The Checkers were always going to begin training camp around this time, but the current NHL lockout means it won't quite be business as usual.
By the time they report for the first on-ice session at Extreme Ice Center Saturday, all 36 players scheduled to attend camp will have been affected in some way. Some were expecting to play in the NHL this season, some were hoping to earn one of those spots, and some who were more or less expecting to play in the AHL will now have to fight for jobs.
All of that adds up to what should be an intense few weeks at every position.
"I've been telling people that it's already a great league and it's going to be even better now," said third- year center Zac Dalpe.
Coming off the disappointment of spending most of his sophomore season in the AHL after a promising rookie campaign, Dalpe, 22, was among the group of players most anxious to put on a good performance at Carolina's training camp. With five Hurricanes' preseason games already canceled, the first of which was supposed to be played in Columbus tonight, that opportunity is quickly fading.
If glowing reports from Hurricanes' management are accurate, center Jeremy Welsh may have had a bit more NHL job security despite playing just one professional game at the conclusion of his college season in March. Instead, he's now on track to start in the AHL, having only signed a two-way contract when it became clear that a lockout was a very real possibility.
Despite the change in plans, both players, who were part of a group of 22 to take part in an informal skate on Wednesday, didn't seem overly disappointed for the time being.
"It doesn't really change my approach at all because I knew I'd be playing hockey no matter what," said Welsh, who initially signed with Carolina as a free agent following his third season at Union College. "I knew this could be a spot for me."
"I don't think it's too disappointing because we'll still get to play games," said Dalpe. "That's an advantage of being on an entry-level contract."
Both players, who were expected to compete directly and with others for a spot with the Hurricanes this season, went on to identify an additional silver lining. Being able to play regularly in the AHL could give them an advantage over locked-out veterans who don't have the same options, at least on this continent.
That's especially true for Welsh, who, despite being an older rookie at 24, hasn't gone through the same processes as many of his would-be teammates.
"The experience will be good for me," said Welsh, who added that his one NHL game with Carolina did wonders for his confidence over the summer. "It'll be good to get the first pro camp and the first pro jitters out of the way, which would make me better prepared for whenever NHL camp comes around."
As long as the NHL's labor stoppage continues, both players should be key cogs in Charlotte. There will be less certainty for a group of rookies, new signings and depth players on last season's Checkers team, who face a tougher road to playing time than they would have with more players able to play in Carolina.
Due to the sheer number of players in camp, it appears that some AHL-caliber players will end up one step lower in the ECHL. Of the 20 forwards at camp, 12 will dress on opening night. Of the 12 defensemen, six. Of the four goalies, two.
"It's going to be a battle," said Dalpe.