Jordan is taking a week off from his usual ‘Checking In’ post to focus on studying for finals, so I figured I would take a quick turn to chime in with a couple random thoughts on the Checkers.
Checkers holding their own despite above normal dose of AHL challenges
Managing and coaching an AHL team is a challenging task by its nature of needing to provide help for the NHL club above it. AHL teams have the same hockey challenges of the NHL with injuries, players hitting slumps, cold goalies and most of everything else the NHL deals with. But it also gets 2 other big challenges added on top of that. First, in addition to its own injury woes, an AHL team is significantly impacted when its NHL affiliate has injuries and pulls up players. Second, with a primary focus on player development, an AHL coach needs to try to win but also gets some direction that might not be in the best interest of winning. For example, if a young player who is the NHL team might want to give a young skill player power play time even if the AHL team is overstocked with good veteran power play players. The GM above might dictate ice time a bit.
These things are all the norm for AHL teams and their coaches, but the Charlotte Checkers have had an above average volume of them so far this season. Only 5 games into the season, the Checkers lost (and have not gotten back) Brett Pesce, and more recently they also lost Jaccob Slavin (but at least received Ryan Murphy in trade). The Canes have also borrowed Brock McGinn twice and now Phil Di Giuseppe. And like a perfect storm, the Checkers were hit by a big rash of injuries largely on the blue line. At 1 point, they had 1-2 expected defensemen in the lineup to go with 4-5 ECHL call ups and a few short-term fill ins. In addition, the Checkers started the season with a massive 10-game (all of October) road trip while its arena renovation was being completed. They did mostly travel back and forth from Charlotte, but it is still tough hitting the road every week and not getting any game nights on home ice.
When you consider the extenuating circumstances, the Checkers 12-11 record is pretty respectable and leaves them within a couple points of a playoff spot.
Who might be next to be recalled?
Right now, the Canes roster features 3 players who started the season in Charlotte plus Noah Hanifin who is also a rookie. The Checkers roster includes 2 players in Brock McGinn and Ryan Murphy who have already seen significant ice time at the NHL level this season. I would expect both McGinn and Murphy to see more games at the NHL this season, and I think there is a chance that a couple of the other kids swap down to Charlotte to make room. Especially if the Canes fall out of playoff contention, the Canes will likely use the waiver wire to evaluate different players at the NHL level.
Of the players who have not seen NHL ice yet in their careers, I think a couple are very likely to see time in Raleigh before this season is over:
—Trevor Carrick. Of the young group of defensemen, he is the only 1 who entered this season with more than a couple games of NHL experience. He is scoring at a good clip and has been part of the Checkers’ top D pairing (mostly with Slavin before he was called up). I would expect him to see NHL ice at some point this season to be evaluated for his readiness/progress toward stepping into the NHL.
—Derek Ryan. He is an odd rookie in that he is 28 years old. He took the long road to the NHL playing as an overage junior player before departing for Europe. With the Canes light on high-end and young forward prospects, I would expect GM Ron Francis to give him a shot to show if he can bring his offense to the NHL level at some point this season.
—The old guard. The Canes have a collection of older AHL prospects in Keegan Lowe, Danny Biega and Rasmus Rissanen on defense. I think this group has largely been passed by the young guns and will only see NHL ice time as fill ins and/or if it makes sense for giving the younger players some time at the AHL level. At forward, Brody Sutter and Zach Boychuk are in a similar position as older forwards who had a crack or 2 at the NHL but have not been able to break through yet. Brendan Woods has not seen much for an NHL trial yet, but at 23 years old is in a similar boat. The 1 potential positive for the forwards is that the Canes do not have as much ready/near-ready young depth at the position which could make for another trial or 2 if the Canes have injuries at forward.
Aside from Murphy and McGinn who have already seen NHL ice time and will likely see more, I think Carrick and Ryan are the 2 most interesting players to watch if/when they get trials.
Is there goalie help?
For today’s Daily Cup of Joe which you can find HERE, I wrote in some detail about the Carolina Hurricanes goalie situation. With Cam Ward and Eddie Lack both struggling in net at the NHL level, a couple people have asked me if it might make sense to try a goalie from the AHL. At least right now, I think this is unlikely. You can read about that in more detail in the other post, but there are basically 2 things here. Overall, neither goalie in Charlotte is tearing it up such that they seem ready to hop into the NHL. In addition, I do not think that the Canes necessarily view either goalie in Charlotte as most likely to eventually win the starting job at the NHL level.
Could Charlotte become a desired destination for some of youth in April?
If the Canes do not rebound and surprisingly push into the playoffs, could Charlotte become plan B for getting some of the young guns a run of high intensity playoff hockey. Most of the Canes young guns are waiver-exempt and could play in Charlotte for the playoffs. There are some mechanics to it, but if I understand it correctly, the Canes could probably get 4 NHLish players (must be from waiver-exempt group otherwise they risk being lost) set to play playoffs in Charlotte plus whoever is in and stays in Charlotte through the end of the season obviously.
It will be interesting to see if/how GM Ron Francis uses this option. On the 1 hand, playoff hockey could benefit some of the young players. On the other hand, it might make sense to just let them ride out the season in Raleigh and then call it a day after a long NHL season. The other caveat of course is that the Checkers need to actually make the playoffs.
Go Canes! (and Checkers!)