Maturation of young players pivotal for Hurricanes' success

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) The Carolina Hurricanes figure to spend this season celebrating their past and building for the future.

As for the present, that could once again be a struggle.

The second year of coach Bill Peters' rebuilding project with Carolina coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Hurricanes' only Stanley Cup title.

Their only postseason appearance since then came in 2009, a drought that is the longest among Eastern Conference teams.

The only two remaining players who lifted the Cup with Carolina - captain Eric Staal and goalie Cam Ward - are entering the final year of their contracts, and their uncertain futures with the team are accompanied by an added sense of urgency to bring the buzz back to PNC Arena.

''It seems like so long ago that that took place, but it definitely brings you back to those great memories that you had,'' said Ward, the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP. ''I would love nothing more than to get back and do that all over again, and not only do it again, do it here.

''I'd love to see us get off to a good start and push to make the playoffs and see the city rally the way they did 10 years ago,'' he added. ''I don't know if there was any better place for hockey (than Raleigh in 2006), and that's what we're trying to strive for.''

They'll once again try to snap that drought with the hope that young players like 20-year-old forward Elias Lindholm and 18-year-old defenseman Noah Hanifin - their first-round draft pick this past June - can grow up fast.

And it can't hurt that the veterans have a better grasp on the detail-oriented system taught by Peters, a former assistant to Mike Babcock in Detroit who took over last summer.

''For the guys that have been here, you know what he is and what he expects, how he likes to play,'' Staal said. ''I'm sure there will be some tweaks here and there ... (but) for the most part, you know his style and how he sees the game and how he sees good plays.''

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Some things to know about the 2015-16 Carolina Hurricanes:

NO SEMIN: The biggest move of the offseason was buying out the final three years of enigmatic forward Alexander Semin's contract. Semin quickly fell out of Peters' favor last year, finishing with a career-worst six goals with 13 assists while occasionally being a healthy scratch. He has since signed with Montreal.

GOALIE BATTLE: The Hurricanes have swapped out goalies, trading Anton Khudobin to Anaheim and acquiring Eddie Lack from Vancouver. The 27-year-old Lack and Ward, 31, have spent preseason camp competing for the starting job, and Lack signed a two-year contract extension over the weekend.

YOUNG D-MEN: Four of the top six defensemen could be 23 years old or younger. In addition to Hanifin, 22-year-old Ryan Murphy was a first-rounder in 2011 and All-Star Justin Faulk - a second-rounder in 2010 - has emerged as a leader of that group at age 23.

NO CONTRACT TALK: Both Staal and Ward insist their uncertain status for next year will affect them this season. Staal will make $9.5 million in the last year of a seven-year deal he signed in September 2008. Ward signed a six-year deal a year later and will make $6.8 million this season. Said Staal: ''I feel like I have a lot of great hockey left, a lot of good years left and I want to help this team get back to the playoffs.''

MOVING ON FROM 2014-15: The Hurricanes' 30 wins last season marked their fewest in a full season since the 2003-04 team had 28. They lost 40 games in regulation for the first time since 2002-03.

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

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