With the NHL lockout finally coming to an end this weekend, the Checkers most recent set of games could be seen as a "final audition" for players hoping to get an invite to the Carolina Hurricanes training camp, which is set to begin very soon. It also helped that their game on Sunday against the Norfolk Admirals was held at the PNC Arena so more fans, coaches and members of the Canes scouting staff could get a first-hand look at some of these players. If Kirk Muller's intention is to only invite a few players from Charlotte to camp then he will have his work cut out for him, as there are many Checkers who are making good cases to earn a roster spot with the Hurricanes once the season starts in a couple weeks.
The "what have you done for me lately?" mindset always thrives in the sports world, so I would expect the Checkers' hottest players to get a look before others and right now, you'll struggle to find a hotter forward than Zac Dalpe. If Dalpe's sights are still set on making the NHL full-time, then he certainly made a great case for himself this weekend with three goals and four points in three games played. He was very impressive in Charlotte's 3-1 win over Norfolk at the PNC Arena on Sunday by scoring a shorthanded goal and forcing a turnover to set up Jerome Samson's goal in the third period. Dalpe also scored a pair of goals on Friday night in the Checkers 4-0 shutout over Lake Erie and could have easily scored another shorthanded goal on Sunday had it not been for a great save by Frederik Andersen. He also tallied six shots on goal in Charlotte's 2-1 loss to Lake Erie on Thursday, giving him 12 total shots on the long weekend. Dalpe started off the year a bit slow after recovering from an injury but he has really been on fire the last month. His point total is still modest (35-11-12-23), but he is still producing more offense than most of the Checkers forwards with a shot rate of 3.31 shots per game. It's hard to look at that and not be impressed with the way he has been playing this year.
The other candidate for "hottest forward" would be Zach Boychuk, who added another goal and assist to his totals this weekend. His goal came on Thursday night in a loss to Lake Erie, which was also the Checkers lone tally of the game. Boychuk also looked very impressive in the Norfolk game with four shots on goal and he had a few very good chances that either missed the net or were stopped by Andersen. Despite that, I think it's safe to say he made a good impression on the coaching staff and his performance this year should be enough to earn him one more look with the Hurricanes.
Riley Nash also made quite a bit of noise this past week with a goal and two assists. Nash is more known for his defensive skills at the professional level but he showed some of his offensive talent in the 4-0 win over Lake Erie by scoring on a powerful slapshot from the top of the faceoff circle. He also made a great feed to Dalpe from the side of the net to set up a goal and tallied another assist in the third period. Performances like that from Nash are pretty rare but they are nice to see when they come around. Tim Wallace also had a three-point performance this weekend, as did Chris Terry who scored his 10th goal of the season.
All in all, this was a great three-game set for the Checkers despite it beginning on a frustrating note with a 2-1 overtime loss on Thursday night. They won both of their games after that, outscored their opponents 9-2 and outshot them 93-77. Outplaying your opponents always goes a long way into notching victories and that's exactly what the Checkers managed to do in all three of their games. Solid goaltending from the Peters/Ellis tandem also helped a lot. It will be interesting to see what happens to this team after training camp because there are going to be a few players leaving for the Hurricanes. The strong start the Checkers got off to likely puts them in good position to make the playoffs right now but will they keep up this great pace after losing a few key players? We shall see.