A few hours after the team received Zach Boychuk and Brett Sutter back from the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, Nicolas Blanchard suffered an injury against the Oklahoma City Barons that will keep him out for the next two weeks. A few days after that, Chris Terry went down in pain during an awkward collision with Rasmus Rissanen at Tuesday’s practice, causing him to leave the ice well before his teammates.
With the team still awaiting definitive word on Terry, the Checkers, who looked like they could have extra players on offense for the first time in nearly two months as they begin a three-in-three set this Friday, may be back to the bare minimum.
“Right now it’s tough to say numbers-wise where we’re at,” said Daniels. “If we do have extra bodies there will be some tough decisions, and if we don’t, we have the depth to replace guys that are hurt.”
The Checkers will have Greg Nemisz, who missed the last two games due to an infection, back at their disposal, which is good news given his ability to play wherever the coaches may need him. Meanwhile, pro tryout signings Matthew Pistilli and A.J. Jenks, who combined for three goals during the 2-0-0 trip to Oklahoma City last weekend, found themselves on the fourth line to start Tuesday’s practice but could potentially go right back to more prominent roles, which would be fine with Daniels.
“They’ve taken advantage of it, been real solid both with and without the puck and been very businesslike,” he said. “They want to stay up here and are doing everything they can to prove a point.”
Terry ranks second on the team in scoring with 28 points in 30 games and Blanchard, mostly known for playing a gritty, depth role, has chipped in seven points over a 10-game stretch that Daniels called the best of his career. If they both miss games this weekend, the additions of Boychuk and Sutter will immediately turn from luxury to necessity.
A part of the Checkers’ first line for most of December, a position they again filled on Tuesday, the two played well together on Carolina’s fourth line. Boychuk has four points in nine total NHL games, while Sutter had two during his five-game stint.
“It felt like we contributed more this time than in previous call-ups,” said Sutter, who has played a total of 54 NHL games. “I thought our line created some good energy. It’s always a nice feeling when you play a few more minutes, get a chance to do some more things and show what you can do.”
“I thought they were real good,” said Daniels of the games he was able to watch. “They worked real hard, and in that one game with (Aaron) Palushaj up there I thought that line brought a lot of energy. Talking to Ronnie (Francis, the team’s assistant general manager), I know they’re really happy with the way all three of them played.”
As a result, both Boychuk and Sutter seemed to be holding their heads reasonably high despite leaving the NHL. With the Hurricanes getting three other players back from injury at the same time, the writing was more or less on the wall.
“You see that happening a few days in advance,” said Boychuk. “You know that guys are starting to skate and come on trips with you. It puts more pressure on you to do everything you can to try to stick around. When there are a bunch of guys on one-way contracts and waivers come into the mix too, it makes the decision a lot more difficult.
“It’s kind of a tough one, but hopefully I’ll be back soon.”
Boychuk could only have played one more NHL game before needing waivers to come back to the AHL, something that will no doubt be a consideration when the Hurricanes deliberate over their next forward recall. The next time he goes up, it will be much more difficult to get him back down, particularly amid what appears to be a bounce-back season.
“It was probably one of the best call-ups I’ve had in my career,” said Boychuk, who switched teams three times while on waivers last season. “I just kind of changed the whole mindset of my game, played a lot more intense and in-your-face style hockey. I was able to chip in with some energy and it was a bonus to get a few points and contribute to the team’s success.
“When you go up you want to do whatever you can to stick around, whether that’s on the fourth line and creating energy or if you get boosted up you want to make an impression. I was doing anything I could to try to do that, and I feel like I left an impression that I can play in the NHL. I want to be back there as soon as possible.”
Now that they may have little more weight on their shoulders than at the time of their reassignment over the weekend, the two will hope to continue the chemistry they’ve built from playing together over the years and for the last few months, even though the situations themselves were quite different.
“It’ll be a little bit of an adjustment but we’ve been through it before,” said Boychuk of going from first line to fourth line and back again. “We’ll get a few more minutes down here, get to play on the power play a little bit more and hopefully we’ll still be in good condition and good shape.”
Daniels said that rookie defenseman Danny Biega, who missed the last 11 games due to injury, could be available this weekend after being cleared for contact this week. Forwards Sean Dolan and Jared Staal did not take part in Tuesday’s full team practice and are unlikely to return soon.