Case For/Against: The Checkers Forwards

Right now, the Checkers have 24 players on their roster, not including Jeff Skinner, who is still eligible to play in Charlotte if he decides to join the team.

Of the 24, two are goaltenders and seven are defensemen.  The remaining 15 are forwards.  While there aren’t limits to the number of players an AHL team can carry on its active roster (unlike the NHL, where teams are limited to 23 players), I would find it highly unlikely for the team to have three extra forwards beyond the playing needs of 12.

With that in mind, I would expect one or two more forwards to be cut prior to the first game in Houston this weekend.  I had begun a “Case For/Case Against” that included all of the Checkers forwards, but in the interest in time, decided to only expand upon the players who are still on the fence.  Let’s be real… there are a number of forwards (eight, in my mind) who are locks to make the AHL squad so I did not write them up individually.

The “Locks” are:

Nicolas Blanchard

Drayson Bowman

Zach Boychuk

Zac Dalpe

Riley Nash

Jerome Samson

Brett Sutter

Chris Terry

So that leaves seven guys who are “on the fence” and competing for five or six spots on the final roster.  Who do you think is going to make the final cut?

Sean Dolan

The Case For:

  • Dolan is an undrafted center and a four-year veteran of the University of Wisconsin where he was captain his senior year, was signed by the Checkers last season to a PTO contract which soon led to a full contract for this season.
  • As a member of the Checkers last season, Dolan was quickly integrated into a squad that was constantly changing due to injuries and call ups, and showed he had an incredible ability to adjust his game and fit in where needed, even spending time on the top lines down the stretch.
The Case Against:

  • Experience.  With a number of forwards essentially locked into the AHL lineup, the competition to make the last spot on the squad is incredibly tough.  Even if Dolan starts the season in Florida, he  will certainly be one of the first called up when needed.

AJ Jenks

The Case For:

  • Jenks was a mid-season addition to the Checkers last year, the result of a trade that sent Jon Matsumoto to the Panthers organization.
  • Jenks, though new to the Checkers, is not a stranger to playing with other members of the team.  As a junior player in Plymouth, Jenks was teammates with Brett Bellemore, Chris Terry, Michal Jordan and a number of other current Checkers.
  • Jenks was a bit of an underachiever as a member of the Rampage last season.  He bounced between the AHL and ECHL before coming to Charlotte.  Things turned around quickly, and he finished the season in Charlotte as a valuable member of the team.
The Case Against:

  • Jenks was a bit of an underachiever as a member of the Rampage last season.  He bounced between the AHL and ECHL before coming to Charlotte.  Things turned around quickly, and he finished the season in Charlotte as a valuable member of the team.
  • Experience.  Jenks is still quite young, and though full of potential, he’s battling for a spot on the AHL squad.  With so many players who would probably have started the season in Raleigh with the Hurricanes, there is less room in Charlotte for guys who legitimately deserve to be here.

Victor Rask

The Case For:

  • Rask, a second round draft pick of the Hurricanes in 2011, has already shown the offensive abilities he has after only one season in the CHL.  As a first year player with the Calgary Hitman, he had 63 points (33g, 30a).
  • Rask has the potential to be a top-six forward at the NHL level.  He’s had a great AHL training camp, and had no problem keeping up with the pace of the game at this level.  He’s a physical and exciting player to watch.
  • Rask’s draft profiles all list his stick handling and ability to protect the puck to be some of his greatest assets.
The Case Against:

  • At 19 years old, Rask is young enough to play in the CHL, and has a spot waiting for him in Calgary with the Hitman should the Hurricanes feel that is a better place for his development.  Talent wise, he can and should be playing at the AHL (or NHL) level.

Justin Soryal

The Case For:

  • Soryal, a gritty, tough-guy undrafted forward, signed a one-year deal with the Hurricanes last season, and spent the year in Charlotte as an enforcer until a shoulder injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.  Upon his medical clearance, he was signed by the Checkers to a one-year AHL deal.
  • While Soryal frequently served as the team’s enforcer, he had a more well-rounded game than many in his position.  He finished the season with 10 points (4g, 6a).
  • As the only player on the roster who can be clearly defined as an “enforcer” in a league that seems to require them, Soryal has an outstanding chance at making the final AHL roster.
The Case Against:

  • As a player who is under contract with the AHL team and not the NHL Hurricanes, his chances to make the final roster are slightly less than those of the guys signed to NHL contracts, however this should not be a big concern as Soryal has a unique role as an enforcer on the team, and only he can fill it.

Jared Staal

The Case For:

  • Staal spent the offseason training with his big brothers, and it seems to have paid off.  He lost some weight, and has seemed much more physical during training camp this year.
  • Staal knows this is a make-or-break year for him.  It’s the third and final year in his entry-level contract, and  he has to make a great impression to get resigned as a RFA next summer.  This should light a fire under him (as it already appears to have) and great things could come out of one of the most talented hockey families of the modern era.
The Case Against:

  • Staal is not the strongest skater, and has had limited success at the AHL level.  He spent much of his first professional season in the ECHL, and was loaned to the Providence Bruins last season for the final month after being a healthy scratch for much of the Checkers season.
  • In less than three years as a pro, Staal has already been bounced around between NHL organizations, and has appeared on three different AHL teams plus the ECHL Everblades.

Tim Wallace

The Case For:

  • Wallace is an undrafted forward who spent four years at Notre Dame and five seasons with the Penguins organization, splitting time between the NHL and AHL teams.  Last year, he split the year between Bridgeport in the AHL and the NHL teams of the NY Islanders and Tampa Bay.  This summer,   Wallace signed with the Hurricanes as a free agent this summer.
  • Wallace is a gritty, physical player, and his pro experience will serve to be a great example to younger Checkers players.
The Case Against:

  • Wallace was expected to compete for a spot in Raleigh at the start of the season.  He is a great depth player for the Hurricanes.

Jeremy Welsh

The Case For:

  • Welsh was a highly sought-after free agent last spring.  He helped lead Union college to their first-ever NCAA Frozen Four appearance.  Welsh was never drafted, and chose to sign with Carolina following his college career (Other teams known to have been recruiting Welsh include the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks).
  • He has one game of NHL experience under his belt.
  • Welsh holds the Union College record for most goals scored in a season (27 in 2011-12).  He’s got the potential to be a great offensive player at the pro level, and his size (6’3) and hard shot make him incredibly valuable.
The Case Against:

  • His lack of pro games under his belt makes it a tougher battle, but Welsh’s immense potential should overcome this easily.