that.

The Hurricanes are young on the blueline and there will be a couple of battles there as well. Joni Pitkanen, Joe Corvo, and Tim Gleason will get the lion's share of ice time while rookie Jamie McBain played very well at the end of last season and will also see some major minutes. Anton Babchuk, Brett Carson, Bobby Sanguinetti, and Jay Harrison are among the favorites for the final pairing.

Cam Ward is the main man in net and he'll be supported by rookie Justin Peters, who just played nine games last season. The Canes' brass will be holding their collective breath in hope that Ward's sporadic back problems don't pop up again this season, otherwise they will be looking for outside help in goal. (See Manny Legace last season).

Coach Paul Maurice will have ample flexibility mixing and matching his line combinations and we think one version could be: Eric Staal-Erik Cole-Tuomo Ruutu, Brandon Sutter-Jussi Jokinen-Sergei Samsonov, Jeff Skinner-Jiri Tlusty-Zach Boychuk and Patrick Dwyer-Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Kennedy/ Jerome Samson/Drayson Bowman.

Whether Rutherford adds more players to the group or not, this promises to be one of the most interesting and exciting training camps in Hurricanes history. The Canes open their season schedule on Oct. 7 in Helsinki, Finland against the Minnesota Wild.

Bob Wage covers the Carolina Hurricanes for TheFourthPeriod.com
 



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