In case you missed it yesterday, my detailed recap of the Charlotte 2-0-1 road trip is HERE.
Player spotlight — Jake Bean
Last week, Jake Bean had an incredibly strong week on the road. Wednesday night in Lehigh Valley, in particular, he was absolutely phenomenal. Every time the puck was on his stick it seemed like he made something happen. Perhaps more importantly, his defensive game does not look to be lagging so far behind. He maintains solid gaps and although he’s still not as physically mature as he needs to be for the NHL, he gets by because he has a very good stick. Jason Shaya, the play-by-play man of the Checkers, does a weekly “10 Thoughts” segment. It is very insightful regarding the Checkers, the organization in general, and occasionally even the hockey world at-large. In his most recent edition he mentions speaking to an NHL scout who raved about Bean after this game, saying he was probably the best player on the ice Wednesday night. I have to agree. Even aside from the assist, steady defense, slick passing, and constant takeaways, he just seems to already be a calming, poised presence on the back end. He never seems to get sped up; he just processes the play and makes smart decisions at his own pace. When facing forecheckers he’s incredibly shifty, evading checks and getting the puck out quickly. He is not the fastest straight-line skater, but his edge work and agility are fantastic. He moves really well at the blue line as well, making quick little moves to maneuver around opponents trying to pressure him out of the zone. Bean has caught a lot of flak since being drafted, but I always assumed he would make adjustments and improve his game. It seems as though he has done just that. I think Bean is trending towards possibly being ready for NHL duty at some point next year. He is going to be a good one.
Other Odds and Ends
- After a slow start to the year, Aleksi Saarela is starting to heat up. One thing I can’t help but notice is that he constantly seems to be either beating out an icing or just a split second behind the defenseman for it. I can’t think of anyone else I’ve seen do this as often except maybe known speed demon Carl Hagelin. He’s a really fun player to watch when he’s engaged, a great skater with a deadly shot.
- Nicolas Roy is such a smart player. I stopped counting how many breakouts he ruined both at even strength and on the penalty kill. It is nice to have a player who consistently causes the powerplay to have to regroup and restart their ascent up the ice. Additionally, he’s fantastic in his own end. He had one play Friday night where he broke up a cycle, evaded two defenders, and started a breakout. It was Slavin-esque. I know he didn’t show much in his limited stint with the Canes, but I still see a lot to like about Roy. With a little more development I still see him being a good NHLer before too long.
- Andrew Poturalski is clearly a leader of this team and looks much improved from last year. Even with all the talented young kids, he’s probably been the team’s best player. Kuokkanen has an argument too, but Poturalski has been phenomenal. He’s proven he can be one of the best in the American league, but there are still questions as to whether his game translates to the highest level. He would not be the first to dominate the AHL and fizzle out when called up (Zac Dalpe, Zach Boychuk, Chris Terry come to mind). I would not be shocked to see him get another look with the Canes at some point soon, though (note: in Saturday’s game, Jason Shaya pretty much confirmed this, saying according to Velluci there is a lot of talk in Raleigh about how he is playing).
- Saku Maenalanen looks like a totally different player from early in the season when he was frequently timid and out of position. He was even a healthy scratch at one point early in the year. I doubt that will happen again if he continues to play as well as he has, staying on top of the puck and working hard every shift.
- Julien Gauthier makes a couple plays each game that really make you wonder what he could become. I see a lot of people talking about how all these guys drafted after him are already in the NHL and playing great, etc. Remember: He was extremely raw when drafted, and not all prospect timelines are linear or similar. He still has work to do without the puck and with staying engaged consistently similar to Saarela, but the step he has taken forward so far this year is extremely promising to me.
- Morgan Geekie was a little quieter than I expected. He started off really hot and turned a lot of heads, so hopefully this is just a minor blip and he will get it going again soon. After registering 8 points in his first 10 professional games, he has not impacted the score sheet in 7 straight.
- As mentioned above, the Checkers’ schedule is very heavy on road games in the early portion of the year. This will set them up in the later portion of the schedule, as they will only have 23 home games after January 6 against 14 on the road.
- The Checkers remain the top team in the entire AHL, with a record of 13-3-1 (.794 win %). San Jose is next at 10-3-1 (.750%).
Notable Stats (17 GP unless otherwise noted)
Janne Kuokkanen – 8-11-19 (T-8th in AHL in points, T-11th in goals)
Andrew Poturalski – 6-13-19 (T-8th in AHL in points, T-7th in assists)
Trevor Carrick – 3-12-15 (T-5th points among defensemen)
Saku Maenalanen – 4-7-11 (16 GP)
Julien Gauthier – 6-5-11
Nicolas Roy – 7-3-10 (10 GP)
Greg McKegg – 2-8-10 (13 GP)
Aleksi Saarela – 4-6-10
Martin Necas – 2-6-8 (13 GP)
Morgan Geekie – 5-3-8
Jake Bean – 2-5-7
Roland McKeown – 1-6-7 (+9 rating T-9th in AHL)
Cliff Pu – 1-1-2 (12 GP)
Goalies (W-L-OTL; GAA, SV%)
Alex Nedeljkovic – 10-2-0; 2.72, .901
Callum Booth – 2-1-0; 2.89, .886