The Checkers’ 2011-12 training camp is ‘built’ by Timberstone Homes
One way or another, the Checkers defense is getting younger.
The Carolina Hurricanes still have a key decision to make that will affect the Checkers’ roster, but of the seven blueliners currently with team, only three – Brett Bellemore, Bobby Sanguinetti and recent signing Mathieu Roy – have more than one year of professional experience. Rounding out the group are three second-year players in Michal Jordan, Justin Kreuger and Ryan Donald and a true freshman in Rasmus Rissanen.
Already, that’s a change from the mostly veteran group from last season, as Casey Borer, Zack Fitzgerald and Bryan Rodney have all moved on. It would be even more dramatic if the Hurricanes send 19-year-old Justin Faulk to Charlotte, but that’s a change coach Jeff Daniels would welcome.
Faulk, the Hurricanes second-round pick in 2010, has had an impressive preseason with the Hurricanes – so much so that he may be on the verge of claiming an opening night roster spot, even though the organization holds a glut of defensemen on one-way NHL contracts. That could result in a change of plans for Daniels, who had the rookie penciled in for a big role with the Checkers.
“You go into the season thinking maybe we’ll have him, maybe we’ll have him, but every year there’s a guy you thought you’d have but don’t get and a guy you didn’t think you’d have who comes down,” he said.
Still, Daniels, who coached Faulk in the playoffs last season after his national championship freshman season at the University of Minnesota Duluth, isn’t entirely surprised at Faulk’s long stay in Raleigh.
“Just from watching him at the end of last season, at the Traverse City tournament and in the (Hurricanes) exhibition games, you can tell he’s a player,” he said. “I’m very happy for him.”
Knowing that Faulk was a candidate to make their opening night roster, the Hurricanes brought in Roy, 28, on the eve of training camp. The ninth-year pro immediately became the eldest and most experienced of the current Checkers’ defensive corps, addressing a possible area of need.
Daniels said that Roy could also be part of the solution to fill Faulk’s role on the power play should he stick with the Hurricanes, though the two have different skill sets. Faulk scored 33 points in 39 college games last season, while Roy has never hit that mark in a single season at any level. It’s more likely that Sanguinetti, who looked comfortable running the point in the exhibition schedule, and Jordan would see a bump in ice time, though competition will be open.
“It’s all about opportunities,” said Daniels.
Besides Faulk, the only other rookie on the Checkers’ blue line would be Justin Krueger (who just barely qualifies as a 25-year-old with one season of pro experience in Europe) and Rasmus Rissanen. The latter, a 6-foot-3, 190 pound Finn, has appeared in just one pro game, having joined the Checkers after completing a stint in junior hockey last spring.
Though Rissanen is still learning the ropes – Daniels noted that he still needed to make faster decisions with the puck – Rissanen could also make an impact in his first year, having made his presence known in the Checkers’ two preseason victories.
“He skates so well and is such a strong kid – I don’t think he even knows how strong he is,” said Daniels. “He’s just got to get used to the pro game, but in terms of the overall skill set he’s a very good player.”
In the Checkers’ first game against Lake Erie, Rissanen became involved in an altercation as he and teammate Justin Soryal each squared off in simultaneous fights with Monsters players. Though he has the frame for it, it’s not something the 20-year-old typically goes looking for, having fought just twice in his two-year junior career with the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips.
“It was a little bit of an accident,” he said, smiling. “In the first game there was a lot of running around and a lot of energy, and I just saw guys dropping the gloves so I did too.”
“It’s not something we’re expecting him to do, but I thought he handled himself well,” said Daniels. “If something like that does come up because of the way he plays, he should be able to handle it.”
Daniels hopes that continues to be the case with the all-around game of his young defensemen. The early results have been encouraging, as the team allowed just one goal in their two-game preseason schedule last weekend.
“Right now in terms of years of experience there isn’t much, but what we lack there we make up for in ability, which we’re very comfortable with,” he said.
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