Finally, hockey is back.
After a long offseason, the Carolina Hurricanes returned to the ice on Friday for the start of training camp.
One of the most intriguing elements of camp is seeing the young up-and-comers share the ice with veterans for the first time. The ‘Canes have several prospects that have a chance to make a significant impact in the near future, and with many contracts coming off the books after this year, Carolina’s budding talent will get the chance to prove their worth sooner rather than later.
This strong core of teenagers includes 6’2” forward Victor Rask. Hailing from Leksand, Sweden, Rask was selected 42nd overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. The 18-year-old played two seasons in HockeyAllsvenskan, one of the most prestigious leagues in the country. A crafty center with strong puck handling skills and a solid frame, Rask has the raw talent to be considered one of the premier skaters in the 2011 draft class. Formerly a top prospect, his stock dropped significantly last year, as inconsistency plagued him throughout his final season in Europe. Despite his recent struggles, Rask’s skill set and strength give him the potential to blossom in the NHL under proper tutelage.
After careful deliberation and influence from Carolina GM Jim Rutherford, Rask made the decision to play in North America this upcoming season. Where he ends up, however, has yet to be determined.
In addition to being drafted by the Hurricanes, Rask was selected third overall by the Calgary Hitmen in the Western Hockey League import draft. Now property of a junior league team as well as Carolina, Rask (and Rutherford) have options for the next few years.
“I think it would be good for his maturity on and off the ice and to start to learn the North American culture and game,” Rutherford said in an interview with NHL.com. “Based on what I’ve seen, he’s a guy that could play in the AHL or in junior hockey, so it’ll boil down to what’s the best for him and the best thing for him is to play somewhere where he’ll play a lot of minutes and play in all situations.”
If Rask plays the 2011-12 season in Calgary, he’ll get a chance to earn ample ice time and adjust to the North American style of hockey. Joining the Hitmen would be far more beneficial to his overall development than returning to Sweden, and it’s encouraging that he was sold on the idea of moving across the pond at such an early juncture. It’s quite rare to find a European teenager so inclined to come to North America, and Rask’s enthusiasm to be a part of the Hurricanes organization is a very positive sign.
While I expect Rask to become an integral part of Carolina’s long-term plans, Rutherford’s comments lead me to believe the young Swede will not make it to the NHL right away. Giving the kid sufficient ice time is the main priority for now, something he wouldn’t be able to achieve with the Hurricanes at this point. Regardless of where he spends the 2011-12 campaign, ‘Canes fans and management will be watching Rask very closely in camp and during the preseason. If all goes as planned, he’ll play a very big role in Carolina for years to come.
For coverage of the Carolina Hurricanes from the press box and locker room, follow Andrew on Twitter: @andrewhirsh