In what is already looking like a lost season before the campaign even reaches the All-Star break, the Carolina Hurricanes – currently one of the frontrunners in the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel sweepstakes – have begun giving some of their AHL players a closer look.
Unfortunately, the Charlotte Checkers have had a season similar to Carolina’s thus far: inconsistent and sometimes invisible scoring has the team residing in the bottom of the AHL standings.
Patrick Brown, C, 22
The first-year pro started his season with the Hurricanes, registering no points in seven games in two brief stints in Raleigh before his last reassignment to Charlotte. The AHL has not been much kinder to the undrafted Brown: the 22-year-old center has been frequently sidelined by injuries, is still searching for his first professional goal, and has just two assists in 13 games. Since returning from injury, Brown has been frequently centering Charlotte’s third line with wingers Carter Sandlak and Phil Di Giuseppe. Checkers coach Jeff Daniels has praised Brown, calling him the team’s best-conditioned player.
Phil Di Giuseppe, LW/RW, 21
Di Giuseppe is in his first full professional season after playing three years at the University of Michigan. A streaky scorer during his collegiate career, Di Giuseppe has just three goals on the season despite ranking third on the team in shots on goal with 66 through the Checkers’ first 29 games. Di Giuseppe has been tried on several lines – and on both wings – in an effort to spark the Checkers’ lackluster offense. Di Giuseppe’s seven assists are tied for fourth on the team, and he is one of seven players with double-digit points.
Brock McGinn, LW, 20
You can summarize the start to McGinn’s professional career with one word: snakebit. McGinn leads the Checkers in shots but has just five goals through 28 games, yet he probably deserves more given the number of Grade-A chances he in the season’s first couple of months. McGinn has played on Charlotte’s top line much of the season while also drawing special teams duties during his first full professional season. McGinn received a one-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head on October 31st, the only game he has missed this season. McGinn does have a history of questionable hits, he was suspended eight games last season for a check to the head, and also had a six-game suspension in 2011 for a hit from behind.
Greg Nemisz, C, 24
The former first-round pick of the Flames had struggled to stay healthy during his time in the Calgary system, and he has experienced the same misfortune with Carolina. He was the Checkers’ top scorer this year (eight goals, six assists through 21 games) before a knee injury suffered on December 6th against Iowa likely ended his 2014-15 campaign. It is a particularly rough break for Nemisz because he may have been poised for a recall to the Hurricanes when injuries started to mount in Raleigh – Justin Shugg got the promotion and made his NHL debut in Montreal December 16th instead.
Jared Staal, RW, 24
The youngest Staal is on pace for his best professional season in 2014-15, Staal has already surpassed his previous career high with five goals (seven points total) through 22 games despite missing a block of games due to injuries. Staal is still an NHL longshot and has played mostly bottom-six minutes for the Checkers.
Brody Sutter, C, 23
Sutter’s combination of size and smarts makes him a down-the-road candidate for Carolina’s bottom six. After injuries to Carolina’s forward corps earned him a four-game recall earlier in the season, Sutter returned to Charlotte but lasted just 10 games before an injury in mid-November cost him more than a month of action. Sutter (two goals, one assist with Charlotte) has recently resumed skating and should work his way back into the lineup before long.
Brendan Woods, LW/C, 22
With Nemisz likely out for the season and Shugg recalled to Carolina, Woods has stepped up his offense this year. He has six goals and seven assists through 29 games, Woods has already set career highs in goals, assists, points and penalty minutes (64, including six fights) and is evolving into a gritty bottom six type that could work his way to the NHL with more polish.
Danny Biega, D, 23
Biega’s offensive output still has not translated from college to the pros (two goal, four assists in 29 games this season), but the 23-year-old defenseman continues to be one of Charlotte’s steadiest and most reliable defenders. Paired with rookie Trevor Carrick of late, the former Harvard captain is an all-situations player who plays bigger and stronger than his 6’0, 200-pound frame.
Trevor Carrick, D, 20
Carrick was best known in his OHL days for being an offensive force on the blue line, but the rookie defender is letting it be known that he will not be pushed around in his first professional season. Carrick has five major penalties on the season as well as a goal and seven assists through 29 games. Three of those assists came in 5-4 win over Milwaukee on November 29th, when he was named the game’s first star for his efforts. Carrick has recently teamed up with Biega on the Charlotte defense.
Keegan Lowe, D, 21
Lowe has been a mainstay on the Checkers defense this year, but has missed time of late after being hit in the head with the puck on December 13th. Up to that point, Lowe has been relied on in a defensive role for the Checkers, registering three assists in 24 games. His 60 penalty minutes are second most among Charlotte defenders – 37 of them came in two games on November 21st and 29th, when he earned game misconducts on both nights. Prior to his injury, Lower was paired with first-year defender Dennis Robertson.
Ryan Murphy, D, 21
It was another disappointing start to the season for 2011’s 12th overall pick. Murphy started the year with Carolina, notching just one assist in six games before being reassigned to Charlotte. The good news is Murphy seems to be rebuilding his confidence with Checkers. After registering just one assist in his first six AHL games of the season, Murphy has heated up with 10 assists in his last 10 games. That included a three-assist night on December 12th in a 4-3 loss to Iowa. Murphy has been most recently paired with defense-first blueliner Rasmus Rissanen on the Checkers top pairing. He currently has 16 assists through 21 AHL games.
Rasmus Rissanen, D, 23
Rissanen is in his fourth professional season, all with the Checkers, and has emerged as a go-to physical defender. Rissanen will never be known for his offensive game – his one goal and seven assist through 29 games puts him on pace for modest career highs in points – but he has proved to be a good foil to his partner Murphy’s high-octane skillset. With Carolina floundering in the standings, that could lead to a long-waited promotion to the NHL so the Hurricanes brass can get a better look at the Finnish defender and decide how he fits into the team’s future.
Dennis Robertson, D, 23
Acquired with the John-Michael Liles in the trade that sent Tim Gleason to Toronto last season, Robertson has three assists in the first 14 games of his first full professional season. Robertson has been in and out of the lineup, often sitting as a healthy extra, but the promotion of Michal Jordan to Carolina has made room in the lineup for the former Brown defenseman in late November and December.
Beau Schmitz, D, 23
Like Robertson, Schmitz has often been an odd man out on the Checkers defense this season. But the third-year pro has spent all season with Charlotte thus far – he had stints with Florida, Carolina’s ECHL affiliate, the past two seasons – and has been used in spot duty when needed due to injuries and call-ups. Schmitz has two assists in nine games with the Checkers this season.
Daniel Altshuller, G, 20
The first-year goaltender has served as a second-stringer with the Everblades so far this season, apprenticing under journeyman Allen York. Altshuller has a good record for first-place Florida so far this season, going 6-1 with a 3.19 goals-against average and .886 save percentage in his first professional action. Unfortunately for Altshuller, he will be hard-pressed to wrestle the starting job away from York, who is 12-2-1.
Austin Levi, D, 22
Time is ticking on Levi, a third-year pro who was considered a project as a third-round pick in 2010 but has not been able to graduate to the AHL yet. The latest bump in the road for Levi came this season, when Florida loaned him to the Stockton Thunder as part of a trade that sent Corey Trivino to the Everblades, Having Levi, who has combined for three goals and six assists in 24 games with Florida and Stockton this season, out of the Carolina developmental system does not bode well for the defenseman’s future with the organization – his entry-level contract expires after the 2014-15 season.
Non-Minor League Prospect Update
Checkers captain Michal Jordan has earned his first extended stint in the NHL, joining the team in late November and played in 13 games since his promotion. Jordan is looking for his first NHL point of the season, playing nearly 15 minutes a night and earning some time on the power play.
Justin Shugg played his first NHL game against Montreal on December 16th, playing 5:11 and taking a minor penalty. At the time of his promotion, Shugg was leading the Checkers with nine goals in 17 games, including a four-game goal streak in mid-November.
Warren Foegele got his first collegiate goal – a power play tally – November 25th against Rensselaer, New Hampshire’s lone goal in a 2-1 loss. Through December 26th, Foegele had one goal and four assists on the season.
He is only 28 games into his season, but Cape Breton center Clark Bishop has already set a career mark for goals with 16. The Screaming Eagles have been a bit of a disappointment this season, but Bishop continues to improve his point production while still providing the three-zone play that made him a fifth-round pick last summer.
After an incredibly impressive freshman season, defenseman Jaccob Slavin has struggled with Colorado College this year. Slavin has just two assists through 15 games after leading the Tigers in scoring last season with 25 points. Slavin’s sophomore slump – perhaps a byproduct of the team adjusting to new coach Mike Haviland’s system – cost him a spot on Team USA’s World Junior Championships squad.
Carolina Hurricanes Prospect of the Month
The Carolina Hurricanes prospect of the month is Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenseman Kyle Jenkins. Teammate Sergey Tolchinsky, one of the OHL‘s top scorers, continues to pile up points at an impressive clip, but Jenkins is also red-hot for the Greyhounds.
In the 12 games from November 23rd through December 19th, Jenkins has two goals and nine assists for a total of 19 points through 34 games. While former partner and fellow Hurricanes prospect Tyler Ganly has been teamed up with star blueliner Darnell Nurse since the latter’s return from Edmonton, Jenkins has thrived playing with both Tyler Hore and more recently rookie Medric Mercier.