Hockey was indeed alive and well in North Carolina during the lockout, as the Charlotte Checkers got off to one of their best starts in team history and have the second best record in the AHL at 23-11-2-3. Their performance during the lockout was very promising for the Hurricanes organization because most of Charlotte's top players were younger players who the Hurricanes drafted. Developing talent in the minor leagues is always important in running a successful franchise, so it was great to see guys like Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman, Zac Dalpe and Bobby Sanguinetti excel in Charlotte during the lockout.
The Checkers receiving the bulk of their production from guys who are on the cusp of being ready for the NHL is somewhat of a double-edged sword in a way, though. It was good to see these players perform well during the work stoppage, but most people knew that these players were going to get their shot in the NHL once it returned. This would lead to a massive talent purge on the Checkers and put the team in a rough spot depending on how many players the Hurricanes decided to call-up. Charlotte isn't in the same boat as Oklahoma City where virtually all of their best players will be going to the NHL, but they could potentially lose some key pieces once the NHL season begins.
Charlotte had to play two games this weekend without the services of Zach Boychuk, Tim Wallace, Dan Ellis, Drayson Bowman, Jeremy Welsh and Bobby Sanguinetti and they could potentially lose a few more players depending on who else is called up, who makes the Hurricanes and who gets lost on waivers. Add in the injuries to Rasmus Rissanen, Jerome Samson and Marc-Andre Gragnani and there could be some tough times ahead for the Checkers.
That's the risk you take when you have so many players in their early to mid-20's playing in the minor leagues. The AHL acts as a developmental league but it's easy to forget that the Checkers are an independent franchise just like the Hurricanes and they have their own goals to ice a competitive and successful team. The Canes could potentially take a lot of talent away from the Checkers (9 players in total were called up) depending on what happens over the next week.
Just what are the Checkers going to be left when all is said and done, though? To find out, we will take a closer look at how Charlotte's players have been performing this year and discuss who will have to fill in for some of the pieces they will be losing to the NHL very soon.
Because there is only so much statistical information available in the NHL, the most we can do to analyze the Checkers performance is to look at how they are performing though goals, points and shots on goal. We will start off by looking at goals scoring and which playing situation they recorded them (even strength, powerplay, penalty kill).
Take note of how Victor Rask isn't on this list, it's because he was sent back to the WHL and can't return until their season is over. Keeping him in Charlotte may not have been that bad of an option because they could definitely use after looking at who the Checkers could potentially lose over the next week. All but two of their top-10 scorers were called up by the Hurricanes and they could end up having only one in the lineup on Wednesday if Samson is still injured. Chris Terry would be the only top forward still remaining on the roster and their next highest scorer who is still healthy is defenseman Justin Krueger who has 9 points in 32 games. Things will get better when Samson and Gragnani eventually return to the lineup, but the Checkers aren't going to be given much to work with for the next week or so. They managed to make due over the weekend with ECHL call-ups like Matt Beca, Beau Schmitz, Bob Raymond and Tommi Kivisto but what are the chances of that continuing over a sustained period of time? Probably not very high.
Next we are going to look at who the Checkers best players were in terms of producing shots on goal, as this is a slightly better measurement of who is creating the most offense on the team with goals and points being more luck-driven.
Zac Dalpe wasn't initially called up on Sunday but he finally received an invite today and it's pretty easy to see why the Canes wanted another look at him. He has been one of Charlotte's best forwards both at scoring and producing shots on goal on a consistent basis. The rest of the players who were called up (Bowman, Boychuk, Sanguientti, etc.) were also among the best on the team in that category with the exception of Wallace and Sutter, who I guess will be competing for a fourth line spot. Sutter led the team in even strength goals, which is probably because of his high shooting percentage, and is the team captain in Charlotte, so it's a little interesting that the Canes decided to call him up because he probably isn't anything more than a fourth liner in the NHL.
The Hurricanes obviously do not have enough room for all nine players they called up, so I'm sure there will be a few guys heading back to Charlotte but it's going to be scary to see how the Checkers fare against Grand Rapids this week with virtually all of their best offensive players gone. Their best offensive player remaining is Chris Terry and even he wasn't one of the team's top players in producing shots on goal (16% shooting percentage). Charlotte has seen some decent play from David Rutherford and Bob Raymond, but they could need to take on an even bigger role for the rest of the year if Carolina ends up keeping more players than they are expected to.
With all of this being said, I'm sure that the Hurricanes are not going to completely gut the Checkers roster and put them in a bad situation. Maintaining a good relationship with your AHL affiliates is always important and the Hurricanes have a nice luxury of their minor league affiliate being close to their home headquarters. Carolina probably knows that they can damage their relationship with the Checkers by gutting their roster to their own advantage, so we will probably see at least three or four of the players they called up back in Charlotte before the end of the week. Still, the Checkers are going to lose at least three of their key players regardless and it will be interesting to see how they make do for the rest of the season.