NOTE FROM CANES AND COFFEE: Canes and Coffee is thrilled to have Jordan Futrell back to cover the Charlotte Checkers again in 2016-17. A more formal announcement will be made as part of next week’s start of the season, but launching his preview let’s the cat out of the bag early. Please follow Jordan on Twitter=@CheckingIn28.
The Charlotte Checkers came into the 2015-16 season with the hopes of finding their way into the playoffs, after they had failed to make it the previous couple years. The team had a few new faces heading into the season with Sergey Tolchinsky, Derek Ryan, Brett Pesce, and Jaccob Slavin and the organization also hired new coach Mark Morris to replace Jeff Daniels, who had been let go the previous season for failing to make the post-season. Derek Ryan also replaced Michal Jordan as the Checkers captain. Other than that the team had more familiar faces than new ones and with the average age of 24, it was slightly younger then the average AHL team.
New faces and a decent start
In the first 20 games of the season, the Checkers saw key players called up to the NHL. Brock McGinn and Brett Pesce were both called up together on October 14; Pesce returned to Charlotte but only briefly, before being called up again to spend the rest of the season in Raleigh. Jaccob Slavin would also be called up for his first NHL stint on November 18. Despite losing these players, the Checkers would post an 11-9-0 record for their first twenty games, which was an improvement from the last season. This stretch of games also saw the emergence of Phil Di Giuseppe, Trevor Carrick, and Derek Ryan as players who would contribute regularly on the offensive end of the ice for the Checkers.
Checkers find a rhythm and surge in the second quarter of the season
In the second set of 20 games, the Checkers played their best hockey of the season posting a 14-3-3 record. Goalie Daniel Altshuller caught fire for the team after being called up from the franchises ECHL team the Florida Everblades in December. Phil Di Giuseppe, Jaccob Slavin, and Brock McGinn were all called up to the Hurricanes on December 4 and Slavin would not return to Charlotte for the rest of the season. Di Giuseppe would only make two more short trips back to Charlotte, but would spend most of the rest of the season up with the Hurricanes. December 9 would be the start of a franchise record twelve-game point streak, that would go all the way until January 12. Derek Ryan and Trevor Carrick would also be named to the AHL All-Star Classic in January.
Roster challenges spell collapse in the dead of winter
In the third set of 20 games, the team would go 5-12-3 and see a fairly substantial drop in production on both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice. Daniel Altshuller was called up to the NHL on January 20th and he would never return to the form he was playing at during the point streak. Before the call-up Altshuller had 9-1-1 record with a 1.71 goals against and .941 save percentage. After he was sent back down to Charlotte he would not win another game in 14 starts. The twelve game point streak would be countered with a ten-game losing streak that lasted from January 27 through February 19. Because of this slide, the Checkers would make big changes at the AHL trade deadline, sending away veterans Zach Boychuk, T.J. Hensick, and Drew MacIntyre. They gained Andrew Miller, Blair Jones, Dane Fox, Andrew Poturalski, Dennis Robertson, Anthony Camara, and John Muse all at the deadline through trades and signings. The NHL trade deadline also saw the Checkers gain one more player with Valentin Zykov coming in from the LA Kings organization.
Roster changeover and challenges unable to muster late bounceback
The last 16 games of the season the Checkers would go 6-8-2 and miss out on the post-season by a few percentage points. Despite starting out strong with the new additions they had acquired at the deadline, this team was missing too many key players to call-up and injury to be able to play, good consistent hockey every night to close out the season. It looked liked the team was just not able to regain the confidence and the swagger it was playing with during the first half of the year because of all the holes that had to be constantly filled in the lineup. Multiple players who had not been called up yet, got brief stints at the NHL including Derek Ryan, Sergey Tolchinsky, Brody Sutter, Patrick Brown, Trevor Carrick, and Brendan Woods.
A mix of old and new for the Charlotte Checkers in 2016-17
Checkers fans can expect a good mix of new and familiar faces coming into this next year as the Checkers have a few rookies and off-season signings coming into the fold for 2016-2017. New players to look out for in 2016-17 include Alex Nedeljkovic, Hayden Fleury, Roland McKeown, Matt Tennyson, and Mitchell Heard. Key returning players for the team will be Derek Ryan, Sergey Tolchinsky, Trevor Carrick, Brock McGinn, and Andrew Miller. The team will also have their third head coach in three seasons after Mark Morris accepted the head coaching position at St. Lawrence University. The organization took less than a month to name the the new Checkers head coach; Ulf Samuelsson. He leaves the New York Rangers organization where he was an assistant coach. His only head coaching experience is with Modo Hockey, a team from the Swedish Hockey League. Samuelsson is also a former teammate of Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis in Hartford and in Pittsburgh as well. With the nice mixture of incoming and returning talent and a head coach with ties to the organization, look for the Checkers to finally push themselves back into the playoff picture after being absent from it for the past three seasons.