Here are some key things to watch for over the course of the tournament.
The “Veterans"After turning in impressive first-year campaigns in the AHL, Haydn Fleury and Andrew Poturalski should be poised for strong tournaments. Traverse City is mainly for younger prospects to get the experience, but each team is allotted a number of roster spots for players with one pro season under their belts. Poturalski’s offensive abilities carried him to the Checkers’ scoring title in 2016-17, creating high expectations for his output as he heads into a tournament against less-experienced players. Fleury became one of the Checkers’ most reliable forces on the blue line down the stretch and has positioned himself to compete for a full-time NHL job coming out of training camp. A strong performance at this tournament could be a nice spring board to that run.
Roland McKeown joins Fleury and Poturalski as the three skaters on Carolina’s roster with a full AHL season of experience. The 21-year-old blue liner couldn’t necessarily replicate his offensive success from the junior level to the pros, but he grew as a player throughout his rookie season and becoming a steady piece for the Checkers’ postseason run. His return to Traverse City, where he served as team captain a year ago, presents a chance for him to keep that positive momentum rolling into his sophomore season. Josh Wesley, on the other hand, only spent nine games up with the Checkers but turned in a strong first pro season with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades. With an abundance of new defensemen battling for spots on the Charlotte blue line, Wesley could also benefit from the bit of a head start.
Booth Between The PipesThe Traverse City Tournament will be a kick off of sorts to the pro career of Callum Booth, who is expected to compete among a tight field for a spot in the Charlotte crease. Veteran Jeremy Smith is likely set to take one of those spots as the organization’s number three netminder, but the other slot could be up for grabs between Booth, second-year-pro Alex Nedeljkovic and incoming free agent Martin Ouellette. The 20-year-old Booth could use the tournament as a means of getting some momentum behind him before entering the goaltending competition at training camp, and to get a familiarity with what would be his coaching staff in Charlotte. Speaking of…
New Bench BossAs per usual the Hurricanes’ squad in Traverse City will be helmed by the Charlotte Checkers coaching staff, meaning this will be new head coach Mike Vellucci’s debut. Unlike the previous two new head coaches to man the bench at Traverse City, Vellucci has more than a passing familiarity with the players on his team. Heading into his fourth year as Carolina’s assistant general manager, Vellucci has had a hand in nearly all of the players’ development, but the tournament will offer him a chance to become re-acclimated with head coaching, something he hasn’t done since 2014.
New BloodIt appears that this season’s iteration of the Checkers could be loaded with high-end rookie talent, and the Traverse City Tournament is a showcase of those incoming players. Nicolas Roy and Julien Gauthier headline the group as touted prospects who physically appear ready to contribute at the pro level, and this tournament will be a nice chance for the duo to separate themselves from other rookies around the league. Warren Foegele is another skilled scorer who broke out last season in the OHL and will be looking to convert his offensive prowess to the next level with Charlotte this season, while Janne Kuokkanen will look to build off his late stint with the Checkers during last season’s playoff run.
As two of the older incoming rookies, Spencer Smallman and Steven Lorentz will have a chance to catch the Charlotte coaching staff’s eyes heading into training camp as they look to lock up spots on the roster, while camp invitee Nick Schilkey will look to make an impact after signing a two-way deal with Charlotte this offseason.
Going Back To BackIn the grand scheme of things, wins and losses at a preseason prospect tournament don’t carry much weight. But something can be said for the young players joining the pro ranks enjoying some success right off the bat. Last year’s squad that captured the Traverse City championship kicked off their campaign on a high note and those skaters who joined the Checkers rode that wave to a playoff berth. A title defense this season could provide a similar spark.
The Hurricanes open tournament play of Friday, Sep. 8 at 7:30 p.m. against the Red Wings, take on the Rangers on Saturday, Sep. 9 at 3:30 p.m., and wrap up the round robin by facing off with the Blackhawks on Monday, Sep. 11 at 6:30 p.m. They will then play a final game on Tuesday, Sep. 12.