May 21, 2012 1:21 PM
Two important players from the Checkers’ most recent season are returning the organization.
Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti (one year) and forward Nicolas Blanchard (two years) each re-signed with the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday. Sanguinetti, a four-year veteran, was set to become a restricted free agent on July 1, while Blanchard, who just completed his fifth professional campaign, was to be unrestricted and available to any other club at that date.
Sanguinetti, 24, rebounded from an injury-plagued start to his Checkers career by having his best season to date. After missing the majority of 2009-10 with a hip injury and suffering a broken foot early in the most recent campaign, Sanguinetti scored 44 points in his last 44 games to set career highs in goals (10), assists (40) and points (50). He ranked third among all AHL defenseman in points and assists and earned his first recalls to Carolina toward the end of the season, playing three games in March.
The Hurricanes believe that kind of performance has put the former first-round pick (21st overall to the New York Rangers in 2006) on track to graduate to the next level.
“He played extremely well last year, and he showed he’s got the potential to make that next step and push for a job next season,” said Ron Francis, the Hurricanes’ director of hockey operations.
That’s a far cry from one year earlier, when Sanguinetti didn’t crack the team’s preseason lineup prior to arriving in Charlotte for the start of the season. However, his torrid second half, including a successful audition with the Canes, has put him back on the radar.
“Like with a lot of guys, it can be a bit of a rollercoaster,” said Francis. “In fairness to him, he had a lot of injuries and wasn’t 100 percent, but in the last part of this season he showed up what he was capable of.
“Players don’t get to this level without being competitive and proud. When you deal with the bumps, you’ve got to dig deeper and fight harder, and that’s what he did. You don’t bring a guy into your organization unless you think he can do it, and from day one we felt that he could.”
As was the case this past season, Sanguinetti will again face a battle to crack the Carolina lineup at training camp. Monday’s signing of Jamie McBain brings the number of returning NHL defensemen to six, with pending free agents Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek and up-and-coming prospects like Brian Dumoulin and Ryan Murphy still looming large.
That said, Sanguinetti’s stellar season should warrant a close look.
“You’re never going to guarantee anyone a position in the middle of the summer, and Bobby understands that,” said Francis. “It’s up to him to show the coaches what he can do, and coming off the year he had he should have a lot of confidence.”
Blanchard, who turns 25 at the end of May, served as one of the Checkers’ alternate captains for the second consecutive season. Though he tied his career high with 12 assists in 2011-12, he’s been a model of consistency throughout his career, scoring between 18 and 23 points in each of his five seasons with Carolina’s top minor-league affiliate.
Prior to suffering a concussion in late March, Blanchard was on track to earn his first NHL recall to Carolina, where he could still fill a role down the line.
“He plays a physical brand of hockey and is someone you can rely on to kill penalties and stick up for his teammates,” said Francis of Blanchard, who checks in at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds and ranked second on the team with 103 penalty minutes. “Those are all part of being the character guy that we like.
“In addition to being a good player on the ice, he’s genuinely a good person off the ice, and those are the people you want in your organization.”
This offseason marked the first time that Blanchard, the Hurricanes’ sixth-round pick in 2005, could have exercised his option to look elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent.
“He could have gone somewhere else but he chose to stay with us, and we appreciate it,” said Francis. “The coaches here haven’t seen him yet, and he’s the kind of guy Kirk (Muller) likes. This will be a good opportunity to show them what he can do.”
Sanguinetti and Blanchard join Sean Dolan as the first players to sign new contracts with the organization. For a complete breakdown of contracts, click here.