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SEASON PREVIEWS
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January 13, 2013 | 4:01pm ET
Season Preview: Carolina
By Tab Bamford, TheFourthPeriod.com

You would be hard pressed to find another organization in the NHL that went all-in as much as the Carolina Hurricanes did last summer. A disappointing, injury-filled 2011-12 season granted them the eighth-overall pick in the Draft, which GM Jim Rutherford traded to Pittsburgh (with Brandon Sutter and Brian Dumoulin) for center Jordan Staal. Rutherford then signed enigmatic wing Alexander Semin to a one-year deal, giving the Canes a revamped, potentially dynamite new offense.

But with limited training camp time, how will the Canes mesh? We'll find out in less than a week.

Forwards

Carolina's captain Eric Staal will be joined by brother Jordan this year; for what it's worth, Jordan has an "A" next to his name on the roster page of the Canes' website. And we've already mentioned Semin's arrival on the roster. But, from there, the questions begin.

Tuomo Ruutu will reportedly be out of the lineup until May because of off-season hip surgery, which has led to speculation that Kirk Muller will split up the Staals. Where Jeff Skinner skates will make a significant impact on how teams plan against the Canes, and how Chad LaRose and Jiri Tlusty fit into the rotation is yet to be seen.

Defense

Two youngsters -- Justin Faulk and Jamie McBain -- will play major roles on the blue line this year in Carolina. Faulk followed up 22 points in 66 NHL games last season with 24 points in 31 games with Charlotte (Carolina's AHL affiliate). McBain, meanwhile, registered 27 points in 76 games with the Canes last year.

They will be joined by one of last season's hottest trade rumor topics, Tim Gleason, and veterans Joe Corvo, Jay Harrison and Joni Pitkanen. Carolina might be looking to add one more veteran to their blueline for depth, but expectations are that the two youngsters will be impact players this year.

Goalies

Cam Ward will look to bounce back from an underwhelming season (which is true for most of the Canes' roster). With a shortened season coming up, he'll undoubtedly be asked to play most of Carolina's games; he finished last year fifth in the NHL, appearing in 68 games. His .915 save percentage was good last year, and improved play from the defensemen in front of him should help his goals against come down.

Behind Ward could be the story of training camp for the Canes. Justin Peters, 26, has shown flashes of being NHL-ready in Charlotte and might push newly-signed Dan Ellis out the door.

Projected Outcome

The Southeast Division could be a lot of fun to watch until the final horn sounds in late-April this year. The improvements made up front should provide an offensive boost for the Canes, and they'll certainly benefit twice by taking the talented Semin away from division rival Washington. If they can stay healthy, Carolina should be in the conversation for a playoff spot when April arrives.

3 Players to Watch
 
Alexander Semin
With only a one-year deal, Semin will either be a game-changer that gets a big-money deal this summer... or he left millions on the table by taking the short-term contract. He'll turn 29 in March, so this is truly a make-or-break year for him.
Justin Faulk
He won't turn 21 until late-March, but Faulk has shown flashes of being a skilled puck-mover in limited NHL action. If he can take another step forward after a solid first half of the season in the AHL, he could be a difference maker.
Linda and Henry Staal (aka, Mom and Dad)
Their attentions will be able to focus a little easier this season with two of their three NHL sons skating in the same rink each night (and younger brother Jared just down the road with Charlotte).

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