Amid another lost season, Hurricanes turn to youth

Wednesdays 3 p.m. trade deadline could lead to more young players entering Carolinas lineup

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin controls the puck against Toronto on Feb. 19 at PNC Arena.

RALEIGH — Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said his team’s 1-3-1 performance on their recent five-game homestand “made it easy on management” to become sellers ahead of Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline.The other obvious decision that comes with Carolina playing out the string is giving opportunities to younger players.The Hurricanes were already one of the NHL’s youngest teams prior to dealing their oldest player, 35-year-old defenseman Ron Hainsey, in a trade with Pittsburgh last Thursday.Hainsey’s departure has added another revolving door on the Carolina defense — the No. 6 job on the blue line had already been rotating between Matt Tennyson (32 games played), Klas Dahlbeck (20) and Ryan Murphy (13).”It’s an opportunity for some of those young defensemen to step up and take more minutes and more roles and continue that develop,” general manager Ron Francis said following the Hainsey trade.The trade also opened up a spot in the top two pairings, one Noah Hanifin — who has played exclusively on the third pairing with aforementioned trio this year — will fill the balance of the season.”There’s a lot of guys with lots to play for here,” coach Bill Peters said following Carolina’s 3-0 win over Ottawa last Friday. “Murph’s getting into the lineup, so Murph wants to play well. Dahly’s finally on the left side, you got lefty-righty on all three pairs. He wants to play well. Noah’s playing with [Brett Pesce] against really good players each and every shift. He wants to play well. That’s what it’s all about.”While the Hanifin-Pesce pairing looked good in the win over the Senators, a rough outing Sunday against Calgary led to the duo — who were both on the ice together for all three Flames goals — being split up, with the latter reuniting with season-long partner Jaccob Slavin while Justin Faulk paired with Hanifin.There are also players jockeying for spots in the forward ranks. Both Phil Di Giuseppe and Brock McGinn — who did not play against Calgary and Peters said the team “missed his energy, missed his competitiveness” — are trying to prove they are are full-timer NHLers, getting a chance in the top nine.”Ginner’s an interesting character. He’s in a real good spot,” Peters said of McGinn. “If you’ve got a chance to play with Jordan Staal as an athlete, as a player, don’t let that slip through your hands. Like don’t. You’re crazy if you do.”And now Phil’s sitting there knocking there on the door, too,” Peters added. “He’s saying, ‘Hey, if he drops the ball I want to be able to pick it up and play there, too.’ So very competitive within the locker room for your opportunity to play in situations.”There could also be room for American Hockey League call-ups. Francis traded veteran Viktor Stalberg to Ottawa Tuesday for the Senators’ third-round pick in this summer’s draft, and fellow 30-somethings Jay McClement and Derek Ryan could also be had.Center Lucas Wallmark, a 2014 fourth-round pick from Sweden who is in his first season in North America, and winger Andrew Poutralski, a free agent signee out of the University of New Hampshire, have both been among the leading rookie scorers in the AHL in their first full year with the Charlotte Checkers.Wallmark scored his 18th and 19th goals over the weekend, boosting his team lead and moving into second among all AHL rookies, while Poturalski leads the Checkers in scoring with 38 points (13 goals, 25 assists) and is fourth in the league in rookie points.There’s also NHL veteran Bryan Bickell, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November and played his first pro game since Oct. 30 in Charlotte’s 6-1 win Saturday, notching an assist.Bickell had one goal, the game-winner against the Rangers Oct. 28, in seven games with the Hurricanes before his diagnosis. He has been undergoing treatment for his MS since and returned to the ice in January before clearing waivers last week and being assigned to Charlotte. He was acquired, along with Teuvo Teravainen, last offseason from Chicago.Forwards Patrick Brown, Valentin Zykov and Andrei Nestrasil could all get looks as well. Nestrasil, now a year removed from suffering a fractured vertebra last Feb. 25 in a game vs. Toronto, cleared waivers and was assigned to Charlotte in January after registering five points in 18 games with Carolina this season. He has four goals and six assists in 17 games with Checkers since being sent down.