It’s the eve of the regular season and the Checkers lineup is finally starting to take shape.

In the final practice before taking off to Texas, the Checkers appeared to be working in consistent lines, something that hasn’t happened much prior due to the late additions to the roster.

Now, with the opening night roster set, the coaching staff has a good idea of how they’ll stack up against the Stars.

“We have made an evaluation of what we’ve seen so far,” said head coach Ulf Samuelsson. “I think we’ve got some good lines here. Now we just have to let them take over and let the chemistry develop so we can come out swinging tomorrow.”

The lines observed in practice are obviously still preliminary and subject to change, but one thing that jumps out is the depth that this Checkers team seems to possess.

“We feel like we have good balance,” said Samuelsson. “We should be able to play pretty much any line against any line our opponents put out. We have good balance and good defensive capabilities on all four lines.”

The presumed top line features last season’s top two goal scorers in Brock McGinn and Derek Ryan, with Valentin Zykov taking the other spot on the wing.

After joining the organization at the trade deadline last season, Zykov was held out of action due to injury until the final two contests. Now back healthy for his second pro year, the coaching staff is looking for the 21-year-old to step in and deliver on the top line.

“The thought process behind that is to get some weight on that line, some net-front presence and some grit,” said Samuelsson of putting Zykov with McGinn and Ryan. “Hopefully Zykov can provide that along with his skill as well. We think that could be three ingredients for a good line.”

The final piece of the puzzle is how the team will handle crease duties over the weekend.

Samuelsson stated that they have a plan, but is keeping a tight lip, choosing to not disclose who will be playing.

Some other news and notes from today's practice:

DWYER HITS THE ICE

Tuesday proved to be a big day for the Checkers’ roster, but one of the most interesting moves was the signing of forward Patrick Dwyer.

The veteran took the ice this morning with his new team for the first time, though it wasn’t all that unfamiliar.

“It was a whirlwind 24 hours driving down here, but it felt good to get on the ice and get that first skate in,” said Dwyer. “I know quite a few of these guys from camps up in Carolina, so it’s good to see those faces. These young kids have a lot of excitement and it’s fun to be around.”

Dwyer has over 400 NHL games under his belt, all coming during a seven-season stint with the Carolina Hurricanes. After playing last year in Sweden, he’s now back in the state where he’s spent most of his career.

“I enjoyed my time in Carolina, I have nothing but great things to say about that place,” said Dwyer. “The organization treated me well. It just made sense to come back to the familiarity and get back in. Hopefully I can help these kids.”

At 33-years-old, Dwyer is the oldest player on the team. But he brings a wealth of experience, and his veteran leadership should be a big asset to the young roster.

“I think for the most part you just come in and show these kids how to be pros,” said Dwyer. “A lot of these guys are coming from living with billet families or their parents so they’re out on their own for the first time. So you just try to show them how to come to the rink every day and be a professional for the three or four hours and then you can go have all the fun in the world. I’m just going to try and help these kids go in the direction that they need to go and the team wants them to go.”

Carolina fans are familiar with the role that Dwyer filled during his time with the Hurricanes, but with a new team comes new opportunities.

“With the Canes, it’s probably a little different role than I’ll play here, but it’s the first day so who knows,” said Dwyer, who scored 40 or more points in three of his four full AHL seasons. “There’s opportunities to play top-six or top-nine forwards here where that didn’t happen with the Canes. I was a fourth-line penalty killer there.”

Even so, Dwyer recognizes what his bread and butter is.

“I’m sure I’ll fit in some of the same role even if I’m playing some more minutes, but it won’t change my game,” he said. “Once you get to where I am, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

It’s a quick turnaround for the veteran, with the Checkers’ season opener coming tomorrow night, but Dwyer has been working for this moment.

“I was in Columbus and then after that I was in Cleveland until yesterday,” said Dwyer. “So I’ve been skating and working out with guys, it’s not like I’ve been sitting on my couch for the last three weeks waiting to find a job.

“It helps me a lot in the sense that I’m not trying to play catch up as much. There will still be some catching up with the system, I’m sure Ulf has made some changes from what [Carolina head coach] Bill [Peters] runs, but for the most part I’ve been going and the engine has been running and that’s going to help a lot.”

CAPTAINS

It’s not too much of a surprise, but coach Samuelsson confirmed after practice that Ryan will serve as the Checkers’ captain for the second consecutive season.

As for the alternates, that decision remains up in the air.

“We are going to continue to evaluate our alternates,” said Samuelsson. “We have a small group of players that we’re going to rotate the ‘A’ through and then over the next couple of weeks we’ll determine who has good leadership qualities and maybe go to a permanent solution for that.”

Though he didn’t specify who exactly was a part of that group, there are several feasible choices.

Patrick Brown and Kyle Hagel each wore a letter for most of last season after a preliminary rotation, while newcomer Matt Tennyson served as an alternate captain in one of the team’s preseason games.

Samuelsson has a specific outline of what he’s looking for in his captains, so whoever ends up earning the honor will spend the next few weeks proving to the staff what they can bring to the table.

“Obviously we’re looking for leadership but that can come in many forms,” said Samuelsson. “It has to be a player who carries a certain weight on the team with his role. It has to be a player who leads by example, it has to be a player who makes other people around him better. You can lead in many different ways.”
Nicholas Niedzielski
Author: Nicholas NiedzielskiEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Director of Communications Nicholas Niedzielski joined the Checkers in the summer of 2014. A Texas native, he previously worked for the AHL's Texas Stars.