Shortly after noon Monday, the Checkers’ parent club made those transactions, which involved goalie Justin Peters, defenseman Michal Jordan and forwards Nicolas Blanchard, Zach Boychuk, Aaron Palushaj and Jared Staal, official. Many players in that group were already at the rink for the team’s training camp practice Monday morning but could not yet participate. They are expected to be on the ice for a scheduled power skating day on Tuesday.
The moves give Charlotte 22 players on its roster, enough to field a full team for the first time. Monday’s practice was relatively lighter, with the team dressing just nine forwards and five defensemen in front of goalies Mike Murphy and Jesse Deckert.
As of Monday afternoon, the Hurricanes still had 29 players on their roster, meaning that more cuts are sure to come before the start of the regular season. Of players with two-way contracts still battling to make the NHL roster, all but two – Ryan Murphy and Jeremy Welsh – require waivers, meaning that the organization could have to make tough decisions concerning longtime Checkers such as Zac Dalpe, Riley Nash and Chris Terry later this week, potentially after their final two exhibition games on Thursday and Friday.
Until those moves are made, Checkers coach Jeff Daniels won’t have an entirely clear picture of what his team will look like.
“Not really,” said Daniels, who is returning for his fourth season in Charlotte and sixth in charge of the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate. “With what we have right now, we know we’ll be strong in net with Peters and Murphy, and we feel like we have some experience on defense with (Mark) Flood, (Rasmus) Rissanen and Michal (Jordan).
“Up front a lot of things are up in the air, and there’s some uncertainty with guys that are on waivers and guys that are still in Carolina’s camp.”
Regardless of who ends up making the short drive from Raleigh to Charlotte, Monday’s assignments signal the true beginning of training camp competition, not that Daniels wasn’t already happy with the first three practices of the season. With the exception of forward, where the team still only has 13 skaters including the soon-to-be-signed Stefan Della Rovere, there are more than enough goaltenders and defenseman for the first time yet, meaning that auditions are ongoing to determine who will stick and who will end up playing with the Checkers’ ECHL affiliate in Florida.
The bulk of that competition is likely to come on defense, where rookies Danny Biega, Austin Levi and Keegan Lowe will be trying to earn a spot alongside or perhaps unseat a more experienced player. If nothing else, they’ll be looking to establish themselves before the Canes make further cuts, something that could bring Matt Corrente and/or Ryan Murphy to the Queen City.
That said, the battle will extend far beyond first-year players. Even though circumstances would seem to thrust him into a larger role than in the past two seasons, Justin Shugg, who began each of those campaigns in the ECHL, is treating things the same way.
“I’m one of those guys that’s had to come into camp and compete over the last two years. I’m doing it again this year,” he said.
With the spotlight this current group of Checkers until camp gets even bigger prior to the Oct. 4 opener at Oklahoma City, that’s exactly what Daniels and assistant coach Geordie Kinnear will be looking for.
“The energy level has been good, but there’s no time to relax,” said Daniels.
All players on the Checkers’ roster were on the ice Monday with the exception of defenseman Beau Schmitz, who played for the Hurricanes’ team in the Traverse City prospects tournament two weeks ago but missed most of Carolina’s training camp. Daniels said that there was no exact timetable on the injury, but Schmitz was able to skate on his own after Monday’s practice had concluded.