Anybody who has been following the Charlotte Checkers during the lockout knows that the team has more than a few guys on the roster who could possibly be in the NHL as soon as the new CBA is ratified. The Checkers currently have five players with at least 10 goals and the same amount with at least 20 points in less than 40 games. The best part of it is that most of these players are guys who are on the cusp of being "NHL ready" and we are going to find out whether or not they have a future with the Carolina Hurricanes in a matter of months. The lockout is obviously going to cause this process to be rushed and the competition between forwards in training camp is going to be a fracas with at least three players gunning for one roster spot.
According to News & Observer reporter Chip Alexander, Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller says that he plans to have 15 forwards and 8 defensemen in training camp and plans for the roster to be relatively small since camp will last only a few days thanks to the lockout. Who might those 23 players be? We know that Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, Jiri Tlusty, Chad LaRose, Andreas Nodl, Jussi Jokinen, Tim Brent, Patrick Dwyer, Anthony Stewart, Drayson Bowman, Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason, Jamie McBain, Joe Corvo, Jay Harrison, Cam Ward and Justin Peters are going to be there since they are on the roster. There's twelve forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders right there. You can probably make that seven defensemen since it was reported by Bob McKenzie that Ryan Murphy will be joining the team. That leaves room for three forwards, one defenseman and any goaltender Muller feels like bringing in.
After the jump, we will go through some of the possible candidates for the remaining four spots and discuss why they may or may not qualify for it.
Zach Boychuk – He has been the Checkers best forward during the lockout. He leads the team in goals, points and has the highest scoring rate on the team. I see no reason why he wouldn't receive an invite. If anything, he's earned another chance to show Muller what he can do. This is probably his last year in the Hurricanes system and so far he has made the most of it.
Zac Dalpe – Dalpe has played well as of late and I think his strong performance in the Norfolk game is fresh in Muller's head. Dalpe also leads the team in shots on goal per game with 3.35, which is also one of the best marks in the NHL, so he is the best player on the team in terms of creating offense. Dalpe also made the team out of camp the last two seasons and I think he has a good chance of doing it again. It's also worth mentioning that he is a natural center and fits the Hurricanes' needs on the third line.
Riley Nash – With the third line center role being open, Nash is more of a fit for that role than Boychuk or Dalpe, who have spent most of their time on the wing as of late. Nash's strong defensive game may also be appealing to Muller if he just wants someone to fill in one of the bottom-two lines rather than a someone to play in the top-six. His modest point total makes him a longshot but I think he may get a look.
Jerome Samson – Carolina needs a replacement for Tuomo Ruutu and Samson filled in for him on the top line for a few games last year. Samson is also a very strong possession driver and could fit in well in the top-six. He is usually one of the Checkers' best players in terms of creating shots and scoring chances. Past experience with the Canes will probably help, too.
Tim Wallace – I think Wallace makes sense if the Canes only want someone to plug in on the bottom-two lines. He plays a good physical game, has past NHL experience and can kill penalties. Not a bad option if Muller is looking for someone to play 8-10 minutes a game.
Jeremy Welsh – Welsh has been pretty underwhelming with the Checkers but GM Jim Rutherford seems to be high on him, so I could see that influencing Muller's decision if he decides to send him an invite to training camp. I also think he fits the mold of a third-line center well, too.
Bobby Sanguinetti – I actually think Sanguinetti has a strong case to make the team out of camp because Carolina needs a 7th defenseman and Sangs isn't waiver exempt. In other words, if he does get invited to camp and doesn't make the team, the Checkers lose one of their top defenseman and that's going to have a negative impact on the entire organization. Still, with the injury to Marc-Andre Gragnani, Sanguinetti has to be the front-runner for the 7D spot and he may end up getting it if he doesn't outplay Ryan Murphy in camp.
Dan Ellis – Muller also says that the battle for the back-up goaltender spot will be the most intense this training camp. The Canes are going to need to give Ward some nights off with the schedule being so packed and after how much Boucher struggled last year, one has to think that his job isn't safe at all. Ellis has been terrific for Charlotte after being signed to a tryout contract. I would expect him to be in the mix during camp.
Justin Peters – Started the year slow but his strong play last year and past experience with the Hurricanes could help him win the coaching staff over if the competition is close enough. Goaltending in general is a major crap shoot, so I would expect whoever plays the best in camp to get the job and it sounds like all three are going to be invited.