Roster spots up for grabs in Hurricanes preseason finale

McKeown, Di Giuseppe get a chance to earn jobs

Geoff Burke—USA TODAY Sports
Washington Capitals center Jay Beagle skates with the puck behind Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack as defenseman Roland McKeown chases in the second period during a preseason hockey game Sept. 26at Verizon Center. The teams are set to play again Friday in Carolina's final exhibition game before the regular season.

RALEIGH — First-year defenseman Roland McKeown has made it this far at Carolina Hurricanes training camp. Tonight’s preseason finale against the Capitals at PNC Arena will go a long way in determining if he sticks around.The team on the ice tonight will look close to the one that will open the season in Winnipeg Thursday, and McKeown will line up next to Noah Hanifin on the team’s third pairing. That No. 6 job on the blue line looks like McKeown’s to lose after coach Bill Peters revealed Ryan Murphy, the favorite for that job heading in to camp, would be out three to four weeks with a lower body injury.”We would love, in a perfect world, for him to open the season in Charlotte in the American League as a first-year D-man,” Peters said. “So we’ll see if we can’t work toward seeing that happen. But his job is to make sure that we have to keep him.”McKeown opened the scoring in Carolina’s penultimate preseason game Wednesday against the Sabres. The Hurricanes wound up winning in the shootout and are now looking to improve on their 3-2-1 record this preseason. For the 20-year-old McKeown, tonight is a chance to solidify an opening night roster spot.”I just have to make it a hard decision for them and all I can do is go do my best and play my best,” McKeown said. “It’s nice to have that in my control. I’m playing tonight, so that’s all I can do.”The rest of the lineup looks mostly familiar. Elias Lindholm will stay at center, flanked by newcomers Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho. The trio has shown flashes of brilliance together despite the line being in its infancy.”So they’ve only been together twice, now this will be the third time,” Peters said of the trio. “And they were better in Game 2 then Game 1 obviously, and they should be better again here tonight.”But there a few tweaks worth watching as Carolina plays their final tuneup ahead of Thursday’s season opener in Winnipeg. Lucas Wallmark, a 21-year-old who spent last season in the Swedish Hockey League, will center veterans Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg on the fourth line. Jay McClement gets the day off, still recovering from “dental issues,” Peters said.”A lot of things that young guys don’t do, he’s doing,” Peters said of Wallmark. “And so I want to see him tonight. I want to make sure get him out there against some of their best players, too, let him see how he handles that situation.”Lee Stempniak has spent most of camp with Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask. Tonight he’ll take Andrej Nestrasil’s spot on a line with Jordan Staal and Joakim Nordstrom.”They’re two really good players who play complete games,” Stempniak said. “So for me, I think I’ve only skated with Nordy maybe once all training camp on the same practice ice, so there’ll be an adjustment for sure. But from what I’ve seen, [he’s] a great skater, he’s tenacious on pucks and they get the puck a lot.”Stempniak’s move to that line also reunited Phil Di Giuseppe with Skinner and Rask, a combination that worked well at times last season.”Phil’s been excellent, so Phil deserves an opportunity to play with real skilled players and provide some speed for that line,” Peters said.Overall, Peters stressed that tonight’s game is the last chance to make an impression before the team makes its final decisions.”Today’s a big day. Every day’s a big day this time of year, whether they realize it or not,” Peters said. “You don’t know when your opportunity is going to come.”The Capitals won’t be as experienced a group, Washington coach Barry Trotz said.”We’re going to have a lineup that’s going to be missing quite a few guys, probably eights guy who are going to start the season with us,” he told Monumental Sports. Both Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom will not play for the Caps in their second-to-last preseason game.Here are Carolina’s lines for tonight’s game, which starts at 7:30 p.m.:Aho-Lindholm-Teravainen Nordstrom-Staal-Stempniak Skinner-Rask-Di Giuseppe Bickell-Wallmark-StalbergSpavin-Faulk Hainsey-Pesce Hanifin-McKeownWard Lack