Noah Hanifin

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After ‘breakout’ year in AHL, Fleury ready to crack ‘Canes lineup

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If it feels like we’ve written about Haydn Fleury being ready to make the leap before… well, it’s because we have.

Quite a few times.

There are reasons for this, of course. Fleury was the second defenseman off the board at the 2014 draft, taken six spots behind No. 1 overall selection Aaron Ekblad. He’s just one of two top-15 picks from his draft year yet to play in the NHL — the fifth overall selection, Isles prospect Michael Dal Colle, is also waiting to make the leap — and he’s already two years behind fellow ‘Canes blueliner Noah Hanifin, who was taken in the ’15 draft and just wrapped his sophomore NHL campaign.

Progress has been a slow process. But now, it finally sounds like Fleury’s ready to break through.

“He’s had, in my opinion, a breakout year,” AHL Charlotte coach Ulf Samuelsson said this week, per the Observer. “He’s been one of our most consistent players. He’s taken a step maybe each month and the last month has made the biggest step because he’s now using his size.

“He’s hard to play against. He’s always been good joining the rush, jumping up, but he has turned into a really good two-way defenseman.”

After a lengthy junior career in Red Deer, Fleury played his first season of pro hockey in Charlotte this season, and acquitted himself nicely. He raced up seven goals and 26 points in 69 games and, as per Samuelsson’s above quote, has used his 6-foot-3, 207-pound frame to his advantage.

Some might look at Fleury’s slow progression to the pro game, and consider him a draft bust. That doesn’t appear to be the case.

‘Canes GM Ron Francis has taken a more deliberate approach with Fleury, 20, and another promising blueliner, 21-year-old Roland McKeown. Both were knocking on the door of making the Carolina roster to start the year, but Francis opted to send them back to Charlotte for more seasoning.

One might wonder why Francis opted to slow play these two, when Hanifin was fast-tracked to the NHL at 18. The answer might not lie with Fleury and McKeown, but rather the group as a whole — Carolina had one of the youngest bluelines in the league this year, featuring Hanifin (20), Jaccob Slavin (22), Brett Pesce (22), Ryan Murphy (24) and Justin Faulk (25).

Murphy, however, could be lost to Las Vegas in the upcoming expansion draft, resulting in an open roster spot. And journeyman Matt Tennyson, who appeared in 45 games on defense for the ‘Canes this season, is a pending UFA.

All this points to Fleury making his long-awaited NHL debut in the fall.

Gaudreau joins Eichel as latest additions to USA’s Worlds roster

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Another big score for USA Hockey on Friday.

Calgary forward Johnny Gaudreau — whose season ended earlier Wednesday with a playoff sweep at the hands of Anaheim — told reporters today he’d be joining Team USA for the upcoming World Championships in Germany and France.

Gaudreau’s announcement comes just days after another big name — Buffalo’s Jack Eichelalso agreed to join the squad.

All this makes for a pretty intriguing roster.

USA Hockey has adopted a youth movement, selecting collegiate players like Notre Dame goalie Cal Petersen (a Buffalo draftee), Boston University forward Jordan Greenway (a Minnesota draftee), Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork (a Boston draftee) and Daniel Brickley, an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota State-Mankato.

In addition to those, some quality NHL youngsters are also in the mix: Noah Hanifin, J.T. Compher, Andrew Copp and a pair of prized Arizona prospects — Christian Dvorak and Clayton Keller. Detroit sophomore Dylan Larkin will also suit up for the Americans.

The 2017 Worlds get underway on May 5.

 

 

‘Belief system is very strong’ for red-hot Hurricanes

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) In less than a month, the Carolina Hurricanes have gone from last place in the Eastern Conference to the edge of the playoff picture.

The Hurricanes enter the weekend four points behind Boston for the East’s eighth and final playoff spot with seven games remaining.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround for a team that earlier this week inherited the dubious distinction of owning the NHL’s longest active playoff drought – and all it took was earning at least one point in a franchise-record 13 straight games.

Heading into the final week of the season, they’ve got a chance – a slim one, but a chance nonetheless – to shed that label as quickly as they earned it.

“The belief system is very strong right now,” coach Bill Peters said.

They know they’ve got to remain near-perfect, though, starting with Saturday night’s game against Dallas and continuing through next week’s two-game road swing through playoff-bound Pittsburgh and Minnesota.

“It’s fun. That’s why you play the game,” said forward Jeff Skinner, who along with many of his teammates has never skated in a playoff game. “I think you look at guys are feeding off of each other, guys are playing well, we’re playing well as a team and it’s a lot of fun coming to the rink when you’ve got things on the line. Hopefully we can keep this thing rolling and keep it that way.”

The only other team in club history to earn points in 12 consecutive games went on to hoist the Stanley Cup in 2006.

These Hurricanes have gone 9-0-4 since March 9 to vault back into contention. They broke that 11-year-old club record Thursday night with a 2-1 overtime victory over Columbus in which Skinner scored the tying goal with 4:20 left in regulation, then set up Noah Hanifin‘s winner 2:16 into OT.

A pair of first-round draft picks has led the way: Skinner (2010) scored goals in a career-best six straight games, piling up nine points in that stretch, and Elias Lindholm (2013) had either a goal or an assist – or both – in 11 of those 13 games.

“We absolutely have a shot here to do this,” said Hanifin, their first-round pick in 2015.

Carolina’s string of seven straight years without making the tournament became the longest in the league when Edmonton clinched its first playoff berth since 2006. Coincidentally, the Oilers’ last appearance in the postseason came in 2006 – when they lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final to Carolina.

The Hurricanes’ only playoff berth since that championship season came in 2009 – when they won two early-round Game 7s to advance to the Eastern Conference final. Since then, they haven’t been close very often, finishing at least 10 points back in each of the last five years.

It wasn’t long ago that things looked bleak once again. Carolina was in last in the East on March 4 with 60 points, one behind the Detroit Red Wings, after a home loss to an Arizona team that remains the second-worst team in the league.

The Hurricanes have been tough to beat ever since.

“When you’re playing well, you want to get back out there,” said veteran goalie Cam Ward, the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP. “We’re starving to go to the playoffs, but you can’t do it all in eight games. You’ve got to take one game at a time and not look too far in the future. We’ve been doing a good job of taking care of ourselves and coming to the rink each day and trying to win the day. … Winning’s fun, so we’re having a lot of fun.”

Follow Joedy McCreary at http://twitter.com/joedyap

Flyers rookies Konecny, Provorov factor into OT win vs. Hurricanes

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Travis Konecny tied it with 42.9 seconds left in the third period and Brayden Schenn scored 38 seconds into overtime, lifting the Philadelphia Flyers over the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 on Sunday night.

Jordan Staal scored a power-play goal with 8:11 left in the third to put Carolina ahead 3-2, but Konecny scored with Flyers goalie Steve Mason on the bench for an extra attacker, then Schenn ended it by finishing a rebound from close range.

Ivan Provorov had a goal and two assists and Dale Weise also scored for Philadelphia, which pulled within five points of idle Toronto for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia, which has 11 games remaining, would have to pass three teams for a postseason bid.

Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm also scored for Carolina, which is six points out of the playoffs. The Hurricanes have points (4-0-3) in each of their last seven games.

Konecny tied it after Provorov’s shot from the point went to the back boards. Konecny sent the puck toward the net and it deflected off Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and past goalie Cam Ward.

Staal scored after Sebastian Aho‘s initial shot was stopped by Mason, but the rebound went right to Lindholm. He made a close-range pass to Staal, who fired it past Mason’s left pad from just outside of the crease.

Mason made 19 saves to improve to 9-4-1 in 14 games against Carolina.

Provorov opened the scoring with 57.8 seconds left in the first period with a perfectly placed wrist shot that went over Ward’s right shoulder. It was the sixth goal of the season for the rookie, who entered leading the team in ice time by averaging 21:47 per contest.

Ward, returning to the net after backup Eddie Lack played the last two, made 40 saves.

The Flyers took a 2-0 lead on Weise’s goal with 8:57 left in the second period. Konecny set it up by wheeling around to the far side of the net before sending the puck to the front of the crease. It came out to Weise, who shot high over Ward’s glove.

The Hurricanes scored the final two goals of the period to tie it at 2 heading to the third.

Skinner got his 26th of the season with 7:23 left in the period. Noah Hanifin sent a slap shot off the backboards to the other side of the net, where a wide-open Skinner beat a lunging Mason.

Lindholm extended his points streak to seven games with his ninth goal of the season with 1:04 left in the second. Phillip DiGiuseppe sent the puck to Lindholm, who fired a quick shot from the slot past Mason’s glove.

Need to upgrade your defense? Give Carolina a call

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The Carolina Hurricanes have drafted a lot of defensemen in the last few years, and it’s put them in a great position to make some trades.

“I think everyone is always looking for D and we feel comfortable with our depth there,” GM Ron Francis told ESPN.com Thursday. “We’re always looking at all options to make our team better; if that’s an area of strength and you can address an area of weakness, we’d certainly look at those possibilities.”

As mentioned, the ‘Canes have made it a point to draft defensemen. Haydn Fleury went seventh overall in 2014 and is now finding his way in the AHL; Noah Hanifin went fifth overall in 2015 and has already played over 100 games in the NHL; and Jake Bean, still in junior, was the 13th overall pick in 2016.

Carolina has also discovered some gems in the later rounds, like Justin Faulk (37th overall), Brett Pesce (66th), and Jaccob Slavin (120th).

In a related story, there has been talk that the ‘Canes could be a dark horse to land Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog from the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs badly need to upgrade their blue line. No doubt they’re aware of Carolina’s riches.

So keep an eye on the Hurricanes. They’ve got the assets to make a deal. It’s just a matter now of finding the right one.

Related:

Ducks won’t trade young defensemen for rentals

Canucks could trade a defenseman for a scorer