In order to continue taking steps forward, Justin Shugg had to take one back, if only for a few days.
With their forward ranks as deep as they’ll likely be all season due to good health at both the AHL and NHL levels, the Checkers reassigned the rookie to the ECHL’s Florida Everblades on Thursday of last week. Just five days and two games later, he was back in Charlotte as part of a planned move to get him as much ice time as possible.
“He wasn’t scheduled to play (with the Checkers) on Friday, so we thought it would be better for him to play two games in Florida,” said Charlotte coach Jeff Daniels. “We’ve said from day one that if you’re not playing here you need to play somewhere, and it just so happened that it worked out with the schedule.”
Though healthy players miss games due to their coach’s decision every day, the Checkers are wary of removing Shugg from the lineup due to his age. At 19, he’s one of the younger players in the league, with his Dec. 24, 1991, birthday coming just seven days before the AHL cutoff. Other Canadian-junior based players in his draft class that were born in 1992, including Carolina’s Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner, could not have made the same leap.
That makes continuing his steady development all the more important, with his coach having already noticed improvements since he suited up at the AHL level for the first time on Oct. 28 following a successful start to his season with Florida.
“The biggest thing for him was just improving his quickness, because he knows what to do but just wasn’t doing it fast enough,” said Daniels. “Now, he’s adapted.”
“J.D.’s always talking to me about the quickness of my game, both mentally and physically,” said Shugg. “When I’m out there, I try to just tell myself to make sure my feet are moving.”
After going scoreless in his first eight AHL games, Shugg posted 3 points (1g, 2a) during back-to-back games against Milwaukee on Nov. 26-27. His scoring at the ECHL level has never been in question, as his 3 points during his latest visit gave him 11 (4g, 7a) in seven total games this season. He was even named the league’s Player of the Week prior to his initial recall.
If nothing else, his ability to post points over the weekend should have him feeling confident for his return to the AHL.
“To score feels good,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what team you’re on.”
Daniels wouldn’t say whether Shugg would play regularly on his latest recall, with the team now carrying one more healthy forward than they have spots. It seems likely that he’ll at least play Thursday, with further determinations to be made depending on how the Checkers as a team respond to their recent run of defeats.
“We’ll have to see how we play,” said Daniels.