MORRISVILLE — The Hurricanes, Panthers, Predators and Lightning finished up the first day of the NHL Prospect Showcase on Friday, with Florida picking up a 6-1 win over Carolina and Nashville topping Tampa Bay 5-2 at Invisalign Arena.
The teams will practice Saturday before resuming the round-robin tournament Sunday at PNC Arena.
1. The Hurricanes dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen after center Ryan Suzuki was ruled out of the tournament with an upper body injury.
That made one fewer “veteran” player for a Carolina roster that was already thin on experience.
It also subtracts someone who knows Carolina’s up-tempo system, one that is a big adjustment for junior and European players. It showed in the 6-1 loss.
“We practiced twice,” said Brock Sheahan, the new coach of Carolina’s AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves. “You try to give them some structure and a plan. But I still think no matter what it’s going to be a sloppy game.”
2. One player who understands the game plan is Jamieson Rees.
Entering his third professional season, Rees set a good example for his teammates on how Carolina wants to play. He was all over the puck, was aggressive and physical, and he was also in a handful of scrums — including one in the Nashville net.
“Threw are a couple nice hits, took a couple hits,” Rees said. “It’s part of the game, play through it.”
Sheahan said the coaching staff and team will “lean on” Rees, which is surely why he’s wearing the C for the tournament.
“We’re gonna rely on him over these next two games to continue to show the way he’s been here and help the guys through,” Shehan said. “He knows how we want to play.”
3. There were some positives for Carolina to come out of the 6-1 loss. On top of Rees’ assertive play, Vasily Ponomarev had a nifty play to set up Noah Gunler for the Hurricanes’ only goal, and both were among the more noticeable players for the host team.
The goalies, Patrik Hamrla and Jakub Vondras, split the game, and Hamrla held the Hurricanes in the game by allowing just two goals despite Carolina spending too much time shorthanded due to penalties.
Vondras gave up four goals, but he seemed to settle in after a difficult start after relieving Hamrla.
4. Regardless of the on-ice results, the tournament should give Carolina’s prospects a bit of a jump on everyone else who will be in training camp starting Wednesday.
“I think it’s pretty special to be in this situation,” Sheahan said. “I think the guys that will be in the main camp, it gives them an opportunity to get a lot of the nerves out, especially for guys that this is their first time, and they get an idea of what to expect when they get there.”
Rees was in camp last year and knows what to expect, but one can never be too prepared.
“Yeah, 100% I can come over here and kind of use the stuff that I’ve learned this summer and try and put it to action here before it gets to even harder and faster hockey,” he said.
5. I suspected that Nashville would be the team to beat once I saw the rosters, and my opinion didn’t change after the first day of games. Not only do the Predators have goalie Yaroslav Askarov — the 11th overall pick in the 2020 draft — in net, but they also have a roster full of players with more experience and size than the other three teams.
Outside of a weak goal in the third period, Askarov looked solid, and forward Egor Afanasyev and defenseman Marc Del Gaizo — who both played with AHL Milwaukee all of last season — scored for Nashville.
The Hurricanes will get their shot at the Preds on Sunday at 10 a.m. at PNC Arena.