Immediately after posting 10 points (5g, 5a) in his opening 10 games to rank among the league’s top-scoring rookies, the 20-year-old began a 24-game goal drought lasting two months. He dropped further down the lineup over time, and, just as it was beginning to look as though his first AHL season would be characterized more by learning rather than contributing, he burst back on to the scene as production in his last 10 games exactly mirrored that of his first.
At the end of the day, Rask, the 42nd overall pick in the 2011 draft and a point-per-game player in junior hockey, finished with a respectable 39 points (16g, 23a) in 76 games, ranking fifth on the team, with over half of his scoring total coming in those bookend portions of the campaign.
- Ranked fifth on the team in assists (23) and points (39) and tied for fourth on the team with 16 goals, leading Checkers rookies in each category
- Had 10 points (5g, 5a) in his first 10 games of the season and 10 points (5g, 5a) in his last 10 games of the season
- Was the only Checker and one of just 22 AHL players to play all 76 games
“I think it was up and down,” said Rask, who began the season on the Checkers’ first line along with Zach Boychuk and Aaron Palushaj. “I had a good start and fell off a little bit but came up pretty good the last couple of games.”
At the present moment, Rask’s role on next year’s team projects similarly to one year earlier. Brett Sutter, the captain and usual first-line center in Charlotte, has an uncertain future as an unrestricted free agent once again. Though Rask may not have spent a great deal of time on the top line in year one, it’s still more than Brody Sutter and Brendan Woods, the team’s other centers from last season currently under contract, have on their resumes. No one in next season’s projected rookie class projects as a center.
Though the team is likely to add free agents from outside the organization at some point, it currently looks as though the No. 1 center job is Rask’s to lose. Combined with his proven ability to score in junior (104 points in 101 games with Calgary of the WHL), Daniels’ respect for his on-ice decision making will help him earn that spot as someone who can play a responsible two-way game against the opposition’s best players.
“He was one of our smarter guys with and without the puck,” said Daniels. “For a first-year guy, that’s a real positive.”
As the only Checker and one of just 22 players in the league to play all 76 games, Rask certainly got full value in terms of experience in his rookie season. He hopes to bring an increased comfort level, and perhaps a little more speed, an area of some concern ever since his draft, in year two. By doing so, those flashes of potential could translate to something more.
“Of course you want a bigger role, but you also want to evolve as a player,” said Rask. “I think I played alright for my first year and I’m looking forward to next year.”