RALEIGH — Turn any direction in PNC Arena and you’ll see someone who has ties to the Chicago Blackhawks. In the Carolina Hurricanes’ dressing room, no less than six players have donned the iconic Indian-head logo.
Five of them won Stanley Cups there, each with varying roles in the last two of the Blackhawks’ three titles this decade.
It’s coincidence that the Hurricanes drafted a player, Czech forward Martin Necas, whose last name translates to “bad weather,” but the parade of players who have come from the Windy City has not been an accident.
“I don’t think you can ever have enough guys in your room with playoff experience and, more importantly, playoff success,” general manager Ron Francis said on July 5, a day after he added the final piece of the offseason moves by adding another Blackhawks player, Marcus Kruger.
“You look at Marcus, he’s won two Stanley Cups, he’s won a World Championship. You look at Justin Williams: three Stanley Cups. You bring in (Trevor) van Riemsdyk and (Scott) Darling, and each won a Stanley Cup. So that’s seven Stanley Cups with those four guys alone coming into our locker room.”
The acquisition of Kruger was perhaps the most surprising addition. Everyone knew the Hurricanes needed a goalie — they got Darling. They craved veteran leadership — Williams returned to Carolina with two more rings on his knuckles. Adding van Riemsdyk solidified the third pairing on defense.
That could have been enough. However bringing on Kruger — who, like van Riemsdyk, was a brief on-paper member of the new Vegas Golden Knights — was the cherry on top of Francis showing he was serious about putting an end to Carolina’s eight-season playoff drought, the longest in the NHL.
Coach Bill Peters has already noticed the difference in how his team carries itself.
“I see it on the ice,” Peters said. “Krugs is a competitive guy. Krugs is very dialed in on the bench, very intense in games. And that intesity (rubs) off.”
And the transition for Kruger and other former Blackhawks is made easier by the former teammates in the room. Kruger has already teamed up with Joakim Nordstrom, another Chicago Cup winner, on the fourth line and the penalty kill. He looks across the locker room and sees Darling, van Riemsdyk and even Klas Dahlbeck, a draft pick of the Hawks in 2011. To his left a few stalls down are Teuvo Teravainen and Nordstrom.
“I go way back with Joakim, playing with my younger brother and having my dad as a coach, so it goes a long way back,” Kruger said. “And obviously playing with him in Chicago, too. It’s good to see some familiar faces here around and playing with a lot of these guys before.”
Van Riemsdyk obviously knew his former Blackhawks teammates, but also a couple others.
“I know Brett Pesce very well,” he said of his former collegiate teammate at New Hampshire. “And Noah [Hanifin], I met him for a month out in Germany.”
But with the start of the season just days away, the focus has shifted from pleasantries to preparation.
Teravainen, now in his second season in Carolina, looks more comfortable this time around.
He had five points in three preseason games, including four points on the power play. When “Turbo” wasn’t out there — he missed a game and a couple practices due to injury, but should be ready for Saturday’s opener — the power play was noticeably less potent.
Darling battled some bumps and bruises of his own in camp, but allowed just three goals in 120 minutes of work in his two starts. Peters said Tuesday that, barring unforeseen circumstances, Darling would be his starter in Saturday’s opener.
And Peters — himself a former head coach of the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate in Rockford from 2008-11 — is brimming with optimism much like he has in each of the last three Octobers in Raleigh.
This time, though, pundits near and far seem to agree with him that the Hurricanes are a playoff contender, thanks in part to the Blackhawks-turned-Hurricanes dotting Carolina’s roster.
“Expectations are good,” Peters said back on the third day of camp. “I’d rather have high expectations than none at all.”
The Hurricanes have them. Now it’s time to prove they’re worthy.