Minor league affiliate for Carolina Hurricanes plagued by injuries

By Robert Theodorson

Michal Jordan - Carolina Hurricanes

Photo: Now in his fourth season of professional hockey, defenseman Michal Jordan has developed into a solid stay-at-home option for the Charlotte Checkers. Jordan currently has a goal and eight assists through 30 AHL games. (courtesy of Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon SMI)

The Carolina Hurricanes have more or less all their eggs in one basket, with the majority of their prospects playing for the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL. With the sheer number of prospects Carolina is playing at the professional level, one would expect better results in the AHL. That is not the case however, as the Checkers currently rank 11th in the AHL's Western Conference.

NHL

Elias Lindholm, C, 19

Lindholm has struggled to find his game and adapt to North American hockey for much of this season. Other than a flash of brilliance in the odd game, the 2013-14 season will be one to forget for the young Swede. After falling out of favor with the coaching staff, Lindholm found himself a regular healthy scratch and even spent a stretch of time in the AHL in mid-November. He seemed to find his groove in December however, just before going to the 2014 World Junior Championships.

Lindholm was a standout at the 2014 WJC, where he managed two goals and seven assists for the silver medal winning Team Sweden. He was recalled to the NHL on January 8th and how long he stays there likely depends on what the Hurricanes think they can accomplish this year. If GM Jim Rutherford believes his team can end their long playoff drought, Lindholm might be sent down in favor of a more experienced center brought in via a trade.

Ryan Murphy, D, 20

Murphy's stock has been on a steady rise during his first full NHL season. The 20-year-old defenseman remains an exciting offensive force on the blue line and along with Justin Faulk, the two look like they could form Carolina's top defensive pairing for years to come.

Murphy looks like a solid option on the power play despite Carolina's dismal results on the man-advantage. He gets lots of shots on net and typically keeps things simple. Although his efforts to this point have only been minimally rewarded, the outlook on his NHL future remains bright.

One overlooked quality that Murphy possesses his ability to take the body without taking the penalty at the same time. While he may not be the most physical defenseman on the club, he is showing incredible restraint for a rookie in not taking dumb penalties and hurting his team.

AHL

Danny Biega, D, 22

Biega has undergone a baptism by fire with the Checkers and was depended on for top-four minutes in the AHL from the start of the season. The first-year pro finished signed an entry-level contract following his senior season at Harvard and has only four assists in 25 AHL games.

He is a mobile defenseman with a good shot from the point, but he has not got any luck bounces this season. He caught an unfortunate break on December 12th, when he went down with an upper-body injury, and is expected to miss a significant amount of time.

Michal Jordan, D, 23

Charlotte certainly possesses a large amount of defensive defensemen, but Michal Jordan is quietly making himself known as the steadiest rock among the group.

Jordan's defensive play is among the most admirable of the Hurricanes defensive prospects, but he is also learning the offensive side of the game and has shown steady improvements each year in the AHL. He has a legitimate shot at being a Hurricane next year, especially with the future of many of their veteran players up in the air.

Keegan Lowe, D, 20

After putting up years of big numbers with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, Keegan Lowe has finally found himself in the pros. Lowe has become a bright spot on a Charlotte team that has mostly been a disappointment this season. He has stepped up his game in the face of injuries the Checkers defense and appears to be adapting his game to be more of a two-way player at the pro-level. He currently has two goals and six assists through 36 games.

Victor Rask, C, 20

Nobody in Charlotte possesses more potential than center Victor Rask. It is a safe bet to say that this will be Rask's last season in Charlotte because he should be ready for NHL action by the start of the 2014-15 season. Unlike Lindholm, who struggled early in his transition to the NHL from his native Sweden, Rask has spent the past few years in North America and appears to be comfortable on the smaller ice surface.

The 20-year-old forward possesses a solid two-way game and has proved he can dish the puck as well. He has six goals and 13 assists in 36 games this season and his numbers should only get better with more experience. It is highly likely that he sees action with Carolina later in the season as the big club will want to get an early look at what he can do in a faster paced environment.

Justin Shugg, LW, 21

Shugg's stock is slowly increasing as time goes on and at 22 years old, he still has plenty of time to develop. Standing at 5'11 and almost 200 pounds, Shugg has a compact but bulky frame and seems to be well conditioned.

After battling for a spot in the AHL, the young winger is going to have to show the Canes that he brings something special to the table in order to stick around with the big club. He is off to a good start with eight goals and nine assists through 36 games, but has yet to do anything to truly separate him from other prospects in the system.

Jared Staal, RW, 23

Jared Staal is one of many Hurricanes players to be hit with the injury bug this season. Staal saw regular ice time with the Checkers this season, though was not very productive, managing only two assists in 22 games. It was later revealed that he had been battling an injury and was placed on injured reserve in early December. Staal returned to the Charlotte lineup on January 2nd after missing 11 games, but re-aggravated his injury in the game and has once again been out of the Checkers lineup.

Brody Sutter, C, 22

Another player on the rise is Brody Sutter of the famous Sutter hockey family. Charlotte decided to recall Sutter to the club last year and were rewarded with a dominating performance in the playoffs.

Standing at 6'4, Sutter possesses an intimidating presence on the ice and is one of the biggest players on the team. He is a formidable opponent for players facing opposite him in the face-off circle. Sutter has also improved offensively this season and currently has three goals and nine assists through 30 AHL games.

With his size and continued development on the offensive side of the puck, Sutter sits behind Rask as most likely to see call up action among prospects.

Brendan Woods, C, 21

One of Charlotte's newest members is former Wisconsin Badger Brendan Woods. While at Wisconsin, Woods established himself as the team's best face-off man and was tested at center as well as the wing. Woods has four goals and two assists through 34 games, but his statistics do not tell the complete story as he is valued for his off-ice contributions and leadership.

Woods is much more of a project player than other forwards in Charlotte. He is not going to attract attention with high point totals either and his best bet is to carve out a niche as a defensive center who will be called upon to win important draws.

Rasmus Rissanen, D, 22

As a former sixth-round pick, Rissanen was once considered the longest of long shots to make the team at any professional level. What the young Finn is proving is that he can amply compete with any other defensemen that Charlotte ices. Rissanen was injured in a fight on December 7th and only recently returned to action for Charlotte. He currently has a goal, three assists, and 47 penalty minutes through 23 games.

Beau Schmitz, D, 22

It took a very long time for Schmitz to put forth maximum effort and impress during his time with Plymouth in the OHL but he finally did in 2011-12 where he posted 14 goals and 54 points. After splitting the 2012-13 season between the AHL and ECHL, Schmitz has spent this season in the AHL, though it was not until the Checkers defense was ravaged by injury that he was able to find a regular spot in the lineup. He currently has two goals and four assists in 22 games, while mostly playing in a third-pairing role.

ECHL

Kellan Tochkin, RW, 22

Tochkin came to the Hurricanes organization as part of the return that sent Zac Dalpe and Jeremy Welsh to the Vancouver Canucks. He was assigned to the Florida Everblades of the ECHL in early October and through 28 games has three goals, 16 assists, and 30 penalty minutes.

The 22-year-old has shown some fair offensive skill during his time at the junior level but that offense has yet to translate to the pros. He needs to be grittier in his play, crash the net more, and work for garbage goals. Tochkin is in the final year of his entry-level contract and it appears unlikely the Hurricanes will re-sign him.

Other Notes:

On December 30th, the Hurricanes traded fourth-line forward Kevin Westgarth to the Calgary Flames for power forward prospect Greg Nemisz. The 23-year-old debuted for Charlotte on January 3rd, where suffered an infection, and has been out of the lineup ever since.