Warren Foegele carried his Charlotte Checkers bag out of the visiting locker room and insisted he hadn’t yet earned an upgrade.
Foegele needs a new bag now because he beat the odds and made the Carolina Hurricanes’ opening night roster with an impressive preseason. Only reigning Art Ross Trophy winner Connor McDavid and last year’s rookie of the year Mathew Barzal had more preseason assists than Foegele, the top surprise player to make an NHL team out of training camp.
“I just came to camp, just put my head down and tried to work hard and tried to make good plays,” Foegele said. “I’m a hard-working player and I think I can fit anywhere in the lineup. I think I can grind, I think I can make plays, but I think the work ethic is what I really take a lot of pride in and that’s what I try to show.”
With seven points in eight preseason games — only nine players around the league had more — Foegele beat out other forwards on one-way contracts to make Carolina’s roster. He’s a Rod Brind’Amour kind of player because the coach said Foegele is always around the play and “even if he doesn’t produce points or whatever, you just feel like he wins his shifts.”
Foegele was at his best against the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals when he forced turnovers and set up a pair of goals. The late-blooming 22-year-old who went from the University of New Hampshire to the Ontario Hockey League to the American Hockey League doesn’t stand out with his skill but can do a little bit of everything.
“He really can skate and also he can score some goals,” Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho said. “He’s not just a grinder. I think he can really make some plays, too.”
Foegele will get that chance this season.
Here are some other players who surprised by making NHL season-opening rosters:
MIKHAIL VOROBYEV, FLYERS
The 6-foot-2, 194-pound Russian center didn’t just challenge for a spot with Philadelphia. General manager Ron Hextall said the 2015 fourth-round pick broke down the door and forced the organization’s hand.
Vorobyev led the Flyers with seven preseason points and has stood out since Day One of training camp.
“It’s what you’re looking for with your young players: Come in and make an impact, and he did,” Hextall said. “He’s a real good two-way player. He’s not a young guy that you’re afraid to put him out there because of the defensive side of the puck.”
MATHIEU JOSEPH, LIGHTNING
An injury to forward Tyler Johnson opened up a role for Joseph on Tampa Bay’s third line and second power-play unit. Joseph’s quickness is his most noticeable attribute, and he made the Lighting in large part because he led them in preseason scoring with eight points on four goals and four assists.
“Speed is probably the big thing,” coach Jon Cooper told reporters Monday. “What we really liked in the preseason: He was finishing a lot.”
DILLON DUBE, FLAMES
It would have been very easy for Calgary to keep Curtis Lazar, but GM Brad Treliving knew Dube would play for the Flames someday. The 20-year-old made sure it was now.
Dube had four goals in the preseason and could open the season on the third line with Derek Ryan and free agent signing James Neal, giving him an opportunity to put up plenty of points when the games count.
JESPERI KOTKANIEMI, CANADIENS
It’s no surprise the top two picks from June’s draft, Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and Carolina forward Andrei Svechnikov, are in the NHL right away. So maybe it shouldn’t be a shock about Kotkaniemi, but Montreal seemed to take him third as a long-range investment.
Instead, the Finnish center was one of the Canadiens’ best players in exhibition action and never looked out of place. In an organization short on big centers, Kotkaniemi is a welcome addition right away.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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