RALEIGH — Cam Ward, the Carolina Hurricanes’ longest-tenured player, brushed away shots in net. Sebastian Aho looked bigger but still as shifty. And Jeff Skinner — forever 16 with his Cabbage Patch Kid-esque dimples — cruised the ice with his familiar-but-unique skating stride.
And then there were new faces when Hurricanes camp opened Friday.
Goaltender Scott Darling looked even bigger than expected in his Carolina-themed Brian’s goalie gear. Janne Kuokkanen, a countryman of Aho, has been among the noticeable standout prospects. And Justin Williams is back, attached at the hip to Skinner in what seemed both playful but also deliberate — a veteran helping a still-young star find his way and take another step forward.
With 59 players initially in camp (it’s now down to 53 after goalie Jeremy Helvig was returned to his junior team in Kingston), the big names are front and center. However training camp might be most important to the players who are under the radar and trying to take advantage of the short amount of time they’ll have in front of the team’s main decision-makers.
For them, it’s about showing the willingness to work hard while paying attention to detail.
“You’ve got to come out every single day with something to prove and you can’t really take days off because that one shift you take off could be the time the coaching staff’s watching you,” forward Steven Lorentz said following Sunday’s practice. “So obviously you’re trying to do everything you can to be in their good book.”
Hard work has already gotten Lorentz this far. He wasn’t selected in his first year of draft eligibility in 2014, but Carolina took a flier on him in the seventh round the following June. The 6-4, 201-pound winger improved each junior season with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes and was rewarded with an entry-level contract in April.
Despite injuring his ankle blocking a shot at the Traverse City prospect tournament — enough of a malady that it kept him out of Carolina’s first two preseason games Monday and Tuesday — Lorentz has been on the ice for each day of practice looking to make an impression.
“You’ve got to come in here and do your job and hopefully you can earn spot,” he said. “If not this year, than get in the system and work for a job in coming years.”
Now in his third Hurricanes camp — but first under contract — Lorentz has noticed the improved talent general manager Ron Francis and the front office have added.
“Like Ronnie said in the meeting with all the players before camp started, this is probably the most competitive team in Carolina and Charlotte that we’ve had in a couple years,” he said. “It’s very evident.”
Who winds up where will be up to Francis and coach Bill Peters, who noted the depth throughout the organization.
“Well now the decisions at the end are going to be much harder,” Peters said.
The fourth-year coach is confident he and his staff can sort through the waves of players and be ready for the Oct. 7 opener against Minnesota at PNC Arena.
“The right guys are going to end up on the team at the end of the day, that 23-man group that we break camp with are going to be the right 23,” he said.
“I can’t tell you who they are going to be right now, but it’s going to be the right guys.”