A lot of things would have to go his way, but Victor Rask shouldn’t be counted out just yet.
At 19, the Hurricanes’ second-round pick in 2011 is the youngest player at this year’s camp. Many players his age aren’t even eligible to play in the American Hockey League, but the fact that he was drafted while playing in his native Sweden means there’s no regulations preventing him from suiting up for Charlotte.
Rather, the only roadblocks are a team already deep with forwards that became even more so due to the NHL’s labor stoppage.
“I’m just going to do my best and see what the coaches think about me,” said Rask. “If I’m lucky maybe I’ll get a spot, but it’s a good team.”
There’s little question that Rask has enough talent to make it as a professional. The decision about whether he’ll do that this season or return to his junior team in Calgary will be whether he’ll get enough playing time to help further his development. Even if he were to unseat a more established player and make the team, the organization may deem it best for him to play extensively in all situations in a lower league rather than potentially filling a depth role with the Checkers.
Despite a successful first season in North America that saw him score 63 points (33g, 30a) in 64 games with the Hitmen, it’s possible that Rask could still benefit from another full season in junior, especially if the strides he’s already taken are any indication.
“Even just from watching him at Traverse City last year, he’s definitely grown and become a better skater,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels, who has also run the Hurricanes’ entry at the aforementioned rookie tournament in recent years. “You can tell that his year in Calgary really helped him. Obviously he’s a young guy and is new to this level, but he’s definitely got a lot of talent.”
“It was a big step,” agreed Rask, who previously played for his hometown club in Leksand, Sweden. “Getting used to everything away from the rink - everything was different than in Sweden. Playing on the smaller rink wasn’t a huge problem, but it was good to get used to it.”
Aside from watching him on the ice, a quick interaction with Rask also reveals his increased comfort level. Only able to speak a few words of English at the time of his draft and first pro camp with Carolina last season, he’s now much more at ease in interviews thanks to his head-first immersion last season.
Whether he’s come far enough remains to be seen, but Calgary should prove to be a healthy second option. Should that occur, he’ll be happy to actually be playing games after sitting out the first two contests of the regular season to prepare for Charlotte’s camp.
“Being in the stands the first two games and that was a little bit boring,” he said.