Cardiac Cane took a quick trip down I-85 to see how the Carolina Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate the Charlotte Checkers are doing
The Charlotte Checkers are over a fifth of the way through the season and post an 8-7-1 record. A record that translates into 17 points and good enough for third in the Central Division. After a 7-3 start for the Checkers, Charlotte lost five of the next six games. It’s no coincidence their losing streak began when the Carolina Hurricanes called up Derek Ryan and Brock McGinn. Both of those players are still in the top five in scoring for the team with Derek Ryan tied for the lead despite not playing in the AHL since November 11th. Add that to the call-up of the teams best defenseman in Matt Tennyson, the losing streak becomes understandable. There are still good players left on the team so let’s take a peek at the Carolina Hurricanes’ future.
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With the loss of McGinn and Ryan, the main offensive weapons for the Charlotte Checkers became Andrew Poturalski, Valentin Zykov, and Lucas Wallmark. Poturalski so far has contributed five goals and 13 points to lead the team. Zykov and Wallmark chipped in 9 points apiece and Zykov also scored five goals. Both Zykov and Poturalski lead the team in goals with five but are still tied with Derek Ryan. It’s unsure yet whether these three are scoring slower because of the call-ups to the Hurricanes or because they are developing. It most likely is the latter as Poturalski and Wallmark are rookies while Zykov is only in his second year in the AHL.
On defense, Keegan Lowe leads the team with five points and three goals. Right behind him though are Roland McKeown, Haydn Fleury, and Trevor Carrick with four points. Fleury is the only one of the three with a goal. Despite the Hurricanes desperate need for a solid sixth defenseman, Francis and company feel strongly that Fleury and McKeown need more time in the minors. From what little I’ve been able to see in the Checker’s highlights I lean towards agreeing with them.
Goaltending hasn’t really been an issue for the Checkers at least when Michael Leighton played in net. Leighton posted a 6-2-1 record and a .937 SV% before his call-up to the Hurricanes due to Eddie Lack’s concussion. At 35 years old, Leighton’s future as an AHL starter/serviceable NHL backup is determined. The more troubling issue is Alex Nedeljkovic’s performance.
The supposed future for the Carolina Hurricanes, Nedeljkovic’s play this season shows how much work he still needs. Nedeljkovic bounces back and forth between a brick wall and sieve-like with little in between the two. His SV% is either below .890 or above .920. Until he learns some consistency his future is murky at best
What does it say about the Carolina Hurricanes future?
Other than on defense there aren’t any blue chip prospects waiting in the wings on offense. Poturalski, and maybe Wallmark (I was a big fan of calling up Wallmark to replace McClement after his preseason play), could shape up into a solid bottom six player. But don’t expect the players left on the Checkers to turn into top line players anytime soon. There’s always the huge wild card of Sergei Tolchinsky who undeniably has talent, but so far struggled to turn that talent into points at the AHL level. Scoring well in the AHL doesn’t always translate to the NHL (see Zach Boychuk), but it’s still something I’m sure coaches would like to see first before they bring up Tolchinsky. Still though for the first time in a while the Checkers have multiple NHL (if marginal) players on the team. Compared to the past this shows the system keeps improving under Francis and bodes well for the future.