The Charlotte Checkers have had a fantastic season and they don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Charlotte won the best of five series against Providence in four games and are currently ahead two games to none against a Hershey team that was incredible during the second half. Charlotte’s depth has begun to show itself in the best way possible during this series, and there have been a few surprises. Let’s talk about a few of the major stories that are appearing during the Checkers’ quest for the Calder Cup.
Roy has had a great playoffs thus far but you wouldn’t really guess that he’d be tied for second in team scoring. Roy has seven points in six games, all of which are assists. He’s been centering Martin Necas and Tomas Jurco, a line that absolutely dominated the Hershey Bears in game two of this series. Necas had two goals, Jurco had five points, and Roy had three assists in a 7-3 win. Roy had a statistically worse season, but you can’t look at point totals for a player like him. He had seventeen goals this year, six more than last year’s totals. Roy took less penalties and even spent some time in the NHL, where he was just kind of okay in a depth role. We’ve seen Roy develop into a phenomenal two-way player this season and have also seen an increase in his confidence. He’s willing to shoot the puck more often, and he’s finding a way for those shots to go in. Roy has gotten quicker as well. His skating is still a bit of an issue, but he can hold his own against a lot of opponents now. Roy is also a monster on the penalty kill. He’s great defensively, will almost always clear the zone, and is good for at least one or two shots on the PK per game. He may never be more than a fourth line forward, but Roy is looking like a darn good one.
I, for one, am shocked that the player that led the WHL playoffs in goals last year is having a good AHL playoff campaign as well. His team didn’t even make it to the finals and he still led the league in goals. Geekie has seven points in six games, and five of those points are goals. There’s a lot to be said about Geekie’s shot, and rightfully so. It’s dangerous to give him space to work with because he’ll make you pay by either dancing around you or just beating your goalie with a snap shot. We’re also at the point where Geekie’s playmaking abilities are going a little unnoticed as well. He had a gorgeous no-look feed to Aleksi Saarela for a goal the other night. He was drafted as a playmaker but what impresses me the most is how his game has shifted since being drafted. His goal scoring promise has shown itself, and that’s likely due to increased confidence and also just being a better skater. Geekie isn’t skating through cement anymore and is finally able to join the rush on time. His timing has been perfect and he’s a big reason as to why Charlotte has been so successful so far.
Saarela’s talent as a goal scorer is no secret, but a lot of people forget that he’s a very good passer as well. He’s developed into one of Charlotte’s best all-around threats in the offensive zone, and we’ve seen it on display this season. He’s a fantastic player with the ability to create offensive opportunities if given even the smallest amount of space to work with. Five points in five games isn’t terrible, and I expect that we see him make an impact for the rest of the playoffs.
I’ve said enough about Gauthier this week, so I’ll keep it brief. He’s turning into a heck of a power forward, mostly due to his skating improving immensely. Gauthier is no longer a liability in the defensive zone and has limited his mistakes. He’s thinking plays through and it’s starting to show more on the scoresheet. Gauthier is playing with Clark Bishop, who isn’t exactly known for his offense, and Jacob Pritchard, a college player that just signed a one year contract a few weeks ago. It’s not going to drive a lot of the play, but we’ve seen his line be a thorn in Hershey’s side this series. They’re forechecking with the best of them and have made it difficult for Hershey to find their offensive groove. Gauthier has also scored three very nice goals in the playoffs. He’s close to being NHL ready.
The Checkers have had a phenomenal playoffs thus far, and they’ve managed to do well without some key players. Andrew Poturalski missed a game, Trevor Carrick missed three, Aleksi Saarela missed one, and Jake Bean missed two. The Checkers are just finding ways to win, which is amazing. We’ve seen guys like Roy emerge as key players for the Checkers, which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering how hot of a start to the regular season he had. I’ve been very impressed by a lot of Charlotte’s players in the playoffs and I’m excited for next season. A lot of these guys should be back, and while they may lose some players to the NHL, they have a few good replacements in the wings. Stelio Mattheos and Jacob Pritchard should be taking on bigger roles with the Checkers next season. Be on the lookout for Jesper Sellgren tomorrow night. He’s a great defenseman and I think he’s more than ready for the pros. I’ll be watching him closely if he does end up playing.