It’s that time of the year again. No, not Christmas, it’s hockey season. On September 21, the Carolina Hurricanes hit the ice to begin training camp. With expectations high and some notable offseason moves, there are a few storylines to keep an eye on for the Hurricanes throughout training camp and the preseason action.
The Carolina Hurricanes Enter Training Camp Eager to Go
With training camp up and running, excitement for the Hurricanes season to start is through the roof. Well, that and a little taste of vengeance from the disappointing end to last season. With everyone mostly healthy, most of the same team is largely intact for training camp. The three-goalie rotation of Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta and Pyotr Kochetkov will split time in net. The only departures on defence were Shayne Gostisbehere and Calvin de Haan while newcomers include Dmitry Orlov, Anthony DeAngelo and Caleb Jones. Up front, departures include Paul Stastny, Derek Stepan and Jesse Puljujarvi. Mackenzie MacEachern and Max Pacioretty also left in the offseason but didn’t really play much last season. Meanwhile, newly signed forwards include Michael Bunting and Brendan Lemieux.
In addition to these moves, the Hurricanes signed a list of PTOs to fill out their training camp roster. These include defenceman Nathan Beaulieu and forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Kieffer Bellows, Nick Shore, Jayden Halbgewachs, Cory Conacher, Brendan Perlini, and Nick Shore. Also at camp includes a list of younger players fighting for a spot with the big club. All in all, even though most of the lineup seems fairly set, it should be a battle through training camp with a few stories to watch.
Story 1: How Will the Defensive Pairs Shake Out?
A story that has already started writing itself this offseason involves the Hurricanes defence. More specifically, the depth of its defence and how the pairings may look. With no significant departures and fairly significant additions, the Hurricanes deep defence just got deeper. We took a look in depth at the options for the season in a previous article here.
But with the Hurricanes training camp underway this remains a major question. You can hypothesize all day long whether pairings that worked last year should stay together or if one of the biggest offseason free agent acquisitions in Orlov should replace someone in the top four. But until the skates hit the ice, that’s all it is…. hypothetical. Once the ice time increases and chemistry is explored, be on the lookout for this defensive group taking shape in camp.
Besides Orlov’s place in the lineup, another big question is if DeAngelo or Chatfield should fill in the last spot. Chatfield has more than earned his place in the lineup but DeAngelo is an offensive expert. Not to mention DeAngelo’s effect on the power play. That may be enough to pull him into the lineup. This doesn’t even include the possibility of a Dylan Coghlan or Caleb Jones taking a huge step forward. On day one, as was reported by Walt Ruff of the Hurricanes, the pairings were Slavin/Burns, Skjei/Pesce, Orlov/DeAngelo and then Coghlan/Chatfield. But it’s day one…..and this question remains.
If for no reason other than to look back and laugh in June, the first day of camp look for the #Canes:
Bunting – Aho – Jarvis
Svech – KK – Necas
Martinook – Staal – Teravainen
Lemieux – Drury – Fast – Noesen
Slavin – Burns
Skjei – Pesce
Orlov – DeAngelo
Coghlan – Chatfield pic.twitter.com/6PAa1yH7BS
— Walt Ruff (@WaltRuff) September 21, 2023
Story 2: What PTOs and Prospects Could Find an NHL Role?
When it comes to PTOs (Professional Tryouts), the word tryout in the title truly carries through. What this means is that you typically see a few earn contracts but a lot walking away empty-handed. Last season, the Hurricanes ended up signing Stepan and de Haan after both initially received PTOs. But this season there are a lot of PTOs and a fairly deep roster. But that doesn’t mean someone couldn’t be a surprise.
Most of the PTOs have specific attributes or experience that could catapult them into a permanent position, but for this team they might need to be more holistically well-rounded to earn a spot. Or exceedingly fit a need. Bellows is an interesting name as he was a highly touted prospect with a lethal shot that led to him being a first-round selection of the New York Islanders. He unfortunately hasn’t translated that to the NHL level yet, but could he shine this year? He will need to really show it quickly though as training camp is only a few weeks.
One name that comes to mind to have a real shot is Zach Aston-Reese. Aston-Reese played in 77 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and had ten goals and 14 points. He also contributed 163 hits which led all Leafs players not including trade deadline acquisitions Noel Acciaria and Luke Schenn. This production came while only playing about ten minutes a night in mostly a fourth-line role.
At 6’1″ and 205 pounds, Aston-Reese is a solid size. More importantly, he fits the Hurricanes playing style very well, especially in a fourth-line role. Not to mention he is very effective as a penalty killer. He will hit and is not afraid to go battle in the dirty areas to win the puck on the forecheck. While not as much as someone like Lemieux, he has some bite to his game.
But more than Lemieux, Aston-Reese can chip in offensively. His ten goals last season would put him right in line with or over the Hurricanes fourth liners last season and in line or only slightly under Jordan Martinook and Jesper Fast who spent most of their time on the third line. Watch out for Aston-Reese during this training camp.
Prospects on the Rise
While there are PTOs fighting for NHL spots, there are also younger players in the system with a chance at NHL action during training camp. Most will go back to their respective leagues but a few might rise to the occasion. Note, Carolina not having an AHL affiliate makes this a little interesting as well but that’s a story for another day.
The two names that stick out to possibly make an impact are Ryan Suzuki and Vasili Ponomaryov. Both have been in the Hurricanes system for some time but play different games. Ponomaryov is a more meat and potatoes type player who can chip in on both ends of the ice and plays a reliable two-way game. On the other hand, Suzuki is more of a creative offensive talent with good hockey IQ and playmaking skills. Both impressed in the Southeast Rookie Showcase tournament recently, as they should have. But stepping up into the NHL is a different animal. We previously took a more extensive look at their potential to crack the roster here. But the potential remains the same in training camp. Ponomaryov could find a bottom-six role while Suzuki, if really impressive, could fit into a more offensive role.
Story 3: Will Pytor Kochetkov Move Up the Rotation?
The last story in this article focuses on the goalie position. More specifically, the youngest of the three. We also recently looked at Kochetkov’s potential in a previous article discussing his progress in depth here. While Kochetkov likely enters the rotation as the number three goalie in training camp, the looming question is what will he show this year? As mentioned above, you can talk about potential and possibilities but seeing Kochetkov’s progression this offseason into camp should be a fun story to watch unfold.
He’s in year three of his NHL career and has shown flashes of elite goalie ability. But now with more experience, can he put it together consistently? He will certainly spend time in net during the season but it’s very possible he goes through the Hurricanes training camp and sets the stage on fire. He has the passion and fire as well as the ability. As the Hurricanes likely goalie of the future, do not be surprised if you see him rush out of the gates like a bull at the rodeo during training camp.
The Hurricanes Training Camp Offers a Lot to Watch
While this article focuses on the three stories mentioned above, there are almost an endless amount of others that could write themselves. How does Bunting fit into the group and will he provide the desired added scoring? Will Andrei Svechnikov be ready when the regular season begins? Can Jesperi Kotkaniemi show that he is truly a second-line centre?
One other bonus short story to watch is the power play. Specifically, how the additions of Orlov, DeAngelo and Bunting will affect its effectiveness and chemistry. Bunting could fit in well as he likes to play around the net and Carolina’s focus is shooting from the point. Or will the coaches take a long look at its struggles last season and adjust the system? Hurricanes fans surely hope the power play can become more lethal but assessing if it’s the players or the system is an interesting question to look at.
Regardless of the story focused on, training camp is exciting. The beginning of the season, the battles, and the raw product forming into a more refined result. But the end of training camp is just the beginning of what the Hurricanes hope will be a very long-lasting season.
Main Photo Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports