RALEIGH — After a summer of watching film, mixing and matching potential line combinations and putting in place a plan to return the Carolina Hurricanes to relevance, new coach Rod Brind’Amour finally got his team on the ice to begin training camp.
He even got to start a day early.
With a different hurricane, Florence, barreling toward the coast of the Carolinas, the Hurricanes received league approval to start camp Thursday and will cancel one of the next two days of practice.
The first-year head coach, while not looking forward to the impending storm, was glad to get a jumpstart on the 2018-19 season.
“We needed that moved up like three months,” Brind’Amour said. “Because we were all set to go. It was no adjustment for us, the coaches. It was an adjustment for the players, obviously.”
Just before the first of two groups — named Team Grit and Team Grind — took the ice at 2:45 p.m., the team made official Brind’Amour’s first major decision as the man in charge when Justin Williams was named captain.
“I think one of the most important things that I’ll take into this is not to change myself or be anybody that I’m not,” Williams said following the first practice. “Leadership comes naturally, and it comes from years of watching other great leaders, and that’s what I’ve done. … I’m very humbled and something I’m very proud of, and something I don’t take lightly.”
It was a decision that seemed obvious the moment Brind’Amour was named coach. Williams, the coach’s former linemate, was already recognized in the locker room as the team’s most outspoken veteran, and the organization’s from-the-top-down message of accountability can easily be carried from owner Tom Dundon to Brind’Amour and then his trusted on-ice courier.
“Like I said back in May, it’s pretty much the easiest decision I’ve ever had to make,” Brind’Amour said. “For me, he checks off all the lists of things that would make a good leader. He comes to the rink every day, plays the same way, great person and at the end of the day, he knows how to win.”
Williams replaces Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk, who were co-captains last season under departed coach Bill Peters — a decision Brind’Amour said he wasn’t a part of and Williams called “a little bit of a mess.” Staal and Faulk, who will wear the A’s, agreed last year’s setup didn’t work and welcomed the move.
“To be honest, I’m not sure we maybe thought the best situation was co-captains anyway. I don’t know if many people did,” Faulk said. “That’s obviously a weird situation with how things normally work in the National Hockey League.
“Obviously, we probably weren’t in a position probably to tell you guys that last year,” Faulk said through a smile, “but now we can say it’s better to have one guy and a couple assistants and go from there.”
The other news of the day was not as positive. Victor Rask, coming off a season in which he had a career-low 31 points and then had shoulder surgery, is out indefinitely after surgery on his right hand, the team announced. Rask cut the fourth and fifth finger on that hand while slicing food in his kitchen.
“I don’t know how long,” Brind’Amour answered when asked about Rask’s return date. “I know it’s obviously serious, and so when you have serious injuries, that’s not a good thing.
Rask’s absence means even more competition in a training camp that already has several young players jockeying for a place in the lineup for the Oct. 4 opener against the Islanders at PNC Arena.
Teenagers Martin Necas, the team’s first-round pick in 2017, and Andrei Svechnikov, this summer’s second overall selection, both have spots to lose in camp, and Rask’s injury could give another center — Lucas Wallmark being the frontrunner — an inside track on earning a spot.
But second-year pros Warren Foegele, Janne Kuokkanen, Aleksi Saarela and Nicolas Roy, along with newcomer Saku Maenalanen from Finland’s Liiga, could all push for a job in Raleigh.
Openings are more scarce on defense, where the addition of Calvin de Haan in free agency and the trade that, in part, swapped Noah Hanifin for Dougie Hamilton give Carolina seven blueliners who spent the 2017-18 season in the NHL.
With Day 1 of camp in the books, the players will now await Hurricane Florence and see how much more inconvenience comes with the storm.
“I still have to move my patio furniture, and my parents have been worried sick,” defenseman Haydn Fleury said. “It will be my first hurricane, so I guess we’ll see.”
Jordan Martinook, acquired from Arizona during the offseason, said he had to “get his mindset right” with camp starting a day early. But at least Martinook isn’t facing something totally new with Florence: He was with the AHL’s Portland Pirates in October 2012 when Hurricane Sandy brushed Maine.
“So I can relate a little bit, but I don’t think anything like what’s coming,” he said.
“I’ve got a bunch of ice frozen in the freezer. Hopefully it stays there.”