Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour, all but wagging a finger, says not to read too much into the line combinations early in training camp.
“Not unless you want to get a headache,” he joked.
But in truth, the top four lines have been intact through the first three days of camp. And Brind’Amour said some of the lines could be used when the Canes play their first preseason exhibition games in a few days — at Tampa Bay on Tuesday, then at PNC Arena on Wednesday against the Lightning.
Brind’Amour has had Sebastian Aho centering Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Dzingel. That has given Dzingel a look with the Canes’ best offensive center and a veteran winger who was acquired in January from the Minnesota Wild and a big part of the Canes’ Stanley Cup playoff push.
“I’m sure they’ll mix it whenever, when the season starts, but right now it’s easy to be slotted with those two guys,” Dzingel said Sunday in an N&O interview. “It’s easy getting them the puck.”
Jordan Staal has been centering Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov, and Brind’Amour has had Erik Haula at center with Warren Foegele and Martin Necas. The fourth center, Lucas Wallmark, has had Brock McGinn and Jordan Martinook on the wings.
“We just throw guys together at this point of the year,” Brind’Amour said to the media. “We want to make sure our new guys are getting up to speed, so a lot of times you want to make sure they’re with someone who’s been around.”
Dzingel and Haula are two new guys. Dzingel started the 2018-19 season with the Ottawa Senators and ended it with the Columbus Blue Jackets after a trade. He then signed a two-year deal with the Canes as a free agent.
“I’m used to playing with a lot of different guys,” Dzingel said. “We mixed it up a lot last year, kind of put it in the blender.”
Haula, 28, played just 15 games last season for the Vegas Golden Knights after a serious knee injury. He was medically cleared to return for the second round of the playoffs but there was a hitch — the Golden Knights were bounced in the opening round by the San Jose Sharks in a seven-game series.
The Canes traded for Haula in late June, sending center Nicolas Roy and a draft pick to Vegas.
“I’ve had a lot of time on my hands, rehabbing, thinking and stuff,” Haula said to the media as camp began. “I’m done thinking. I want to get going and play hockey again.
“I’m not trying to come in here and stir anything up. They have a good thing going. Just try to add to the success and help out.”
Dzingel, 27, brings more speed to the lineup, and Haula is a strong skater with some size at 6-0 and 193 pounds. Both have proven they are scoring threats, Dzingel with a 15 percent shooting figure in 268 career regular-season games and 26 goals last season, and Haula a 29-goal scorer in 2017-18 with the expansion Golden Knights.
Haula has been flanked by two of the Canes’ speedier guys in Foegele and Necas, although Necas went crashing into the PNC Arena boards Sunday at a high rate of speed during a drill. He left the ice for treatment and soon returned, but was experiencing some soreness after the practice session.
Wallmark, 24, has become one of the Canes’ more versatile players. He came into camp a year ago with the simple goal of making the NHL roster and ended up playing 81 games — after 11 for the Canes in 2017-18 — and the 15 playoff games.
A few weeks ago, Brind’Amour was asked about his top four centers for this season and quickly replied Aho, Staal, Haula and Wallmark. That’s how far the Swede, a fourth-round draft pick by Carolina in 2014, has come.
Wallmark got his chance last season when a good friend and fellow Swede, center Victor Rask, cut his fingers in a kitchen accident just before camp began. Wallmark took advantage of the next-man-up opportunity, establishing himself in the lineup, while Rask later would be traded for Niederreiter.
“I want to take another step and find a way to be better,” Wallmark said Sunday. “Last year was my first full year so you’re learning new things, with great help from the coaches, every day. Sometimes, small tips and sometimes bigger things. You have to prepare yourself and be ready every night.”
For now, Wallmark centering Martinook and McGinn would give Brind’Amour an aggressive checking and energy line.
“With a line, sometimes it’s three guys thinking the same way and sometimes thinking a different way but it still works,” Wallmark said. “I think it would be a good line, working hard while trying to create some offensive side.”
Odds are, Brind’Amour will have different combinations come Oct. 3 and the season opener against the Montreal Canadiens. But it’s training camp. It’s fun to guess what they will be.