As much as it’s about figuring out which players deserve to make the team, training camp is about finding out how to best use the ones you already have.
Even though his team is far from set, coach Jeff Daniels and his staff are already starting to experiment with some potential line combinations in the early stages of camp. Aside from finding out which players complement each other best, part of the rationale is letting players settle in to new positions and new roles.
“Brett Sutter, can play center and the wing, (Justin) Shugg can play both wings and (Nicolas) Blanchard can play both wings, said Daniels. “Obviously we have some idea of who’s going to be where, but it’s going to be a process to figure out who has chemistry and who needs to play with more skilled linemates and things like that.”
Other players Daniels could have mentioned include A.J. Jenks and Brody Sutter, who can and have played multiple positions with the Checkers. Another is Zac Dalpe, who grew up as a center and has played there almost exclusively at the AHL level over the past two seasons.
Rather than use Dalpe and Jeremy Welsh to form what could potentially be an effective one-two punch down the middle (Riley Nash is certainly in that mix as well), the early plan is to use the two on the same line, with Dalpe on the right side.
“We’re going to start him at wing and try to be consistent with him that way,” said Daniels. “Right now we’ve got him on the right side, and with his speed and shot we feel like he has a pretty good combination to play there.”
“My whole life I’ve played center so it’ll be a little bit of an adjustment not playing up the middle, but hopefully I’ll figure that out here in practice rather than in games,” said Dalpe.
Dalpe does have some experience on the wing, having spent most of his 31 NHL games in that role. The Hurricanes’ apparent desire to continue to use him there in the future is part of what led to this point.
“I think Carolina sees me as more of a winger long-term, so it’s good to be able to do that here because I need to show I can do it there,” he said. “Last year it could be a little tough going back and forth.”
Dalpe, Carolina’s second-round pick in 2008, said that he’d be working with the team’s development staff during camp to find ways to help ease the transition. To give one example, the life of a winger doesn’t involve as much north-south movement as that of a center, which is more active in the defensive zone.
“It’ll be a little different because I’m a guy that likes to skate, and I’ll be working with Cory Stillman to find ways to keep my feet active along the wall.”
Dalpe’s early line could be a dynamic one, as it includes Chris Terry, the team’s leading scorer and All-Star representative from last season, and Welsh, who was expected to compete for a starting job in the NHL this season despite turning pro a mere six months ago.
“He’s a bit older for a first-year player, but he’s a big guy who can really shoot the puck,” said Daniels of Welsh, 24. “Carolina’s really excited about him, and he’ll definitely have a chance to play as long as he’s here.”
One adjustment caused by having Dalpe and Welsh on the same line is moving Brett Sutter back to center, where he played approximately half of last season. Sutter has begun on a line with Nicolas Blanchard and Jerome Samson, which has the potential to both shut down the other team’s top scorers and wear them down on the forecheck.