RALEIGH — The Hurricanes had plenty of positives in their first preseason game, from an effective power play and solid goaltending performance to dominance in the faceoff circle and solid performances from some of their prospects.
1. Welcome to Raleigh, Jesperi Kotkaniemi. As if there wasn’t enough pressure on the 21-year-old after Carolina successfully signed him to a one-year, $6.1 million offer sheet during the offseason, his de facto replacement in Montreal, Christian Dvorak, had four points in his preseason opener with the Canadiens on Monday.
Kotkaniemi’s response? A two-point night in his Hurricanes debut. The young Finn, who goes by KK, scored the first goal in Carolina’s 3-1 exhibition win Tuesday over the Lightning then added an assist to finish with two power play points.
“It always feels good to get a couple of goals,” Kotkaniemi said. “It brings the confidence up.”
Coach Rod Brind’Amour concurred that it was a solid start for a player who will have the spotlight on him all season.
“I think it’s good for him just to feel part of the group, contribute offensively,” Brind’Amour said after the game. “It’s always good when you’re a new player to the team, especially in those circumstances. I’m sure he’s happy.”
Kotkaniemi lined up on the left wing of center Vincent Trocheck and across from countryman Teuvo Teravainen at even strength, and the trio carried play in the first period despite not scoring a 5-on-5 goal.
But Brind’Amour said the power play is where Kotkaniemi could be his most impactful this season.
“I think that’s where he may make the most contributions,” he said. “He’s a very intelligent hockey player. You see the way he thinks the game, the skill set. And he can shoot — he’s got a great shot. Those are all kind of power play-type skill sets. You can’t have enough of that, for sure.”
Steven Lorentz said after practice on Wednesday that Kotkaniemi could have a big year.
“I want to see KK have a breakout year,” Lorentz said. “The stuff he does in practice … he’s got that skill carrying the puck in, and he’s got a really good shot, too. So I think he’s going to be lethal.”
2. Goalie Frederik Andersen got the start in net for Carolina and played the full 60 minutes, making 36 saves and allowing just one goal in the win.
Overall, it was an encouraging first appearance in a Hurricanes sweater for the former Maple Leafs netminder.
“That seems to always be the easiest guy to assess for everybody,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s got one job to do, stop the puck, so he was really good.”
3. Carolina’s roster is loaded with experienced players, leaving little opportunity for the team’s prospects to win a spot on the opening night roster. That didn’t keep Jack Drury and Jamieson Rees from putting their best foot forward in Tuesday’s first preseason game.
With the Hurricanes already up 2-0, Rees entered the zone and avoided a Darren Raddysh hit, curled at the outside of the right circle and passed to Drury at the left post for Carolina’s final goal at 2:42 of the second period.
The two former second-round picks used their time together at the NHL Prospect Showcase in Tampa to build some chemistry before camp even started.
“Me and Reeser have been here for a few weeks now for prospect camp, and (Stefan Noesen) slid in nicely,” Drury said of their line’s effectiveness. “So I think getting to play for a few weeks before this helped us out a bit today.”
Rees said there was a mix of excitement and nerves in his first game in a Hurricanes uniform, but he agreed with Drury that their head start on other players has helped them get a leg up at camp.
“I’ve been here for a little bit over a month now, and we were skating a lot at the start,” Rees said. “(Drury is) just a good player, works hard. He went to the right area, and I gave him a nice pass and he finished.”
Brind’Amour was encouraged by the play of his young players.
“We have some young players that are fighting to get on the team, but it might not be their time just based on the other players we have here,” the coach said. “But to know that some of these guys are right around the corner — if not right now, certainly coming — and look real promising is good.
That won’t keep the prospects from continuing to battle and make the coaching staff’s decisions difficult.
“There’s a million things that can happen, but that’s all out of my control,” Drury said.
4. The most interesting statistic out of the preseason opener? Carolina winning 48 of 67 faceoffs with all nine players who took draws finishing over 50%. Trocheck led the way by winning 13 of 18, and Derek Stepan was 12 of 18. Drury also won two-thirds of his faceoffs, taking 10 of 15.
“Troch and Step have been doing it for a long time, so I think, for them, they can roll right through it,” Drury said. “But Rod’s helped out with that a lot. Obviously, he was successful with it and I think that’s something that all the centers or anyone here that takes faceoffs is going to pride themselves on.”
5. Dave Olsen, who has held the position of general manager of PNC Arena since late 1997 less than six months after ground was broken on the project, is no longer in that role, the team confirmed to me Tuesday. He’s the latest person who has been with the team since its relocation to Raleigh to depart.
He joins a list that includes broadcasters Chuck Kaiton and John Forslund, and equipment manager Skip Cunningham to leave the organization after having been with the team since its move to Raleigh since Tom Dundon became owner.