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Rod Brind’Amour’s first training camp as head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes can best be summed up with his two-word directive: “Earn it.”
Whether veteran or prospect, regardless of a player’s salary or contract status, Brind’Amour believes a roster spot has to be earned. Prove you belong. Prove you deserve to play. Earn it.
“That’s the beauty of the NHL, you have to prove yourself every day,” center Jordan Staal said. “You have to bring it, no matter what you’ve done in the past.”
As camp begins to wind down, the numbers game will become problematic, especially at forward. As the final roster cuts are made, some players will be assigned to the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, leaving with the belief they did enough to stick with the big team and disappointed they didn’t.
“That’s the nature of the game and everybody knows that,” Brind’Amour said Monday. “We have certain guys who are going to start here for sure. Then, guys are making a case for themselves. We have three more (preseason) games to really see how that’s going to shake out. Then we’ll go to bat for guys we need to go to bat for and see how it works out.”
Warren Foegele could be one of those guys.
The winger, who made his NHL debut for the Canes late last season, has done all that has been asked of him in camp and has been noticeable in practices and games with his hustle and energy. He’s a penalty-killing fiend who’s a threat to score — he had four shorthanded goals for the Checkers last season — and saw time in Monday’s team scrimmage on a line with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.
“Every shift it’s looked like he’s been flying,” Staal said. “A lot of players have been working really hard and he’s been one who’s been pushing the pace. He’s a prime example of what we want to create here.”
Foegele, 22, is entering the second year of his entry-level contract. Unlike forwards Phil Di Giuseppe and Valentin Zykov, who have one-way NHL contracts, Foegele will be paid an AHL-level salary of $70,000 if with the Checkers this year.. Di Giuseppe and Zykov, were they to spend time in Charlotte, would still be paid their NHL salaries — $750,000 for Di Giuseppe and $650,000 for Zykov.
The economics favor Di Giuseppe and Zykov, and both have done their part in training camp. Di Giuseppe brings a physical element to the game and Zykov’s size and net-front presence has enhanced the power play.
“You can’t just play the power play, you can’t just be a penalty killer,” Brind’Amour said. “You’ve got to do other things. We obviously need to be good on special teams but you have to be able to play the game five on five.”
Brind’Amour said the preseason road game Tuesday against the Nashville Predators would be another chance for the younger players to stand out. The Canes (3-0 preseason) have a road game Friday against the Washington Capitals, then finish up the preseason schedule by hosting the Predators on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. during the annual Caniac Carnival at PNC Arena.
The Canes open the regular season at home on Oct. 4 against the New York Islanders.
The assumption has been that power forward Andrei Svechnikov and center Martin Necas have been penciled into the lineup for this season. Svechnikov, 18, was the No. 2 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and Necas, 19, the team’s first-round pick in 2017, and their skill is evident.
The Canes could play Svechnikov in nine games, then return him to his junior team, the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. But there are just two options for Carolina: keep him with the Hurricanes all season or send him back to Barrie.
Brind’Amour was asked Monday if Svechnikov being returned to Barrie was still a possibility or if a decision had been made by Canes management that the Russian forward was in Raleigh to stay this season.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t look at it like there’s a decision one way or the other. That may have already been decided. I don’t know, but from my standpoint he’s still got to come out here and earn a spot and nobody has done that yet.”
Brind’Amour said Svechnikov “looked good” in Monday’s scrimmage and showed poise, saying, “I think he’s getting better as we go along.”
Losing center Victor Rask to a hand injury and Brind’Amour’s questions about Aho playing center could result in Lucas Wallmark making the roster. The Swedish center, who turned 23 this month, played 11 games for the Canes last season and was effective.
Janne Kuokkanen, a former second-round draft pick, has spent much of camp on a line with Staal and Justin Williams. Julien Gauthier was a first-round draft pick in 2016, and Saku Maenalanen an offseason signee out of the Finnish elite league.
Nicolas Roy, Andrew Poturalski, Clark Bishop … they’re busting it in camp while aware that they may soon be headed to Charlotte. They’re all playing Tuesday against the Predators. So are Foegele, Zykov and Di Giuseppe.
“The thing you never forget is that everybody is challenging for spots,” said Williams, the Canes captain. “I’m challenging for a spot, Jordan is challenging for a spot. We all are.
“There’s always a younger guy trying to take your job. If you accept that and work your butt off, everybody gets better.”