Yet another former Checker has rejoined the team on a tryout contract. This time, it's not a goalie.
A.J. Jenks, a forward who spent parts of the previous two seasons in Charlotte, has signed a PTO with the team and will play in Thursday's home game against Rockford. He becomes the third former Checker to sign a tryout deal with the team this season, joining John Muse, who is still with the team, and Rob Madore, who returned to the ECHL on Wednesday.
At the time of Jenks' signing, there was no obvious need to add a player for the team's next game, with both Jared Staal and Justin Shugg practicing fully on Wednesday after being somewhat limited in previous days. However, Staal did not participate in Thursday's morning skate and will not play, with coach Jeff Daniels saying that the forward's injury could potentially keep him out for a longer period of time.
Without signing Jenks, the Checkers would have had only 11 forwards at their disposal, with Sean Dolan not skating since suffering an injury last Saturday.
According to Daniels, the loss of Dolan at center is part of what prompted him to add a player who can play multiple positions.
"He gives us a guy that can play center or the wing," said Daniels of Jenks. "In the past we've had to use (Nicolas) Blanchard there and he did well, but we'd rather have him on the wing. Brendan Woods can play center, but this gives us a little more flexibility in case something happens."
It didn't hurt that Daniels already had that familiarity with him.
"I had a feeling that if I got called up, it was going to be here," said Jenks.
Jenks, who originally joined the Carolina Hurricanes organization in a trade with the Florida Panthers in January of 2012, posted 16 points (7g, 9a) in 18 ECHL games with the Florida Everblades this season, good for third on the team. He ended up with the Everblades, the same team he finished last season with, after the Hurricanes chose not to qualify him as a restricted free agent this past summer.
Part of that decision was due to Jenks playing only 26 regular-season games in his contract year. An unfortunate season started when the numbers crunch caused by the NHL lockout limited his opportunities with Charlotte and continued when he suffered a broken wrist on Jan. 17, just the Checkers' fifth game following the end of the work stoppage.
"It was a tough year for him," said Daniels. "He worked hard and came to camp ready to go, and then the lockout happened and the injury hit him. All indications were that he went to Florida and played extremely well and wants to prove himself."
"I was starting to become a regular again and things were going well for me, and it was just kind of a freak thing," said Jenks. "Last year was tough and I guess I have a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth."
Having started the season not only playing but playing extensively - he's been a key player with Florida, which results in even more ice time as ECHL teams use only 10 forwards - he's hoping to make more of an impact.
"It was a little bit of an adjustment playing in a more prominent role than the checking role I’ve played here, but it’s been good for my development and to get a little more confidence going," he said. "I feel Iike I have a little more skill and patience with the puck."
A fourth-round draft pick by the Panthers in 2008, Jenks, 23, scored 12 points (5g, 7a) in 39 total games with the Checkers.
- Written by Paul Branecky