After an up and down season that saw the highs of a franchise record 12 game point-streak and the lows of a 10-game losing streak, the Charlotte Checkers 2015-2016 season ended with a thud. A roster that was revamped at the trade deadline lost seven of their last nine games of the season to barely miss out on the post-season. Part 1 of this preview recapped the 2015-16 season in detail.
The Checkers lineup to start the 2016-2017 season will look significantly different from the one that started the 2015-16 season. For starters the team has a new head coach in former New York Rangers assistant Ulf Samuelsson. Both goalies are different than the ones who were on the opening roster last year. There will also be three new defensemen and four or five new forwards on the opening roster this year. Even with all the new blood, the Checkers should return multiple key players from last season possibly to include Derek Ryan, Sergey Tolchinsky, Trevor Carrick, and Brock McGinn. All those returning players finished top five in total points at the end of the season for the Checkers, so the team will be getting back its best players from the previous season.
The organization’s prospects including players likely to play for the Checkers is coming off their first Traverse City Tournament victory since 2009. While the tournament does not count for anything, it was a valuable chance to give some of the new players that will be playing on the Checkers this upcoming year an opportunity to get in game experience together before the season begins. The tournament victory could be a momentum boost for some of the key players who helped lead the team to victory like Sergey Tolchinsky, Roland Mckeown, Valentin Zykov, and Alex Nedeljkovic. The victory could also be a positive sign for the organization that they are picking the right players in the draft and giving them enough time to fully develop to their full potential instead of calling players up too fast to the NHL before they are ready and hurting their growth as players.
While things are looking up for the Checkers heading into the upcoming season, there is one thing the coaches and players need to make sure they improve on this year from the last year. That one thing is consistency. There is no reason any team that is good enough to put together a 12-game point streak in the AHL should ever lose 10 straight games in the same season. Last year’s Checkers team was just not able to put all the pieces together and find that consistency that they so badly needed in order to make the playoffs. There were many injuries, call-ups, trades, and signings that made it hard for the players to gel together and find consistent chemistry because they could be playing with someone different on their line or pairing every few games. If the Checkers are not hit with call-ups and injuries right as the season starts like they were last year, starting with Brett Pesce and Brock McGinn, then this team could be one of the better teams in the Central Division.