Here’s a two-word preview of the Charlotte Checkers for the 2018-19 season: Pretty good.
Granted, this is a very early preview. National Hockey League teams will be wheeling and dealing over the next six weeks, and some of the trades and signings will have an effect on the Checkers, the equivalent of the AAA farm team of the Carolina Hurricanes.
But some points to ponder:
▪ The Checkers are coming off a successful season, in which they reached the second round of the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup playoffs.
▪ The roster was loaded with young players, and the Hurricanes also have quite a few young players on their roster. It stands to reason that some of the Checkers’ standouts from this season will be around in 2018-19.
▪ The farm system below the AHL level is also strong. The next rung down the ladder is the ECHL. The Hurricanes’ farm team in the ECHL, the Florida Everblades, have reached the Kelly Cup playoff finals. The Everblades are loaded with young talent, ready for a chance to move up to Charlotte.
The Checkers’ website featured one of those Everblades’ standouts last week – forward Spencer Smallman, who was in Charlotte’s training camp last September but spent the season in Florida. Smallman is third in ECHL playoff scoring and is likely to be wearing a Checkers’ uniform for at least part of the coming season.
In other Checkers-related news:
And the winners are … Checkers’ officials and fans have named winners of various awards for the 2017-18 season. Lucas Wallmark earned the Most Valuable Player award, Valentin Zykov was named Best Forward, and Trevor Carrick won Best Defenseman honors.
Goalkeeper Alex Nedeljkovic won the Most Improved Award; Warren Foegele, who scored 28 goals, was named Rookie of the Year; and penalty-killing specialist Clark Bishop was named Unsung Hero.
Miller heads for Europe … Right-winger Andrew Miller, who led the AHL in scoring before suffering a February injury that cost him one-quarter of the season, has signed to play next season with Fribourg-Gotteron of the Swiss professional league. Miller, who turns 29 later this month, spent the last three seasons with Charlotte.
Roster addition … The Carolina Hurricanes have signed 24-year-old forward Saku Maenalanen, who was among the top scorers in Finland’s professional league. Training camp performance will determine whether Maenalanen starts the season in Raleigh or Charlotte.
AHL addition … The American Hockey League is adding a 31st franchise next season, the Colorado Eagles. They’ll be a farm team of the Saint Louis Blues. This is the result of the NHL adding the Las Vegas Knights in the 2017-18 season. Las Vegas picked the Chicago Wolves as their AHL affiliate. The Blues didn’t have an AHL affiliate this season but will be aligned with San Antonio in 2018-19. And the Colorado Avalanche moved their AHL affiliation from San Antonio to Colorado.
As part of the change, the AHL has assigned Colorado to the Pacific Division, has moved San Antonio and Texas from the Pacific to the Midwest, and has moved the Cleveland Monsters from the Midwest to the North. That means the Checkers will have the Monsters on their schedule next season.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle