What’s that? Oh yeah, it’s time for the first edition of Back Checkers, which will provide updates throughout the year on the Charlotte Checkers. Charlotte is off to a red hot start, so let’s take a look at the team and see what’s making this memorable opening stretch possible.
While the Canes may be hot right now with wins in three out of their last four games, outscoring opponents 14-7 during that stretch, I think the Checkers are the most impressive streaker right now.
As of November 14th, Charlotte sits tied for second place in the Atlantic Division, and tied for third in the AHL with a 10-4-0 record which is good for 20 points in 14 games. The team has looked consistently dominating so far this year, which is a very bright side for the future of the organization.
On offense, the Checkers are as stacked as they ever have been. In fact, the forwards are so crowded that one of the team’s top offensive prospects, Julien Gauthier, has spent some time in the press box as a healthy scratch, and he’s played in 8 of the team’s 14 games. Gauthier was the 21st overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, so the fact that he is a healthy scratch on an AHL team just shows you how much organizational depth the Hurricanes really have.
As of November 14th, center Lucas Wallmark sits tied for 8th place in AHL scoring with 15 points in 12 games. He has been dominant all season long and he is making it harder and harder to keep him down on the farm. Could Wallmark come up and provide a scoring spark in place of somebody like Josh Jooris? It’s surely possible. But Wallmark has yet again proved how good of an AHL player he is, and I think he’s showing everybody that he’s ready for a real crack at the NHL.
Winger Andrew Miller has 5 goals and 14 points in 14 games, so he has also been another consistently solid option for the Checkers. Valentin Zykov has scored 8 goals and 13 points, and he has looked very good all year. Zykov may be the forward that gets the next crack at the NHL if he keeps up his current scoring pace. Fellow winger Warren Foegele has also opened some eyes, and he started his first AHL season off strong, winning the CCM/AHL player of the week for the AHL’s opening week of the season. He scored 4 goals in the team’s first two games, and he currently leads the AHL in shorthanded goals.
Many other forwards are also opening some eyes for Charlotte. Phil Di Giuseppe has been good with 12 points, and he has recently earned his first NHL call-up of the season. Nicolas Roy has been solid all around in his first professional season. Clark Bishop has progressed very well this year, and Sergey Tolchinsky is having a nice bounce-back year after a rough 2016-2017 season. Janne Kuokkanen has spent most of his time this year in Raleigh, but he’s scored 4 points in 5 games since re-joining the Checkers.
Defensively, the Checkers are also in a good spot. After surprisingly clearing waivers, Trevor Carrick has been sound all around and has scored 7 points in 11 games while keeping a good plus-minus of +8. Phillip Samuelsson, who was acquired last year for Keegan Lowe, has been a solid addition and he has also produced with 6 points and a +8. Roland McKeown has only scored 3 points, but it’s important to remember that points don’t define a defenseman. McKeown is a good two way defender and has earned himself a couple of games of Raleigh already this season, and to many he showed that he will be ready for a full time NHL role sooner rather than later.
Not to jinx anything, but it’s impressive to note that goalie Alex Nedeljkovic has not lost a game yet this season. He is 7-0-0 with a 2.30 GAA and a .917 SV%. Ned had a rough first professional season with just a .881 SV% in 25 games last year, so it’s good to see him bouncing back in a big way so far this year. I’d like to also note that Callum Booth is having a nice year for the ECHL’s Florida Everblades so far.
The Checkers are loaded with talent from top to bottom of each and every position. The team is in a prime position to succeed and has the tools to overcome injuries. The team has solid players in the ECHL ready for a call-up such as Spencer Smallman and Callum Booth.
If anyone was questioning whether or not the Hurricanes had a bright future, I offer this article to you as proof. Ron Francis has built this organization back up with young talent and it’s showing. The Canes are on a role and their young players are starring. The Checkers are just on another level.
Now the real question: Could the Checkers beat the Coyot……… wait…… nevermind :/