This impression has only strengthened Foegele’s case for making the Hurricanes’ opening night roster.
“Foegs is a Hurricane, that’s what Roddy talks about,” said Checkers head coach Mike Vellucci. “He brings it every night. I talked to some of the guys who just got sent down and they might have more skill than Foegs but they don’t have the intensity every game and the competitiveness every single shift. That’s the key. If they decide to keep him, which I think they are, he deserves it.”
With the Checkers last season the 22-year-old Foegele was a dominant force, racking up a franchise rookie record of 28 goals and playing a key role in killing penalties. With the glimpses he showed across his first year as a pro, Foegele emerged as a top prospect in the organization and Vellucci had a simple message to the young forward heading into his first offseason.
“The message this summer was that his compete level was good every night but he slowed down a little in his first year, so work on his conditioning,” said Vellucci. “I know he did some boxing this summer, which was really helpful with that and with his hand-eye coordination. But at camp I just told him to compete every shift and do what he does best. That’s skate, use his wheels and use his competitive advantage.”
Fogele’s path to an NHL job is an uphill climb this season, as his entry-level contract status makes him a more viable candidate to move back and forth to the AHL. But as his level of play increases, he’s become harder to ignore.
“It’s a reward system that the organization has taken, which I totally believe in,” said Vellucci. “You have to bring it every night and if you’re not, someone’s there to steal your job. If you want to keep your job you better compete every night. I’m proud of Foegs, he deserves it. He put up 28 goals last year and he was probably the unsung hero on this team. He didn’t play on the power play but he never complained. He was an energy guy, great penalty killer and he deserves the opportunity.”
PRESEASON GAMESAfter a quick skate Thursday morning at Bojangles’ Coliseum, the Checkers took off for Pennsylvania where they’ll play a pair of preseason contests against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
The roster that is heading out for the trip remains inflated with invites and fringe players who will have one last chance to catch the coaching staff’s eyes, this time in a game setting.
“I want to see who’s going to be committed to the team and who’s going to play the hardest,” said Vellucci. “We need everybody to step up this weekend and play hard and try to earn a spot. There’s a lot of new guys here this weekend and a lot of guys still up in NHL camp and I don’t know who we’re going to get back. So if you want to make an impression and make a spot on this team you have to compete hard and do the right things.”
While these two games act as a platform for players to earn jobs, they’re also dress rehearsals for how the Checkers will look for their regular season opener, which is just a week after. That puts a bit of a balancing act on the shoulders of the coaching staff.
“It’s difficult because I want to teach a lot too, that’s my job down here, it’s a developmental league,” said Vellucci. “So I’ll be teaching quite a bit and then I’ll be paying attention to the guys that are on the bubble. But you really don’t have to pay much attention because they’re going to stand out. When they do something right it will be very noticeable. It’s not like I have to be looking for every detail because the guys that are competing hard and working hard, they’re the guys who are going to stand out.”
GOALIE BATTLEPerhaps the most intriguing position battle for Charlotte is happening between the pipes. Alex Nedeljkovic, who still remains in NHL camp, looks to have the number one job locked up heading into the season, but who claims the backup role is still up in the air.
Three goalies currently sit on the Checkers roster – second-year pro Callum Booth, incoming rookie Jeremy Helvig and veteran free-agent signee Jamie Phillips. While he admits it can be difficult getting a handle on goalies just through their play in practice, Vellucci seems to have a grasp on what his team is working with.
“The job is open,” he said. “I got to watch Helvig and Booth in Traverse City. I know both of those guys. Boother had a great year last year down in the coast and when he came up here. Helvy had a good year in the OHL. We’ll see who steps up in these next two games.”
The two draft picks appear to have the upper hand when it comes to showcasing their skill this weekend in Lehigh Valley, but there is still plenty of competition in the crease.
“[Booth and Helvig] are both going to get a game this weekend,” said Vellucci. “We’ll see what happens with Phillips in terms of him getting an opportunity. We’ll see who steps up.”
OLD FACES, NEW ROLESAs the Hurricanes continue to whittle down their roster, more and more impact players are heading down the road to Charlotte. Two recent assignees – Andrew Poturalski and Julien Gauthier – represent what could be a formidable duo this season for the Checkers.
After leading the team in scoring as a rookie, Poturalski ramped up his goal-scoring prowess in year two, finishing fourth on the team with 22 tallies. Now with some experience under his belt, the hope is for Poturalski to take on a bigger role amongst an increasingly young squad.
“I want to see Potsy in a leadership role,” said Vellucci. “This is his third year so he needs to make sure he’s doing all the right things and leading by example. After your third year you should know what it takes to do that.”
Gauthier will be counted on to similarly embrace a new role while looking to take another step forward from his 16-goal rookie campaign.
“Goats, he needs to be powerful,” said Vellucci. “He needs to be committed to his D zone and play like a man out there. Not just fit in but be a star.”
Vellucci’s outlook on both Poturalski and Gauthier falls into a mantra that he’s been hammering home since day one.
“Don’t just try to fit in, be the star,” said he said. “That’s what I tell everyone here. I even tell my son at home. If you want people to notice who you are, you’ve got to be better than everybody else. That should be your ultimate goal all the time. Be the best player on the ice and people will take notice.”