This past week, teams of youngsters from eight franchises got their first bite of pre-preseason NHL action in the annual Traverse City Prospects Tournament. While the defending 2009 champions, the Carolina Hurricanes, failed to repeat their title, the young 'Canes did come in with an impressive third-place finish.
After falling to the eventual-champion Minnesota Wild 2-1 in their opening game, Carolina recovered quickly, winning a last-second 1-0 thriller over the New York Rangers' prospects and then finishing off first-round play with a 8-1 demolishing of Columbus.
The third-place game against the Tampa Bay Lightning was another exciting affair, as both teams were tied 3-3 after the end of regulation, and at the end of the first four-minute 4-on-4 overtime. Then, the 'Canes and 'Bolts got to try out the new test theory of a 3-on-3 overtime, and seventh-overall draft pick Jeff Skinner scored to seal the game midway through.
Skinner was one of many prospects that impressed the Hurricanes' staff greatly during the Traverse City. The Canada native had two goals and five assists to lead Carolina with seven points, while Matt Kennedy had six points and three scores to lead the team in goals. Zac Dalpe and Jared Staal, who will soon be fighting it out for an NHL gig, also combined for seven points.
Skinner stunned both AHL-coach Jack Daniels and Hurricanes' general manager Jim Rutherford with his precision, as Rutherford noted afterward that Skinner was "...the best player on the ice" and is "a guy with a really good chance at making the team [this season]."
Newly-signed defensemen Kyle Lawson and Michal Jordan led the blueliners, combining for three points and an impressive plus-six combined rating in four games. Recent draftees Austin Levi and Tyler Stahl also made good showings in the defensive end along with high-potential prospect Rasmus Rissanen.
In goal, Mike Murphy, the 'Canes new AHL starter, played soundly, winning two of three games with a .963 save percentage, stopping 77 of 80 shots, and one shutout.
While much of the experience gained in this tournament will be put toward developing the plethora of highly-touted prospects in the Hurricanes' farm system, many of the headlining players from the Traverse City team are among the 46 players invited to the Hurricanes' NHL training camp, and several of them could have a good shot at the starting job.
Center should be the biggest position of note, as Jeff Skinner has decided to try for the team, in addition to some other worthy candidates in Jon Matsumoto, Patrick Dwyer, Riley Nash, Zac Dalpe, and newly-signed Patrick O'Sullivan, who has three consecutive 30-plus point NHL seasons under his belt.
Due in a major way to their impressive performances at the Traverse City tournament, a few unlikely prospects have also been invited in, such as defensemen Rasmus Rissanen and Kyle Lawson and forwards Matt Kennedy and Mike McKenzie, who is coming straight from the ECHL.
The preseason will begin Tuesday against Florida, and will be followed by a back-to-back-back from Thursday to Saturday, with two road games against Nashville and Atlanta and another home contest against the Predators. The Hurricanes training-camp roster will then play at Florida again the next Wednesday and finish with their European send-off game against Atlanta on the first of October.
With such a solid performance at the Traverse City tournament building confidence and creating a glimpse of what could be to come for this talented young Hurricanes group, there's no doubt that anticipation is building, not only for the preseason beginning next week, but for the start of the regular season, too.
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