He didn’t have the season he wanted, but Zac Dalpe has been able to find some silver lining.
Having seemed poised to spend his second professional season with the Hurricanes, the 22-year-old forward instead played the bulk of the season in Charlotte following what was supposed to be a quick conditioning assignment in November. From that point on, he was one of a number of Checkers forwards who weren’t able to match their totals from one season earlier, when Dalpe made the league’s All-Rookie team in 2010-11.
Though still disappointed with that outcome – he scored 25 fewer points in five fewer games – the Hurricanes’ second-round pick in 2008 doesn’t view it as a lost season by any means.
“I think I matured a ton,” he said. “You learn a lot more about yourself when you’re not playing great.”
And what did he learn?
“Just that the whole thing is a process,” he said of his development as a player, which has included multiple recalls and reassignments between Charlotte and Carolina up to this point.
“Even though my first year went well, I didn’t think last year was going to be easy, and it wasn’t.”
After starting the Hurricanes’ season on a checking line before his injury, Dalpe went through a few lean stretches upon his return to Charlotte, including two separate eight-game goal droughts in December and April. Those can happen to any player at any time, but the fact that they weren’t happening to him one year earlier proved to be a cause for concern.
Dalpe said that relying on some veteran teammates helped him at the time, with their advice still ringing true today. Bobby Sanguinetti and Brett Sutter, each of whom has experienced his share of ups and downs, were particularly helpful, as was assistant coach Geordie Kinnear.
Still blessed with the combination of size, speed and shooting ability that made him a top prospect to begin with, Dalpe hoped to turn that new mentality into a roster spot with Carolina. The NHL’s lockout hasn’t yet given him that chance, but it also means he won’t have to deal with the angst that comes with being a league lower than he might have anticipated.
“That all goes back to the maybes and the what-ifs,” he said. “Those are things you just can’t think about.”