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It has been clear for a long while now that Martin Necas has the potential to be a special player, and at the very least an exciting one. At one point during Wednesday’s game, the Carolina Hurricanes rookie skated into a cul de sac, only to pull off a sort-of half-spin toe-drag move that teleported him past a defenseman and into open space on the left wing.
“I just didn’t know what to do with the puck,” Necas said. “I tried that move and it worked.”
That kind of thing might get him flattened against NHL defensemen, if not against an AHL-caliber Tampa Bay Lightning lineup that the Hurricanes duly dispatched 6-1, but the instinct to try it came from a reservoir of creativity that has had the Hurricanes excited about Necas’ potential since this time last year, when he played one regular-season game before being shipped back to the Czech Republic.
And now his time has come. Ready or not.
Like Sebastian Aho two years ago, the hype surrounding Necas’ imminent full-time arrival in the NHL is so intense that it seems almost impossible for him to live up to it. Wednesday, in the kind of ragged game all too common early in the preseason from a mix of veterans shaking off rust and prospects who may never see the actual NHL, Necas still rose above the fray with his skill, showing off the skill that makes him a potential No. 1 center if and when the rest of his all-around game falls into place.
“You always want to be careful with young players because they all grow at different rates, but he had the opportunity to play in the world championships, in a high-level men’s tournament, and he has a lot more confidence in camp,” Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said. “His skill level is high, obviously, but I really like the patience with the puck. There’s no panic in his game.”
His deft little turn may not have led to a goal but his deflection of a Justin Faulk shot did, and while Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour may have seen a plethora of errors from Necas, born of youth and inexperience, he could also see, yet again, why everyone is so excited.
“He looked like a young kid, but really talented,” Brind’Amour said. “If you give him time and space, he can make plays.”
Necas may not even end up being the Hurricanes’ most heralded rookie, thanks to the arrival of Andrei Svechnikov, but each is equally important to the team’s potential success in his own way: Svechnikov for his badly needed goals, Necas because of the team’s overall lack of depth at center.
There aren’t a lot of options for the Hurricanes. Even before Victor Rask’s injury, they were counting on Necas to play top-six minutes at center, a difficult task for any 19-year-old, no matter how talented. Even Aho got a two-year apprenticeship on the wing before moving to center this season.
But they also think Necas is capable. Their team is built as if he is. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a rookie – or, depending on your perspective, a lot of pressure on the people who made the decision to count on him. Like Brind’Amour.
“The pressure is on us,” Brind’Amour said. “We really hope he can play.”
The equation is not complicated. The Hurricanes cannot be successful if Necas can’t handle those responsibilities. Wednesday, in the first glimpses of a new season, Necas continued to offer every indication that he can – but there’s only one way to find out.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock