Hurricanes’ struggles could hurt or help Charlotte Checkers down the stretch

By Cory Lavalette
Photo: Chris Terry has emerged as the top playmaker in the Carolina Hurricanes system. With 30 assists through 44 games, he has already matched his 2010-11 total. (Photo courtesy of Jamie Kellner)

With the Carolina Hurricanes struggling, many expect the team to ship out several veteran players leading up to the trade deadline. That could mean one of two things for the Checkers: 1) several of their high-profile players could see extended time in Raleigh; or 2) the Canes will add some high-level talent that could assist Charlotte in their drive for a Calder Cup.

The good news for Carolina’s prospects is that new coach Kirk Muller has embraced his call-ups, using them in all situations and giving them top minutes, a practice that was rare under his predecessor, Paul Maurice.

Drayson Bowman, LW, 22

The one-time WHL sniper still hasn’t grown into a big-time scorer at the pro level, but Bowman continues to progress toward becoming a reliable two-way player. Through 34 games with Charlotte, Bowman has 11 goals and 11 assists, but he also performed well in his time with the Canes, registering five points in 13 games while playing top-nine minutes for Muller. Bowman’s defensive acumen and ability to score – he had two goals on eight shots December 15th vs. Vancouver – make him a prime candidate for promotion if Carolina needs a forward in Raleigh.

Nicolas Blanchard, LW, 24

Blanchard has been one of coach Jeff Daniels’ leaders in Charlotte. Blanchard is unlikely to ever put up big numbers (he has six goals and eight assists through 46 games with the Checkers this year), but he brings size and toughness to the AHL roster. He ranks second on the team in penalty minutes (66) and fighting majors (six) and wears an "A" for Charlotte.

Evgeni Dadonov, RW, 22

The first of presumably several moves by the Hurricanes resulted in Carolina landing Dadonov (along with A.J. Jenks) from Florida in exchange for Jonathan Matsumoto and prospect Mattias Lindstrom. Dadonov was among the rookie participants at last season’s All-Star Weekend in Raleigh, and he finished the 2010-11 campaign with eight goals and nine assists in 36 games for the Panthers. But Dadonov was unable to make a similar impact under new coach Kevin Dineen in Florida and had spent the majority of the season back in the AHL. Since joining the Checkers, the shifty Russian has two points (a goal and assist, both scored in a January 24th win over Rockford) in five games.

Zac Dalpe, C/RW, 22

It’s been an up-and-down season for Dalpe thus far – as in up to the NHL, and back down to Charlotte. Dalpe has split his time between the Checkers and Hurricanes, scoring 17 points – including 10 goals – in 26 games with Charlotte, and registering a goal and two assists in 16 games with the Canes. Dalpe had all three of those NHL points since Muller was named the Hurricanes’ coach, including getting a goal and an assist December 29th against Toronto. His season has been somewhat slowed by injuries – he made the Canes out of training camp but was injured October 14th against Buffalo and eventually reassigned to Charlotte. He was back with Carolina prior to the All-Star break, but was reassigned to the Checkers so he could play during the break and suffered an injury. The severity is yet to be determined, but he is not expected to miss significant time.

A.J. Jenks, LW, 21

Jenks is the latest former Plymouth Whaler to join the organization, coming with Dadonov from Florida January 18th. Jenks had a solid first professional season last year, registering 20 points in 63 games with Rochester, but is yet to score a point in 30 AHL games this year. He joined the Checkers after the trade and has not scored in five outings. Jenks was once considered a potential first-round pick, but fell to the fourth round and 2008 and was even demoted to the ECHL earlier this season.

Riley Nash, C, 22

The second-year pro earned his second recall to the NHL on January 30th. Nash took on more of a scoring role with the Checkers when Matsumoto was dealt, scoring in four of five games and totaling six of his 18 points over that stretch. For his efforts, the Canes brought up the second-year pro in time for the team’s first post-All-Star Weekend game. Nash, a former first-round pick of the Oilers, is a capable fourth-line center who could move up if his scoring continues to progress.

Matthew Pistilli, RW, 23

The undrafted winger has clawed his way to a permanent spot with the Checkers. After splitting time between Charlotte and the ECHL‘s Florida Everblades in 2010-11, Pistilli has spent the entire season in the AHL. He has nine goals (currently sixth on the team) and seven assists in 43 games with the Checkers, and at 6’2, 219 pounds is one of the bigger forwards in Charlotte.

Jerome Samson, RW, 24

Samson is currently with the Hurricanes (although out with an injury), but has spent most of the year with the Checkers. The 24-year-old has benefited as much as anyone from Muller’s willingness to play call-ups. Samson leads the Checkers with 15 goals, but his most significant goal of the year came January 10th when he notched his first NHL tally with a power play goal against the Flyers, his only point in three games with the Canes this season. Samson played 13-plus minutes in all of those games, more than he had played in any of his previous 30 NHL contests. He was named to the AHL All-Star Classic, but did not attend since he was on the Hurricanes’ roster and injured.

Justin Shugg, LW, 20

Shugg has seen his first pro season derailed by injury. He had bounced between Florida and Charlotte early in the season, then was injured December 15th in his first game back with the Checkers after being recalled and has not played since. He has four points (one goal, three assists) in 13 games with Charlotte this season, plus 11 points in seven ECHL games.

Jared Staal, RW, 21

The youngest of the Staal brothers has spent the entire season in the AHL this year, but has been in and out of the lineup as a frequent healthy scratch, playing in just 27 of Charlotte’s first 46 games. He has four points (two goals, two assists) so far this season and has not registered a point since a goal on December 11th.

Brett Sutter, C, 24

One of three Sutters in the Carolina system, Brett Sutter has proved to be a reliable fill-in on the fourth line and has captained the Checkers to first place this season. Sutter’s numbers in both Charlotte (13 points in 33 games) and Carolina (three assists in 15 games) don’t encapsulate what he brings each night: hard work in all three zones and a lead-by-example attitude.

Chris Terry, LW, 22

Terry has emerged as the Checkers’ most dangerous playmaker. He has just 10 goals this season (after scoring 34 last year), but his 30 assists in 44 games has already matched the total he had in each of the last two seasons. He has been on a torrid pace during his recent eight-game point streak, registering four goals and 11 assists over that span, and his 40 points rank tied for 10th in the AHL. Terry was the Checkers’ lone representative at the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic held January 30th.

Brett Bellemore, D, 23

Bellemore continues to serve as one of Daniels’ top shutdown defenders. At 6’4, 205 pounds, he’s among the biggest blueliners in the Carolina system. He’ll never be confused for an offensive defenseman (he has just five points this season and 22 overall in more than 200 career AHL games), but Bellemore has earned a spot in the lineup with his ability to limit the opposition’s top scoring threats.

Michal Jordan, D, 21

The Czech defender continues to grow in his second pro season. He impressed Daniels with his play last year, teaming with Bellemore to form the Checkers’ best shutdown duo, and even managed 18 points in his first pro season. He’s built on those numbers this season, registering three goals and 14 assists in just 46 games, one point shy of the total he had in 67 games last year.

Justin Krueger, D, 25

Krueger returned to North America this year after playing in the Swiss-A league last season following his graduation from Cornell. So far, his pro career on this side of the pond is going well. Krueger boasts a team-best plus-12 rating and has managed eight points in 41 games for the Checkers, good for fourth among the team’s defenseman. At 6’4, 215 pounds, he’s the biggest defenseman in the organization other than veteran Bryan Allen, and he has hockey bloodlines: his father, Ralph, is a former Swiss national team head coach and is currently an associate coach with the Edmonton Oilers.

Rasmus Rissanen, D, 20

The first-year Finnish pro has added toughness to Daniels’ lineup. His transition was surely assisted by playing the past two seasons with Everett of the WHL, therefore he’s been able to step into an AHL spot more quickly than most European players, who often initially struggle with the size and speed of the game. Like Bellemore and Krueger, Rissanen will likely never fill up a score sheet, but he is reliable and gritty in his own end while possessing an NHL frame. He has two goals and three assists in 40 games this season.

Bobby Sanguinetti, D, 23

It is a pivotal moment in Sanguinetti’s career, and the former first-round pick has responded. Last season saw him shelved by injuries, but Sanguinetti finally seems healthy and has been on a dominant run with the Checkers. In January, Sanguinetti had four goals and nine assists in 12 games, with all of the goals coming in his last six outings. His 24 points are tied for 12th among AHL defensemen, and he has done it in just 35 games. His play has entered him into the discussion for an NHL call-up if the Hurricanes move out some of their pending UFAs at the deadline.

Joe Sova, D, 23

Sova was acquired, along with a fourth-round draft pick, from New Jersey in exchange for Alexei Ponikarovsky on January 20th. He got in three games with the Checkers prior to the All-Star break, finishing minus-one with no points. Sova, undrafted out of Alaska-Fairbanks, spent time with the Devils’ AHL and ECHL affiliates in this his first full pro season. He has four points in 17 AHL games this year.

Mike Murphy, G, 23

Murphy has carried the bulk of the load in net for the Checkers this season. With Justin Peters filling in for an injured Brian Boucher in Raleigh, Murphy has gone 15-11-1 in 29 games with Charlotte. He made history in his NHL debut, relieving Cam Ward against Calgary December 6th and receiving the loss despite not allowing a goal.