For Zac Dalpe, three seasons of going up and down between the NHL and AHL has been long enough.

Becoming a full-time NHL player has been his goal ever since his first professional campaign, when he made the Carolina Hurricanes out of training camp and earned a spot on the AHL’s All-Rookie team after an outstanding debut season with the Checkers. He’s come close, having played in the Hurricanes’ season opener three times, but those stints never lasted as long as he would have liked.

Following this week’s exit meetings, Dalpe sounded more determined than ever to make that change.

Zac Dalpe
“I feel I’m ready and I feel I need to make that next jump, and it’s just a matter of time until other people feel that way,” he said. “I’m going to have a really good summer as far as training and see where it takes me in the fall. I don’t expect anything less but to be an NHL player next year.”

Dalpe, now 23, is set to be a restricted free agent for the first time this summer. As such, he doesn’t have options in terms of which NHL club he could play for, with the Hurricanes still holding his rights for as long as they’d like. The length of any new deal remains to be seen – in a similar situation last season, Zach Boychuk re-upped for only one year – but another two-way pact seems most likely.

Perhaps helping Dalpe’s case is that, beginning next season, he would have to go through waivers to play in the AHL. The possibility of losing him without getting anything in return in that scenario should force to the Hurricanes to give him a very close look, as they wouldn’t be able to shuttle him back and forth between Raleigh and Charlotte as easily as in the past.

“Obviously going north up 85 is a lot better than going south,” said Dalpe. “No offense to coming to Charlotte and I love playing here, but I think it’s been 24 or 25 recalls and reassignments. You learn to grow up real quick as far as the mental side of the game.”

With 42 points (21g, 21a) in 53 games to rank fourth on the Checkers, Dalpe’s offensive output in year three fell somewhere in between his rookie campaign (57 points in 61 games) and last season’s sophomore setback (32 in 56). This season, his best performances came when was likely the most disappointed, starting with three points in two games after not receiving an invite to go to Carolina with the first wave of training camp invites on Jan. 12. He also scored eight points in seven games after his first reassignment from Carolina on Feb. 3, which occurred the day before he was set to play his first game in Toronto, the closest NHL city to his Paris, Ontario, hometown, in front of friends and family.

A significant knee injury suffered in Norfolk on March 1 may have slowed his progress, with Dalpe admitting he may have “rushed it,” after missing only 13 games. Upon returning to the lineup, he scored four points (2g, 2a) in 11 regular season and playoff games, well under his average for the season, though he did score his first and only NHL goal of the campaign on April 6.

In the playoffs with Charlotte, he was just one of just three Checkers skaters that played all five games without recording a single point, joining Brett Sutter and Rasmus Rissanen. However, he did lead the team with 20 shots on goal in the first-round loss to Oklahoma City.

Dalpe made it clear he wasn’t using the injury as an excuse, but it certainly didn’t help him finish the season with the kind of momentum he had when healthy (19 points in his previous 14 AHL games). He’ll use the earlier-than-hoped exit from the playoffs to rest properly and come back next season ready to do the kinds of things that would have helped him stick with Carolina all along.

“It’s a process,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels. “They all want to get there, and sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. Dalps has had a taste of it every single year and next year is a big year for him. Right from day one he’s got to make a statement that he’s ready to play.

“He’s skilled enough, he’s got the speed and he’s got a lot of good things going for him. It’s just a matter of taking advantage of the opportunity.”

If he does, then it’s quite possible that Dalpe, the Hurricanes’ second-round pick in 2008, has played his last game with the Checkers.

“Hopefully it’s just one more time to go up and never come back, but I really enjoyed my time here in Charlotte,” said Dalpe. “It’s a great development team, and I don’t think you’d ask one guy that’s mad that they have to play here.”
Paul Branecky
Author: Paul BraneckyEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The Checkers' vice president of communications, Paul Branecky has been covering hockey in North Carolina since 2006, including five seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes.

May 2018
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