Checkers goaltending, more Canes call ups, and random thoughts

Mike Murphy practices with the Checkers in Indian Trail. (Photo - J. Propst)
Mike Murphy practices with the Checkers in Indian Trail. (Photo – J. Propst)

I spent the morning at the Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail watching the Checkers morning practice.  For the second day in a row, Mike Murphy skated with the team as a third goalie, and spent a great deal of time working with Hurricanes goaltending coach Tom Barrasso.  For a guy who hasn’t played a pro game in over four months, I was impressed with Murphy’s on-ice work.  I think he’d be a huge asset to the Checkers, especially during this playoff push, but at the same time, I hope he isn’t rushed before he is ready.  He still needs time, but as all Checkers fans who are familiar with Murphy’s experience and work ethic, I know he can do it.


Yesterday, in his Ten Thoughts, Jason Shaya mentioned that the Hurricanes are

Could this be the future of Charlotte Checkers goaltending? Mike Murphy and John Muse  both worked with Hurricanes goaltending coach Tom Barrasso. (Photo - J. Propst)
Could this be the future of Charlotte Checkers goaltending? Mike Murphy and John Muse both worked with Hurricanes goaltending coach Tom Barrasso. (Photo – J. Propst)

reportedly looking for reinforcements for the Checkers, which is reassuring considering until this point, it seems they have left Derek Wilkinson and the Checkers to find their own reinforcements, most of whom are ECHLers with little or no AHL or NHL experience.  While many have already contributed in great ways (Matt Marquadt comes to mind, in particular) what Charlotte really needs is some NHL caliber talent, either in the form of an up-and-coming prospect, or an NHL veteran trying to get back into the majors.  The Checkers currently have 11 injuries, if you include Zac Dalpe and Justin Soryal, though the former is on the verge of returning.   They have 5 healthy defensemen, and 11-12 healthy forwards, depending on how you count them.

As I was watching the Checkers skate this morning, I got the official word that the Texas Stars had signed an NHL veteran to a PTO by the name of Mike Commodore.  With a Stanley Cup ring, NCAA Championship, and IIHF Gold Medal, he brings a lot of experience to an already brutal Stars team.  I’d be kidding if I said I didn’t wish the Hurricanes organization hadn’t jumped on that veteran first, but kudos for the Stars for getting a great veteran blueliner.  This is the kind of player I hope the Checkers can get, and I firmly believe it’s what they need right now.  They need grit and experience to fill out their roster.


Odds and ends:

  • Former Checkers goaltenders continue to shine in Raleigh.  Justin Peters recently had a shutout, and Dan Ellis made 40 saves in a loss last night against Florida, with a shortened Canes bench in front of him.  Justin Faulk left the game in the second period and didn’t return, Bobby Sanguinetti took a skate to the face and received 13 stitches, and Tim Gleason missed a portion of the game as well to receive 16 stitches after a high stick to the face by Panther Scottie Upshall.
  • This morning, the Hurricanes announced that Justin Faulk will be out for 2-4 weeks with an MCL sprain.  Brett Bellemore was recalled from the Checkers, which will require recall TO the Checkers as well.  Currently, from what I can tell, the only defenseman under contract with the Hurricanes and not currently with the Canes or Checkers is Joe Sova, who played with the Reading Royals and San Francisco Bulls this season.  Keegan Lowe, Ryan Murphy and Austin Levi are all Canes prospects under contract, but are all but still playing in Major Junior.
  • Zac Dalpe took part in a full practice this morning with the Checkers.  They leave later today for a short road trip to Texas.
  • AJ Jenks, who suffered a wrist fracture in January, was still wearing a yellow no-contact jersey, but looks extremely close to returning, and was skating at full speed throughout the practice.

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.

Trade Analysis: Dadonov and Jenks – A San Antonio Perspective

I had the chance to talk to Nate over at Runnin with the Herd, and he answered a few questions about newly acquired Checkers Evgenii Dadonov and AJ Jenks.

In a nutshell?  This trade can be a huge boost to the Hurricanes organization.  It was a trade with risks… I’ve been told that Evgenii Dadonov requested to be traded, but that is usually a good thing for the receiving team.  He wants a fresh start, and will probably do everything in his potential to prove his worth.  The same goes for AJ Jenks (The A stands for Arthur, by the way, and there are no periods between the A and the J, or after the J, either).  He has spent time in the ECHL this year, and wants to be with the big club.  A new start is perfect for that, plus he’s coming to a squad in Charlotte with familiar faces (Michal Jordan, Chris Terry and Brett Bellemore) from his days in the OHL in Plymouth.  I look forward to seeing our new faces next week when the team returns to Charlotte.

1.  Evgenii Dadonov has some pretty respectable numbers.  It’s his third season playing in North America, and he’s split time between the NHL and AHL this year, and was an NHL All-Star last season.  What kind of player is he? How has adjusted to North American hockey? 

He was sent to SA initially and received a callup in the first month and underperformed in his short stint in the NHL this season.  As far as skill, it’s there. Dadonov is a very good skater with a good shot. Not much of a defensive player. He’s a skilled guy.  With the Panthers off season moves, his chance to make the NHL squad was lessened, and this has been a struggle.  If the slate is truly clean in Carolina, and he gets a chance with the Canes, he could be a great pickup.


2. If he’d continued in the Florida system for this season, where do you think Dadanov would have spent most of his time playing?
He would have finished in the AHL this season. He got a call up earlier in the season and didn’t contribute much. Consequently, he fell down the pecking order quite a bit, seeing Bill Thomas (who was on an AHL deal) signed to a two way NHL deal and called up when the Panthers needed four bodies to cover injuries.
3.  So… AJ Jenks.  From what I see, he’s an American kid from Detroit who won a gold medal with Team USA in 2010, so clearly, he’s got some talent, but the deeper I dig into his statistics, the more perplexed I get.  He played the full season in the AHL with Rochester last year, but this season has split time between the ECHL and AHL in San Antonio.  He’s yet to register a point this year at the AHL level, and is a -7.  What can you tell Charlotte Checkers fans about him, his potential, and what to expect from him?
Jenks…sigh. So much skill and no idea what to do with it. You can see flashes of brilliance, then he’ll turn the puck over or get knocked off the puck with a glance. He also seemed very disinterested in being anywhere near San Antonio. I think he was probably disappointed to be sent to the ECHL after camp and it infected his overall attitude about the organization. Another good skater, but that’s about all I have seen from him. Decent forechecker but, this season at least, he avoided contact at alol costs. Huge dissapointment for me personally as everything I read about him said he was the type of player I would like. i.e hard working, grinder.
4.  If AJ had spent the rest of the season in the Panthers organization, where do you think he would have spent most of his time playing? 
He was in the bottom three in San Antonio and would have been one of the next players shipped to Cinci should the Rampage get any forwards back from Florida.
Thanks so much to Nate in San Antonio for his words of wisdom!
Let’s Go Checkers

Quick Hits: Hurricanes trade Jon Matsumoto, prospect Lindstrom to Florida

With the departure of Jon Matsumoto, Chris Terry moves into the lead in points with 30, and Zach Boychuk now leads the team in goals with 12. You'll be missed, Matsy! (Photo - J. Propst)

First – Jon Matsumoto, thank you for your season and a half with the Checkers.  Your leadership helped the team make it to the Conference finals last year, and your consistant on-ice play and scoring prowess was a huge boost to the team and fans.  You will definitely be missed.  Best of luck with the Florida organization!

I’ve been digging for information on the two new players that became Hurricanes, and could end up in Charlotte.  The biggest name of the trade is right wing Evgenii Dadonov, a third-year North American pro from Russia.  He’s 22, and has split time between the AHL and NHL in each of his three years in North America.  Last year, Dadonov represented the Panthers at the 2011 All-Star Game in Raleigh as a member of the Rookie team.  This year, he’s spent time in Florida and San Antonio.  This year, in 15 games in the NHL, he as three points (2G, 1A) and is a -4.  In San Antonio, he has played 20 games, and has nine points (5G, 4A).

The Hurricanes also gain a player by the name of AJ Jenks.  He’s a Michigan native, and product of the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, where he played with Chris Terry, Brett Bellemore and Michal Jordan, and is possibly going to give his new teammates Mike Murphy and Matt Pistilli a run for the money on best ‘flo on the Checkers.  Jenks was recruited by the University of Michigan, but decided to go the major junior route.  Before making ice hockey his career, he won two national championships as an inline player, and also represented the United States in the 2010 World Junior Championship, where he won a gold medal. (Woo!  Go Team USA!)


In other Checkers news:

  • Earlier today, the Hurricanes returned Brett Sutter to the Checkers.  He will join the team in Abbotsford, where they play Friday and Saturday.
  • In the same “transaction,” they recalled Zac Dalpe.  Dalpe leaves Charlotte on a hot streak, and I fear he won’t be back anytime soon due to his exceptional play.
  • Defenseman Chris Murray did not travel with the team to British Columbia.  Ryan Donald was recalled from the Everblades, and traveled to Abbotsford for the weekend games.  Donald will make his debut for Charlotte.  In Florida this year, he has 11 points in 33 games (3G, 8A).
  • I still have no proof of this, but believe this to be the Checkers first game in their history (at any level) in Canada.  It’s a long time coming, if you ask me, for the organization to play in the land that hockey was born!