After a week or two without a lot to talk about, we’re back! This week, we’ll be talking about some impressive performances, a few prospects that are with different teams, and my experiences at a Checkers game!
- Patrik Puistola has finally been loaned to Jukurit in the Liiga. They’ve been consistently bad for a few years and have a spot open for him in their top six, which is something that Puistola desperately needs. In his game on Wednesday, Puistola played in over 19 minutes and had some time on the power play as well. That’s over 11 minutes more than what he was seeing with Tappara, and so it’s exciting seeing him in a role that suits him. Puistola has legitimate upside and can dominate the Liiga if given the chance. It appears that he’s being given this chance now!
- Another prospect on the move is Kirill Slepets. Carolina’s fifth round pick in 2019 has flown under the radar this season due to playing in the VHL, but it’s very likely that he’ll be seeing time in the KHL after he was moved to Dinamo Riga in the KHL on Wednesday. Slepets moves from Lokomotiv’s system to one of the worst teams in the KHL, and so I believe that he’ll get an opportunity to play in the KHL. It won’t be Slepets’ first go around in the KHL, he appeared in ten games for Lokomotiv this past season, but it’ll hopefully be a full-time position for him. Slepets boasts an impressive 15 points in 21 games for Buran Voronezh in the VHL this season and will provide some much needed scoring in Dinamo Riga’s lineup.
- I’m thrilled to see Spencer Smallman back in game action after an ACL injury kept him out nearly a year. The Checkers could use some help in all three zones, and Smallman would provide that in a bottom six role. He still has a ways to go before he’s 100%, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him so far with Greenville. Update: Smallman was recalled on Thursday morning after three games with Greenville. It seems like he’s ready to go and will likely play for Charlotte this weekend!
- It’s one of “those years” in the OHL. Players are putting up crazy amounts of points because there are a handful of good teams, a lot of middling teams, and a good amount of bad teams in the league. Jamieson Rees, however, is making the most of every opportunity he’s been given. Rees plays on a Sarnia team that is right in the middle of the pack right now, but would be a bottom feeding team were it not for Rees. His 27 points in 12 games is outstanding considering the fact that his linemates are an overage forward and an undrafted 19 year old forward. It’s not the stellar supporting cast that some other players have, yet Rees is still lighting up the OHL. 26 of his 27 points are primary points, which shows that he’s driving play and creating offense at an elite rate.
- We’re about halfway through November and Eetu Makiniemi has already come close to equaling the amount of starts he had last season. This year, Makiniemi has been one of the better goalies in Mestis, with ten starts and an impressive .920 save percentage. We’re still a year or so away from seeing Makiniemi turn pro, but I’m optimistic about his future. I’d like to see him playing in the Liiga at some point this season before he takes his position on the roster full-time next year.
- I was able to watch the Checkers play this past weekend in a 4-3 overtime loss. Charlotte looked awful in the first period and were able to rebound in the final two periods before suffering a crushing defeat in overtime. The in-game atmosphere and experience was phenomenal and I enjoyed my visit to Charlotte. If you have the chance to go, I can’t recommend it enough! The rest of the thoughts will be on what I saw from certain prospects that night.
- Anton Forsberg isn’t the answer moving forward. I know that he’s cheaper than Reimer and has more NHL experience than Nedeljkovic, but he was not good against Springfield. His rebound control and decision making cost Charlotte the game. On the OT winner, Forsberg went past the circles to try and challenge for a puck. The forward danced around him and carried the puck nonchalantly towards the net while the arena groaned. Sure, it’s one incident, but it’s not like Forsberg was a good NHL goaltender at any point before this.
- Chase Priskie wasn’t all that noticeable, which is fine considering it’s a bad thing if you notice him make mistakes, but I didn’t see any offensive gems either. A lot of it had to do with the fact that his defensive partner, Cavan Fitzgerald, was not good. Priskie was left to cover for a lot of mistakes on Fitzgerald’s part and had to cover for Fitzgerald on defense at times. It’s tough for Priskie, but I was impressed that he handled it so well.
- The Checkers’ first line of Geekie, Kuokkanen, and Gauthier was fantastic in terms of driving play. Kuokkanen and Gauthier pushed the pace, while Geekie made sure that the line was dangerous on the forecheck. Gauthier was the only player from that line to score against Springfield, but that line could’ve had at least two or three. The only problem is that the first line is Charlotte’s only consistent line with Luostarinen gone. Now that Luostarinen and Smallman are back with the team, I’d imagine that we’ll see the Checkers string together some consecutive wins on a regular basis.
- Steven Lorentz has stepped up for the Checkers in Luostarinen’s absence. He’s been getting second line minutes and some time on the second power play unit as well. Lorentz was already seeing time on the penalty kill, as well. Lorentz was everywhere on Saturday and caused hell for Springfield’s team. He had about four or five solid shorthanded chances as well as a few good looks at even strength. Lorentz looks faster and stronger than he was last season, which is especially encouraging since his speed was holding him back a bit last year. He may not have scored, but Lorentz was a big part of the reason why Charlotte was able to get to overtime. He held Springfield scoreless on the power play and forced the Thunderbirds to turn the puck over often.
- Other Checkers that stood out: Roland McKeown, Colin Markison, and Jake Bean. McKeown has improved in all three zones and is starting to factor in more often in transition. Markison is the best player on an AHL contract by a wide margin. He pushes the pace and tends to contribute offensively every time he’s on the ice. Jake Bean had a few good offensive plays and quarterbacked Charlotte’s power play effectively. I only noticed one moment where he froze up in the defensive zone, too. Other than that one moment, Bean looked confident against a tough team.
That’s all for this week! Stay tuned on Twitter for more prospect updates throughout the week!