Right now the Canes have only 11 forwards and 5 defensemen signed to 1-way deals for the 2015-16. (It is actually 9 forwards, but I am assuming Rask and Lindholm will spend all of 2015-16 at the NHL level.) Even if the Hurricanes add a veteran or 2 before the season starts, there should still be an opening or 2 for young players. In addition, it is not as if all of these open slots are bottom of the roster/depth openings. The possibility exists for relatively inexperienced players to rise up and seize key roles by playing well in training camp.
There should be true tryouts open to everyone in training camp, but 4 players jump out to me for building the 2015-16 lineup.
1) Ryan Murphy. In terms of attention and excitement, Murphy is being quickly surpassed by high-end draft picks with elite potential in Haydn Fleury and Noah Hanifin. A couple other defenseman drafted more recently are also progressing nicely toward getting an NHL shot. But of this bunch, Ryan is the only player with NHL experience, and only Trevor Carrick even has AHL experience past a couple games. Ryan Murphy, on the other hand, has two full seasons of mixed NHL and AHL experience and multiple rotations of giving it a go in the NHL, learning a bit and then spending time in the AHL hopefully working on things identified in his most recent NHL stint.
If he is going to have his time in a Hurricanes uniform, I think that time is now. He is 22 years old now, has gained some experience and has a skill set that could help with the Canes 5v5 scoring woes. He also has a pack of young defensemen who are behind him but closing fast. They will soon get NHL auditions and the chance to surpass Ryan Murphy.
=>Need potentially filled: Creation of offense from the back end to help improve 5v5 scoring.
2) Noah Hanifin. The justified expectation is that he is eventually going to be good, real good. But heading specifically into the 2015-16 season, he is a wild card. I do not see how you can call him anything else until he appears in at least a few NHL preseason games. Could he be Aaron Ekblad and ready to play next to Justin Faulk right now? Sure. It is possible. Could he be talented but still multiple years away from being NHL ready? That is also possible. Where he lands on that spectrum is not the be all end all for his ultimate level of success, but with the Canes looking to fill 1 if not 2 defense slots with youth, it has a significant bearing on the 2015-16 season.
=>Need potentially filled: Another top 4 defenseman sooner rather than later.
3) Derek Ryan. In Europe he developed into a high-end playmaker. He enters the 2015-16 season having won consecutive MVP awards with the 2nd being in the respected Swedish Hockey League where he led the league in scoring with an assist-heavy total. He is a bit undersized at 5-10 170 pounds which is why he had to go the European route initially, but he obviously overcame it there. I think the biggest factor in the Canes lack of 5v5 scoring and not so coincidental slumps across the board from the Canes top forwards was the lack of playmaking on the 2014-15 team. I wrote previously about the potential for improvement in this regard from the blue line. Adding a playmaking forward to help get players like Eric Staal, Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner more scoring chances without needing to manufacture everything on their own is another option. At least in Europe that was exactly Derek Ryan’s role. If he proves to be NHL ready, I can rattle of multiple scenarios where he fits. If Peters goes Staal/Staal again, could he be a playmaking right wing who can put the puck on Staal sticks in scoring areas? If Peters goes Staal/Staal/Lindholm, could Ryan center a 2nd line and serve scoring chances to Skinner with a bigger body like Nestrasil in tow to balance things out? If Peters separates the Staals, could Ryan provide playmaking for Staal from the wing position somewhat like Ray Whitney and Cory Stillman from years past?
=>Need potentially filled: Playmaker/passer for top 6 to help boost 5v5 scoring chances and ultimately goals.
4) Eddie Lack. In the NHL, goaltending can be the single biggest wild card. When a team gets a netminder playing lights out, it can overcome other shortcomings and keep a team competitive. Lack was very good down the stretch in Vancouver last season, leading the Canucks to the playoffs. He is just entering his prime. And the Canes enter the 2015-16 with room to improve in net.
=>Need potentially filled: Top-end goalie capable of stealing some games and making it possible for the Canes to win more than their fair share.
When you are trying to make a huge leap from bottom of the NHL to playoff contention without adding a ton of new players to do it, it takes some surprises and players rising up to higher levels than anticipated. There are other options, but I think these 4 players have the greatest chance to go from off the screen to right in the middle of the making the team better.