Case For/ Case Against: The Checkers Blue Line

First of all, good luck to the Checkers today in Norfolk.  They face a brand new Admirals squad full of Anaheim Ducks prospects.  (Side note: As one who works in the theater with dancers and actors, I always feel like I should tell the team to “Break a leg” or in ballet terms, say “merde” but alas, I will stick to “Good Luck!” in terms of hockey!

Part two of the case for/case against is here!  A quick analysis of all of the defenseman on the Checkers roster, and what their overall pros and cons are in regards to making the AHL squad out of  camp.

There are a lot of forwards… it might take me years to sift through them all, so don’t expect that post for a couple more days!

So… which defensemen do you think will make the Checkers squad?  I’d say at a minimum, the team will keep seven players, but with such a deep talent pool, eight is a definite possibility as well.  I think it’s going to boil down to four or five guys fighting for the last two spots!



Brett Bellemore

The Case For:

  • Bellemore has completed three full seasons in the Hurricanes AHL organization.  Prior to that, he was a member of the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers.
  • A stay-at-home defenseman, he has been paired primarily with Michal Jordan for the past two season, and spends a great deal of time on the penalty kill, and leads all Checkers defensemen in short-handed assists.
  • He’s reliable and consistent, both of which are incredibly valuable traits to the Checkers.
The Case Against:

  • Bellemore has been a consistent, reliable defensive e force in the organization since his first full pro year.  He doesn’t have the flash and scoring of some prospects, but his consistency will continue to benefit him.


Justin Faulk

The Case For:

  • Faulk’s resume includes an NCAA title his rookie year at the University of Minnesota – Duluth, a trip to the AHL Eastern Conference Finals the same year with the Charlotte Checkers, and most recently, being named to the NHL All-Rookie team in 2012.
  • Faulk is still incredibly young at only 20 years old.  As the youngest Hurricane during the 2011-12 season, he led the team in ice time.
The Case Against:

  • The only reason that would prevent Faulk from playing for the Checkers this season is if the lockout ends and he ends up in the NHL. Since the NHL schedule has been cancelled until October 24, I’d expect Faulk in a Checkers sweater until at least then.

Marc-Andre Gragnani

The Case For:

  • Gragnani is a four-year veteran of the AHL, and completed his first full season in the NHL last year with Vancouver and Buffalo.
  • An offensive defenseman, during the Sabres playoff run in 2011, he led all skaters with seven points.
  • During much of Checkers training camp, he’s been paired with Justin Faulk, a duo that I would expect to do great things together.
The Case Against:

  • Along with Hurricanes prospects Ryan Murphy and Bobby Sanguinetti, Gragnani was expected to fight for a spot on the NHL roster in Raleigh.  With the NHL lockout continuing, Gragnani’s immediate future seems to be locked in Charlotte.

Michal Jordan

The Case For:

  • Jordan is entering his third professional season with the Checkers, and is the only Czech member of the team.
  • MJ is a solid player who consistently gives it 100% and then some.  He takes the game very seriously on the ice, and is one of the first guys to stand up for a teammate. He’s a natural leader, and spent two seasons as an Alternate captain in Plymouth.
  • MJ was much more offensively minded puck moving defenseman during hcaseis three-year junior career in Plymouth.  His scoring has decreased significantly and his role has changed to more of a stay-at-home defenseman at the pro level.
The Case Against:

  • At times, he seems to still want to be more of the offensive player, and is prone to occasional turnovers and costly mistakes as a result.  The good news is he continues to mature, and is becoming a much better and well-rounded d-man with each game played.


Tommi Kivisto

The Case For:

  • Scouting reports list Kivisto’s strengths in his powerful shot and offensive ability.
  • In the current NHL, teams are constantly looking for the next great offensively gifted defenseman, and this makes Kivisto especially valuable.
  • He’s a player that has a huge amount of potential to become a puck moving defenseman who can make a big impact on the powerplay.
The Case Against:

  • Kivisto has limited time playing in North America.  He last played on NA ice in 2008-09 as a member of the Red Deer Rebels, with a limited level of success.
  • When Kivisto signed his entry-level contract with the Hurricanes in 2011, he had a clause added that allowed him to return to Finland, which he did, to play last season.  I’m not sure if this clause was for one-year, or if he has committed to play in North America this year regardless of the league he’s assigned to.



Justin Krueger

The Case For:

  • Though this is only Krueger’s second pro season in North America, he has four years of NCAA hockey under his belt (Cornel, with Riley Nash) and one season in the Swiss Elite League.
  • Krueger is an incredible effective stay-at-home defensemen.  He started the 2011-12 season fighting for playing time alongside Rasmus Rissanen, who soon became his defensive partner.  The pair quickly became one of the most reliable duos on the Checkers.
  • Krueger led the Checkers last season with a +16, the highest +/- rating on the team.
The Case Against:

  • Pro experience.  Krueger will be fighting for a spot amongst Kivisto, Levi and Schmitz and Rissanen. The bottom line is Charlotte has way too many options at all positions, especially in light of the NHL lockout.


Austin Levi

The Case For:

  • Levi’s size (6’4”) and gritty, shutdown style bode well for the future of the Hurricanes defense , especially in contrast to offensive defenseman such as Justin Faulk, Victor Rask and Bobby Sanguinetti.
  • Levi is a four-year veteran of the Plymouth Whalers, a team that has produced many great Hurricanes and Checkers over the years.
  • Levi’s OHL stats are a great read.  Each year, his numbers got stronger (offensively and defensively) and his PIM’s significantly decreased, which to me is a sign of maturity and honing his game.  There’s no reason to believe that Levi won’t continue to grow and develop in his first pro season.


The Case Against:

  • As a first-year pro, Levi has a big learning curve adjusting to the speed of the AHL, which is a pretty drastic jump from the OHL.
  • As a rookie, Levi is fighting for a spot among a group of experienced Checker veterans, and guys like Justin Faulk, who was named to the NHL All-Rookie team in 2012, his first full professional season.
  • If Levi doesn’t make the Checkers squad out of camp, an end to the NHL lockout will add at least a couple of spots to the blue line.



Rasmus Rissanen

The Case For:

  • Rissanen is entering his second pro year after spending two years in the WHL with the Everett Silvertips.
  • As a rookie in Charlotte, he spent the beginning of the season battling for playing time alongside his defensive partner Justin Krueger. He established himself as an incredibly reliable stay-at-home defenseman.
  • Rissanen is a physically big player who plays with an incredible level of responsibility and maturity despite his young age.
The Case Against:

  • Experience.  Rissanen is one of the younger players on the squad, and he’ll be fighting for a spot amongst Kivisto, Krueger, Levi and Schmitz.


Bobby Sanguinetti

The Case For:

  • Many believed that Sanguinetti was going to be a member of the Hurricanes this season.  He’s a highly touted prospect with a huge future ahead of him.
  • Sanguinetti is entering his fifth full-season in the AHL.  Some of the lines on his AHL resume include being a two-time AHL All Star, and the all-time Checkers leader in points, assists and goals.
  • Sanguinetti is an incredible skater, and plays with incredible finesse.  As one of many great American defenseman in the system, I’d expect him to continue to develop and flourish at both the AHL and NHL levels.
The Case Against:

  • If the lockout ends, he’ll be fighting for a spot in Raleigh. Until then, I’d expect him to be one of the top defensemen in Charlotte.


Beau Schmitz

The Case For:

  • Though Schmitz was undrafted, he’s been on the Hurricanes radar for a number of years.  He played four seasons with the Plymouth Whalers, and served as the team captain for the past two years.
  • In addition to OHL experience, Schmitz spent a number of years in the US National Team Development program, and won a silver medal with the US Under-17 team.
  • Should he climb to the NHL ranks, Schmitz won’t be the first former undrafted Whaler to make the squad.  Chad LaRose worked his way up through the ranks in the Hurricanes organization, and is now a valuable member of the team.
  • As a former Plymouth Whaler, he has a lot of familiarity with a number of current Checkers, including but not limited to Michal Jordan, Chris Terry, AJ Jenks and Austin Levi.  This is a definite plus for a rookie just learning the professional ropes.
The Case Against:

  • Experience.  Schmitz is one of the youngest players on the squad, and he’ll be fighting for a spot amongst Kivisto, Krueger, Levi and Rissanen.
  • As a first-year pro, Schmitz has a big learning curve adjusting to the speed of the AHL, which is a pretty drastic jump from the OHL.
  • If Schmitz starts the season with the Everblades, an end to the NHL lockout will add at least a couple of spots to the blue line in Charlotte.





Joe Sova

The Case For:

  • ·         Undrafted, Sova spent three seasons in the NCAA with University of Alaska – Fairbanks and based on his outstanding college career, was signed by the New Jersey Devils.
  • ·         At the conclusion of the AHL season, Sova spent time with the ECHL everblades, where he went on to help the team win the Kelly Cup.  
The Case Against:

  • ·         As a mid-season addition to the Checkers, he’s still finding his place in the organization.

2 thoughts on “Case For/ Case Against: The Checkers Blue Line

    1. Thanks, James!

      I never did post my forwards list… most of the guys on the fence were sent to Florida or back to the OHL. I still think there will be one or maybe two Forward cuts, probably tomorrow since they haven’t been announced today.

      Hmm… maybe I can make a case for/case against post regarding the last impending forward cuts. I don’t have to list everyone, cause we all know guys like Dalpe, Bowman, Terry, Boychuk etc. are going to be Checkers this year…

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