The Checkers weren’t sure exactly what would happen when they moved Zac Dalpe to the wing this season. Neither was he, for that matter. Five weeks into that experiment, both sides are happy with the results.
With 15 points (6g, 9a) in 18 games, Dalpe ranks third on the team in scoring and is much more in line with his 2010-11 AHL All-Rookie scoring pace than that of his slower sophomore season. If there were adjustments to be made, he’s made them quickly.
“It’s never going to be easy to change positions, but he’s definitely gotten more comfortable from where he was at the start of the year,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “He’s winning battles and doing good things to get the puck out.”
“It was kind of foreign to me at the start,” admitted Dalpe, who still posted five points in his first four games. “I didn’t feel like I could skate as much as I wanted to without cheating. It’s gotten a lot better as I’ve gone along, and now I enjoy it.”
Along with fellow 2008 draft pick Zach Boychuk, Dalpe was the Checkers’ best answer to Oklahoma City’s group of established NHL forwards during back-to-back losses over the weekend. He found the score sheet in both games, scoring a goal and firing a game-high seven shots on Saturday before recording the primary assist on Boychuk’s five-on-three goal on Sunday. Those performances, coming off a road trip in which Daniels called him one of the team’s best players, gave him eight points (4g, 4a) in his last eight games.
“We thought that if we got him some time on the wing down here and he could use his speed and his shot, learn to come late and sort of expose defensemen with that speed, hopefully it would generate some more for him,” said Ron Francis, the Carolina Hurricanes’ vice president of hockey operations.
Aside from those technical benefits, another main idea behind the move was based on how the Hurricanes perceive their organizational depth. Though Dalpe grew up playing center and had played it almost exclusively with the Checkers, most of his 31 NHL games over the past two seasons were spent on the wing. In theory, playing the wing in Charlotte this season should make it easier for him to make in-season transitions from the two leagues or, even better, one permanent move.
Having someone they knew would be a willing participant didn’t hurt.
“Zac is a great kid and the ultimate team player, no complaints from him,” said Francis. “He’s giving it a go and seeing how it’s going. I’ve seen signs of that improving as the season’s gone along, and we’ll continue to monitor that.”
Despite the apparent success of the move, there’s no guarantee that it will be permanent as the nature of organizational depth is anything but stable. Aside from trades and signings changing the makeup of the group, the development of individual players happens at sometimes unpredictable rates – either positively or negatively – which can change even the best-laid plans. Though Dalpe best fit at wing last season, he’d probably have a better chance of making the Hurricanes as a center if the lockout ended today.
That’s an option that will apparently remain open.
“I’m not saying at some point we wouldn’t put him back at center because we’re happy with him there too,” said Francis.
As to whether he thinks he’ll ultimately be a center or a wing down the road, Dalpe, as has been the case ever since he was drafted, didn’t seem sure.
“You never know the answer to that, and I think most guys would tell you the same thing,” he said.
If he continues on his current path, ideally, it won’t matter.