Lucas Wallmark is looking forward to the upcoming season. The 24-year-old center for the Carolina Hurricanes is coming off his first full season on NHL ice, and is ready for more.
Wallmark played in 81 games last season for the Hurricanes. He put up 10 goals and 18 assists for 28 points. In the 2019 Playoffs, he had one goal and four assists.
His $700,000 salary this season is well-deserved and he no doubt hopes to improve to the point that his restricted free agent status at the end of the coming season will be met with a significant contract offer to continue growing with the ‘Canes.
Wallmark the Prospect
Wallmark was drafted by the Hurricanes in the fourth round, 97th overall, in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Prior to the draft, Elite Prospects gave this evaluation of the young Swede: “Wallmark has first-class hockey sense and vision. Very smart player and a highly skilled playmaker. Has good puck control and will also battle hard for the puck. Good defensive game and face-off skills. One concern is his skating ability, as he lacks some speed and acceleration.”
Wallmark has demonstrated good hockey-sense and puck control in his young career. If he’s a step slower than most, it’s not obvious. He has played very well with Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour’s up-tempo style, seemingly not missing a beat.
Ready to Take the Next Step
I spoke with Wallmark recently and he said that after last season he is ready to take the next step. “Hopefully I can build on last season and take it up a bit,” Wallmark said. That seems to be the notion that others have about him, too. He had a good season but can he keep his roster spot in light of the seemingly abundant talent in the Hurricanes’ training camp?
Sara Civian wrote in The Athletic, “I’m 99.9 percent sure Wallmark will make the team, but he’s definitely still in prove-yourself szn (sic) with a training camp this stacked.” (From “Team Pride vs. Team Passion: Who will make the Hurricanes’ opening night roster?,” The Athletic 9/21/19)
Wallmark On the Missing Captain
I asked Wallmark how he felt about Hurricanes’ captain Justin Williams taking a break from hockey. “Justin was a great, great guy and a great player. Of course, you’re going to miss him, but we’ve learned from him and can take that with us. So yeah. He’s a great guy.”
What is interesting, and has been talked about repeatedly by folks in the media like myself, is that Williams did not say the word, “retire.” Who knows, he might lace ’em up in the middle of the season and be back leading the Hurricanes once again. Or not.
It is not unusual for teams to experience fatigue at the beginning of the season after having made a run in the playoffs. While other teams are unwinding, getting injury treatments in May and June, teams that advance into the playoffs can only get a break after mid-June, assuming their run is deep.
I asked Wallmark how he thought the team would respond to possible fatigue having played all the way to the Eastern Conference Final, particularly since it has been years since they made the playoffs.
I feel fresh. Of course, you are a little tired like after a season, but you get a couple of weeks after and get some rest and get back in shape. So everyone is excited to get it started again and hopefully we’re going to have a long season again.
Wallmark and Pressure
As previously noted, Wallmark would like to step his game up to the next level. I asked him if he felt pressure to score and how he liked playing center. “I just play. I don’t think so much,” Wallmark said. “I’m just trying to have fun out there. If you start thinking too much it’s not going to help you. I’m just trying to have fun every day and work hard for us to win games.
For a young player just coming off his first full season, Wallmark seems more like a veteran than a guy knowing he’s in a training camp with guys who want his spot. It’s easy to believe that he approaches the game with a “just want to have fun” mindset. The entire team has bought into that part of Brind’Amour’s mantra. Work hard and have fun.
Austin Isham wrote recently at cardiaccane.com, “Constantly winning slightly over 50% of his draws, in both the regular and post season, it is safe to say that under the guidance of head coach Brind’Amour, Lucas has the potential to be one of the better face-off men in the entire league.
Wallmark is looking at his second NHL season. He’s having fun yet working hard. Not unlike Victor Rask when he was young and hungry, Wallmark’s faceoff prowess is helping him make the case that he belongs. Typically centering the fourth line, Wallmark doesn’t seem like a guy hanging by a thread.
But rather he is an important part of the Hurricanes. Having a capable fourth-line center is crucial to a team’s success. He even showed poise when stepping up for Jordan Staal when was out with an injury. And he has already scored, albeit in the preseason. He looks to be very ready.
Don’t look for a player who is gripping too hard, worried about his roster spot. Wallmark is indeed having fun and he is going to play hard and very likely continue to be an important part of Brind’Amour’s team. Anything is possible, though, and the ‘Canes are sporting a deep set of prospects and acquisitions from the offseason. Wallmark earned his spot on the ice, though, and it will take someone really strong to make him give it up.