Having struggled to find ice time in Carolina this season, Derek Joslin should get all he can handle over the next two weeks.
On Wednesday, the NHL’s Hurricanes sent Joslin, a 24-year-old defenseman with 84 games of NHL experience over the last four seasons, to Charlotte on a conditioning stint. He made his Checkers debut during the team’s 2-1 win over San Antonio later that day, contributing an assist on Riley Nash’s game-winning goal.
That assist, the 97th point of his minor-league career, came on the power play, one of many situations in which Joslin found himself during his first AHL appearance in nearly two years.
“It’s good to go down here and get some games in, because as much as you work out in the gym, there’s no substitute,” said Joslin, who had been a healthy scratch for 27 of the Hurricanes’ first 41 games, including the last eight. “It’s good to be used in a different role where I’m seeing a lot of ice time in all situations.”
Joslin was impressive following his arrival in Carolina via a trade with the San Jose Sharks in February of last season, recording a plus-7 plus/minus rating to go along with 5 points in 17 games. However, a preseason illness put him at a disadvantage to players like Justin Faulk, who has essentially made the team as a 19-year-old rookie, with Joslin not making his season debut until November.
Prior to Wednesday, Joslin last played on Dec. 15, logging 7:52 during the Hurricanes’ 4-3 win over Vancouver. That would prove to be the final game in a string of 10 consecutive appearances, by far his longest of the season, as fellow blueliner Jay Harrison returned from injury in time for the Canes’ next game.
Though Joslin may still find himself as the eighth defenseman on the organizational depth chart when Joni Pitkanen recovers from a concussion and a more recent knee surgery, whenever that may be, the idea behind Joslin’s AHL visit is to keep him prepared should the need arise. Unlike many conditioning stints, including Jiri Tlusty’s visit to Charlotte last season, Joslin is rehabbing from rust rather than injury.
“When I get back up, I want to be in the best shape that I can,” said Joslin. “I’ve only played 14 games this year, and they haven’t all been in a row.”
During this particular stay in Charlotte, which can last no more than a total of 14 days according to the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, Checkers coach Jeff Daniels plans to take advantage of Joslin’s experience. At a time when the Checkers’ forward ranks have been spread thin by injuries and recalls to Carolina, Joslin’s presence gives the team more defensive depth than it’s had since Faulk left for Carolina on Nov. 17.
In addition, Daniels said that Joslin, who now has 204 games of AHL experience including the better part of three seasons from 2007-2010, could serve as something of a mentor.
“Just by watching him (Wednesday) night, he’s a pro,” said Daniels, who had not previously coached Joslin but remembered being impressed while coaching against him when he was with Worcester two years prior. “We’ll use him when he’s down here, and it’s also good just for the young guys to watch him and how he prepares.
“He’s paid his dues in the minors, and he can tell all of these guys about riding buses and all that. They hear it all the time from the coaches, but not from their teammates except for a few guys that go up and come back down.”
Should Joslin stay for the maximum of 14 days, he would be eligible to play in six more games, ending with the Checkers’ Jan. 17 home date with Grand Rapids. In order to make Joslin’s stay more permanent, the Hurricanes would first need to pass him through waivers – a risk they seem unwilling to take at this point. Unlike younger players such as Faulk, Joslin cannot move freely between the two leagues due to his combination of age and experience.
In the meantime, Joslin will continue to contribute however he can to the Checkers, continuing with crucial back-to-back match-ups in Milwaukee and Chicago that begin Saturday. By doing so, he hopes he can get in the kind of rhythm necessary to solidify his spot in the NHL lineup when the next opportunity comes his way.
“You just have to stay in the right mindset, and you can’t train yourself for that,” he said.