July 30, 2012 6:57 AM
The pool of available players may finally be in place, but it will be some time before Jeff Daniels knows exactly which ones he’ll have at his disposal.
Though the organization has concluded the bulk of its offseason activities in terms of re-signing players from last year’s team and bringing in a handful of new faces, the Checkers coach is cautious in assessing how his team will look on opening night in October.
“It’s hard to say who’s going to be here because the goal for all of these guys is to make the team in Carolina, and I hope they do,” he said. “You can’t tell what’s going to happen, and to say who you think you’ll have would be unfair to the guys.”
A quick look at the roster explains that uncertainty. Many of the core players from Daniels’ last few years as head coach of the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate (Nicolas Blanchard, Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, Jerome Samson, Bobby Sanguinetti, Brett Sutter and Chris Terry, to name a few) all signed new contracts in the last few months. Along with new signings Marc-Andre Gragnani and Tim Wallace and mainstays like Zac Dalpe and Riley Nash, there’s a large group of players with NHL experience who all feel they’re close or ready to start the season on the next level.
For many of those who don’t earn an NHL spot – something that could prove quite difficult with the Hurricanes already expected to field their strongest lineup in quite some time – there’s also the small matter of having to clear waivers. Most will clear and end up in Charlotte, but this fall would be the first exposure for Bowman, Boychuk and Terry, whose relatively high profiles as high draft picks and/or proven AHL scorers could draw interest from around the league. Though he cleared last season, Sanguinetti’s stellar second-half resurgence makes him another potential target.
¬¬¬“It’s hard to project because, even if guys don’t make the team in Carolina, now all of the sudden you have to worry about them going on waivers and being claimed by another team,” said Daniels. “You never know what other teams are looking for.”
Fortunately, Daniels feels the organization is prepared for those risks and will be able to field a team that, on paper, is more than capable of returning to the Calder Cup Playoffs.
“We have enough depth to handle whatever happens,” he said.
As such, Daniels said that he did not expect the organization to bring back any of the remaining free agents from last season’s team who have yet to sign elsewhere, a group that includes Chris Durno, Matthew Pistilli and Justin Soryal. Even if the team was to lose a player or two due to graduation or a waiver claim, first-year players like Austin Levi, Beau Schmitz, Rob Madore and, potentially, Victor Rask, would help soften that blow.
Personnel aside, Daniels said that he does expect to make some changes to the team’s style of play to make it more in line with Carolina’s. Normally the two would always be linked, but the Hurricanes’ mid-season coaching change that brought in Kirk Muller resulted in some differences over the second half of last season.
“It’s really just about making that transition as easy as possible so that when guys get called up they’re not having to constantly think about systems and what they should be doing on the ice,” said Daniels.
“We’re going to keep our structure in the defensive zone, because for me that’s where it all starts, but we are going to try to create more turnovers on the forecheck. We’re trying to be more aggressive.”