NEWSCanes Qualify McKegg, Wallmark and Zykov: Three of the Checkers’ most electric forwards last season all headed into the summer as restricted free agents, and the Canes extended qualifying offers to the trio to keep them in the fold. Wallmark and Zykov represent two of the organization’s top prospects knocking on the NHL door, while McKegg is an AHL star whose NHL experience makes him a solid option for the Canes as well.
Checkers players not receiving qualifying offers, and thus becoming unrestricted free agents, were Sergey Tolchinsky, Tyler Ganly and Keegan Kanzig. Tolchinsky was already Russia-bound and didn’t finish the season with the team, so his exclusion is no surprise. Injury issues have plagued Ganly, who has only appeared in 85 games between the AHL and ECHL through his first three pro seasons, while Kanzig couldn’t crack the Charlotte lineup and spent the entirety of last season in the ECHL with Florida.
There is still a chance that the Canes could bring back any of those free agents who weren’t qualified, a route they took with former Checker Phil Di Giuseppe.
Canes Sign Zykov: The AHL’s top goal-scorer impressed enough last season to earn himself a one-way contract with Carolina heading into his fourth pro campaign. Zykov’s contract status now puts him in a solid position to compete for an NHL job out of training camp. The Russian forward stood out for the Canes during his limited NHL time last season, recording seven points in 10 games.
Canes Sign Petr Mrazek: Carolina’s big splash on day one of free agency came in the form of a new netminder. For the first time since 2005 Cam Ward won’t be manning the crease in Raleigh, with the veteran inking a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. In his place the Canes have brought in 26-year-old Petr Mrazek, a Detroit draft pick who has logged 183 career NHL contests. Mrazek joins Scott Darling and Alex Nedeljkovic as the group competing for Carolina’s two spots.
Prospect Spotlight: Michael Fora
Standing at 6-foot-4, 214 pounds, Fora brings a substantial physical presence to the blue line and is coming off a breakout offensive year back in his home country. His acclimation to North American ice surfaces shouldn’t take long either, as Fora played one WHL season with Kamloops back in 2014-15.
Fora kicked off his tenure with the Hurricanes organization last week when he participated in Carolina’s prospect camp.
Whatever Happened To: Zack Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald would move on from Charlotte the following offseason and log three more AHL campaigns with Hamilton and Adirondack, amassing 701 penalty minutes along the way. For the 2014-15 season, he made the jump overseas to the EIHL, the UK’s top league. Serving as a player/assistant coach, Fitzgerald logged 304 penalty minutes in 44 games for the Braehead Clan, helping lead the club to a conference title.
Fitzgerald remained in the EIHL for the next three season, jumping over to the Sheffield Steelers. Serving as an alternate captain all three season, the forward kept his hard hitting ways about him, totaling 575 penalty minutes during his tenure while leading the Steelers to a league title in 2015-16 and a playoff championship in 2016-17.
Now regarded as a star across the pond, Fitzgerald announced a return to Braehead earlier this summer, signing on as the club’s new captain. His signing has Clan fans buzzing, as head coach Pete Russell heralded Fitzgerald as “a warrior, a natural leader and a huge character,” and noted that “Zack is a player and person that every club, team, coach and fanbase needs.”
Number of the Week: 10The Checkers have had some high-flying offensive production as of late, but nothing has touched that early December game during the inaugural 2010-11 season when Charlotte hung 10 goals on the Syracuse Crunch. After heading into the second period deadlocked at one, the Checkers scored a pair of goals just 21 seconds apart to start the frame, then piled on four more to bring the total to six goals in less than four minutes of play. They would notch another pair before the second buzzer and then, after the Crunch tallied a pair in the third, capped off the night with number 10 in the final five minutes of play.
In the end, nine different Checkers lit the lamp, with Riley Nash the only one who doubled up. Oskar Osala led the way with four points (1g, 3a) on the night while Jerome Samson notched a game-high plus-five rating. Timo Pielmeier took the brunt of the attack for Syracuse, logging over 58 minutes and surrendering eight goals on 41 shots, while Jean-Philippe Leavsseur entered the game for 94 seconds and allowed two goals on the only two shots he was faced with.