During training camp, Kirk Muller repeatedly referred to “the door being closed” on certain players, just prior to sending them to Charlotte. But given the state of the Hurricanes’ walking wounded, the door may be opening once again.
Latest to join the list is Kevin Westgarth who missed his second straight practice with an upper-body ailment and was ruled out for the weekend. With Jeff Skinner and Radek Dvorak already sidelined but not yet on Injured Reserve, Muller has been considering his options. Brett Bellemore is ready to go, giving the ‘Canes eight healthy defensemen while being one forward short. A lopsided lineup might be in the cards.
“Yeah, we could. Actually, [Komisarek] looked okay on the wing today,” Muller joked. “I believe [Dvorak] is going to try to skate tomorrow, but even still I think there’s a possibility of looking at seven ‘D’ for Friday night.”
But rather than going that route — preventing goals has not been the problem — what about a Charlotte recall? There are plenty of options available.
With 5 goals and 9 points in 8 games, Chris Terry leads the Checkers in both categories. Though his skating leaves a bit to be desired, his only goal in the NHL came as a result of crashing the net. Currently, the ‘Canes have too few players doing that with regularity, and lately it seems as though Nathan Gerbe has been the only one.
At just 5’10’’, Terry isn’t the big body that Muller wants on his fourth line, but he’s proven just about everything he can at the AHL level. He’s significantly outscored former-teammate-turned-Hurricane Drayson Bowman, who has clung to a roster spot in Carolina.
Also off to a decent start is Zach Boychuk. He’s had ample opportunity to stick in the NHL and has failed to do so, but another chance could be around the corner. Though he was among the first cuts, his 85 games of NHL experience may put him higher on the depth chart.
An intriguing possibility might be Victor Rask. The second round pick in 2011 is one of the highest rated prospects in the Hurricanes’ system and the early results look promising. Not only is he scoring — 2 goals and 6 points — but he leads all forwards with a plus-two rating.
During his tenure, Muller has given his young guys a legitimate look when they’ve earned it. Whether it’s now or later, we should see Rask in the NHL this season.
But the most likely candidate looks to be longtime NHL veteran and newly-signed Manny Malhotra. He provides everything Muller is looking for in a bottom-sixer — strong defensive play and the ability to win faceoffs. To say Muller’s current options have struggled in that regard would be an understatement. Riley Nash, Brett Sutter and Elias Lindholm have combined to go just a shade over 45 percent in the circle. For his career, Malhotra has clocked in at 57 percent.
Malhotra also has a wealth of experience on the penalty kill. Prior to his injury he was averaging 2:45 per game for the Vancouver Canucks who had the league’s fourth-best unit in 2010-11. His presence would allow a player like Eric Staal to focus on even strength and the man advantage.
While there are still concerns about his injury, Jim Rutherford would not have signed him had he not been fully confident about his capability to still play hockey.
Whomever the Hurricanes would bring up is almost irrelevant. Given their lack of scoring lately, it’s clear that dressing seven defensemen isn’t the answer, even in the short-term. Some fresh faces in the locker room might be the best course of action.