It’s not too often that an NHL team adds two new players after the conclusion of their final preseason game, but the Carolina Hurricanes’ training camp has been one of little cohesion, albeit plenty of optimism.
Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho missed the beginning as they represented Finland at the World Cup of Hockey, and coach Bill Peters arrived even later, after Canada’s championship. Then Ryan Murphy suffered a lower-body injury, which could keep him out through late October, and Justin Faulk left Friday’s game against Washington with a minor issue that has him listed as day-to-day.
So the timing of Sunday’s pair of small but smart moves — claiming Martin Frk off waivers from Detroit and signing free-agent defenseman Jakub Nakladal, most recently of Calgary — should come as little surprise.
Both additions closely fit the bill as classic Hurricanes-style transactions: low-cost, low-risk moves to improve depth, with noticeable ties to Eric Tulsky’s influence.
Frk is undoubtedly the more notable addition in the long-term, reuniting the former second-round pick with fellow former Red Wings prospect Andrej Nestrasil. Frk, 23, has been somewhat slow-developing for Detroit but had a strong season in AHL Grand Rapids, scoring 27 goals and 44 points in 67 games.
He’s no longer a candidate at this stage to develop into a top-six star, but Frk has an excellent shot and could provide an offensive boost to the bottom six.
Waivers would be required to send him down to Charlotte, and multiple teams reportedly submitted claims for him over the weekend, so Frk is a pretty sure bet to play for the Hurricanes this season. That could push a veteran like Jay McClement — a puck possession disaster last year — or Bryan Bickell, or a roster bubble player like Phil Di Giuseppe, out of the Opening Day starting lineup.
Over the course of the season, though, Frk will provide even more depth when injuries inevitably occur.
Bickell comes to Raleigh with a concerning legacy of health issues that essentially killed his tenure in Chicago.
Nestrasil, while currently at full health, hasn’t played a regular season game since February and underwent intense rehabilitation for much of the offseason.
And the Hurricanes were fortunate last year that all of their top forwards played virtually full seasons in 2015-16 — they can’t assume they’ll be so lucky this year.
On the defensive end, 28-year-old Nakladal will never be more than a third-pairing option. He’s a moderate improvement over fellow Czech and former Hurricane Michal Jordan, who was below Nakladal on the Czechs’ World Cup depth chart, but he adds yet another piece to an increasingly loaded blue line.
Nakladal was quietly reliable in 27 games for the Flames last season, tallying five points but also ranking third on the team in Corsi rating (admittedly in a fairly sheltered role).
The Flames’ SB Nation site wrote that he performed “well enough to slot in as a fourth defenseman” and hoped his re-signing would force liabilities Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland off the team.
Instead, Nakladal found a last-second job in Raleigh, and both Wideman and Engelland remain under contract in Calgary.
The presences of he and Matt Tennyson, another borderline NHL-er signed over the summer, will allow valuable youngsters Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown to slowly ease their way into the big leagues — and give Carolina some immediate injury insurance.
Murphy’s absence through the first several weeks of the regular season might not really be bad thing for the Hurricanes, and Faulk is reportedly probable for Thursday’s opener in Winnipeg despite a few days of anxiety about his status.
Still, the defense is showing some cracks, and addressing any possible future crises now, when some leftover free agents still remain, is wise.
Ron Francis and the Hurricanes did just that with Sunday’s pair of additions.