The door to the NHL hasn’t opened wide for former No. 1 draft pick Rick DiPietro, but a professional tryout by the Carolina Hurricanes with their American Hockey League affiliate in Charlotte opens it a crack, and that’s a crack that didn’t exist last week.
"When he’s healthy and he’s into it, he can stop pucks," Carolina GM Jim Rutherford told ESPN.com on Sunday. "That’s what we’re hoping he can do."
DiPietro, a free agent after being bought out of the remaining eight years of his 15-year, $67.5 million deal by the New York Islanders in the offseason, had been working out with the Boston College hockey team when Rutherford inquired about his availability.
Rutherford hopes DiPietro will start two games for the Charlotte Checkers on Wednesday and Thursday, and then they’ll assess their options. The Hurricanes have been laid low by injuries to their top two goaltenders, Cam Ward, who is out for at least a month with a lower-body injury, and backup Anton Khudobin, who has been out for more than two weeks with what is believed to be a foot injury. Khudobin, who has been excellent for the Hurricanes, could take shots Monday, but his return timetable remains cloudy -- hence the interest in DiPietro.
The Hurricanes, tied for second with the Islanders in the mediocre Metropolitan Division with a 4-4-3 record, have been relying on Justin Peters, who has little NHL experience.
"But what happens if he goes down?" Rutherford asked.
Although the team examined a number of goaltending options, including a number of former NHL netminders currently without work, Rutherford liked the idea of seeing what DiPietro could do.
The veteran GM said he met DiPietro, 32, during last season’s contract talks and liked what he saw in DiPietro’s personality and attitude. The two main obstacles that have dogged DiPietro in recent years -- his health and his monster contract that had become, in the end, a kind of albatross -- are both gone, Rutherford noted.
"He's got a lot of things behind him," Rutherford said. Now, he’s back to square one. “It’s a very good opportunity for him,” Rutherford added, even if DiPietro doesn't end up signing with the Hurricanes.
DiPietro played only three games for the Islanders last season, losing all three before being put on waivers and sent to the team’s AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, where he played 18 games. Since 2008-09, DiPietro has played only 50 NHL games.