It’s been a busy week of transactions for the Carolina organization, and with free agency on the horizon, things could get even wilder over the next few days. So to prepare for noon tomorrow, here’s a look at how the Checkers’ roster is shaping up so far. Keep in mind, there could still be several moves during the free agency period that could change the landscape.


The Hurricanes currently have 10 forwards under contract who are perceived full-time NHLers, including Brock McGinn and Derek Ryan, who both agreed to terms on one-way deals over the last week. Add to that Phil Di Giuseppe, who was qualified by Carolina earlier in the week but has yet to agree to terms, and the Hurricanes could possibly have one or two open spots up top. If those aren’t addressed in free agency, they could be an opportunity for a prospect to work their way up, whether it be someone who made an impact last year like Lucas Wallmark, Valentin Zykov or Andrew Poturalski, or an up-and-coming rookie.

On defense, the addition of Trevor Van Riemsdyk plus yesterday’s trade of Ryan Murphy gives Carolina six blue liners, including Klas Dahlbeck, who was in and out of the lineup last season. Similar to the Hurricanes’ situation at forward, that opens up the possibility of a Charlotte defenseman cracking the NHL blue line.



Right off the bat, the Hurricanes kicked off the offseason by bringing Andrew Miller back into the fold. The 28-year-old forward turned red hot down the stretch last season, recording 32 points in the final 34 games to wind up third on the team in scoring. Miller joins the trio of Wallmark, Andrew Poturalski and Zykov, all still on their entry-level deals, which could give Charlotte each of its top four scorers from a year ago.

Along with that top-tier group, the Checkers could return another trio of key players up front. Patrick Brown, who served as team captain last season, earned himself a new contract earlier this week and – should he not make the NHL out of camp – gives Charlotte a strong presence down the middle that essentially played all throughout the lineup last season. Sergey Tolchinsky, after enduring a self-proclaimed tough season, returns and will look to inject his quick offensive touch into the middle of the lineup. Finally there’s Clark Bishop, who split his rookie campaign between the Checkers and the ECHL’s Florida Everblades. While his offensive side stood out in the ECHL (11 points in 21 games with Florida), Bishop was impressive during his time on Charlotte’s fourth line, using his speed and grit to battle in highly contested areas.


Charlotte’s roster is shaping up to skew young thanks to a large influx of rookies who are eligible to make the jump and begin their pro career. The most recognizable name for Checkers fans is Aleksi Saarela, who came over from his native Finland and joined the team down the stretch. Saarela was a scoring machine during his short time with the Checkers, racking up 10 points in nine games, and showed he was not out of his element in North America, something he’ll look to continue in his first full season. Janne Kuokkanen is the other incoming rookie with AHL experience, although his was very brief. After joining Charlotte for their playoff series against Chicago, the 19-year-old Kuokkanen appeared in one game and was held off the score sheet.

The rest of the group of incoming rookies is headlined by first-round pick Julien Gauthier, a six-foot-four, 225 pound winger who brings a strong physical presence to the next level. If he starts in Charlotte, he could be reunited with his Saint John teammate Spencer Smallman after the duo helped lead the Sea Dogs to a QMJHL title this past season. Also from the QMJHL is Nicolas Roy, a fourth-round pick who got a taste of the pro game during a short stint with Charlotte in 2015-16, one that saw him appear in a pair of contests late in the year.

Additionally, a pair of forwards from the OHL are eligible to join the Checkers for next season. Warren Foegele, selected in the third round of the 2014 draft, is coming off a stellar playoff run with the Erie Otters, one that saw the club capture a league title and advance all the way to the Memorial Cup final. Steven Lorentz, a seventh-rounder from 2015, had a similarly strong regular and post season with the Peterborough Petes.


With the influx of new prospects coming up through the ranks, several pieces of last year’s team have either moved on or are slated to become unrestricted free agents. After two seasons of moving in and out of the Charlotte lineup, forward Erik Karlsson has signed a deal to play in his home country of Sweden’s second-highest league. Veteran forward Kris Newbury, who joined the Checkers on a PTO last season before earning himself an AHL contract, is headed to play in Germany for the first European stint of his storied career. Danny Kristo, who joined the Checkers via trade towards the end of the season, has signed with Dinamo Riga of the KHL. Then there’s Connor Brickley, who was selected by the NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights in last week’s expansion draft. The 25-year-old is still slated to hit the free agency market, however.

Andrej Nestrasil was not given a qualifying offer earlier this week by the Hurricanes, meaning he’ll join Patrick Dwyer, Kyle Hagel, Brendan Woods and Dennis Robertson as free agents at noon tomorrow, when any club can sign them, including the Hurricanes or Checkers.

Potential Forward Group



Unlike the forward group, Charlotte’s likely corps of defensemen could have a more familiar feel to it. The Hurricanes have already agreed to terms with Trevor Carrick and Jake Chelios, who formed the Checkers’ top pairing for much of the year. Chelios took another big step last season, his first on an NHL contract, and led all Charlotte blue liners in scoring. And while Carrick had a relatively down year offensively, he has shown a knack for putting up points during his short career, giving the Checkers some firepower on the blue line should both remain in the AHL. Also re-signing with the club was Philip Samuelsson, a late addition to last year’s playoff-bound team. Though only 25, the defenseman brings a plethora of AHL experience with him, logging 369 games with five different teams and acquiring 115 points along the way. Samuelsson will likely be the “veteran” presence in a fairly young group of defensemen.

Returning for their sophomore campaigns are Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown, both of whom have a chance to work their way into an NHL job, should an opening arise. Fleury ramped up his game as last season progressed, showing some of the offensive flair that made him a first-round pick, while McKeown was a steady presence for a corps of defensemen last season that rotated through in all situations.

Two other pieces returning are Tyler Ganly and Josh Wesley. Ganly missed much of last season with an injury sustained during training camp, but spent a solid amount of time with Charlotte during his rookie season. Wesley logged nine games with the Checkers during his rookie campaign last season, but spent the majority of his time with Florida, where he ranked second among team defensemen in scoring with 29 points in 48 games. While neither has extensive experience at the AHL level, the way Charlotte’s blue line is currently constructed could give at least one of the two a shot at cracking the bottom pairing. A late addition to this group is Keegan Kanzig, who was acquired via trade from Calgary Thursday night. After spending the majority of his rookie season in the ECHL, the 22-year-old Kanzig will likely join Ganly and Wesley in their battle for a spot on the blue line.


The lone blue liner slated to hit free agency tomorrow is Dennis Robertson, who has spent his first and third pro seasons entirely with the Checkers and split his second between Charlotte and Rockford.

Potential Defense Group



Charlotte’s goaltending situation is perhaps the most up in the air of any position on the roster. Alex Nedeljkovic was thrown right into the fire and showed flashes, but went through his fair share of struggles before landing in Florida for the final part of the season. Joining the fray this season is Callum Booth, who was similarly strong in junior, notching the QMJHL’s best save percentage and helping to lead the Saint John Sea Dogs to a league title. At 6-foot-4 Booth has the build of a pro goalie, but the jump to the pros can be a tough one, so running with two young netminders seems unlikely for Charlotte.


Veteran netminder Michael Leighton will become a free agent on Saturday, as will Daniel Altshuller, who was not extended a qualifying offer at this week’s deadline. Tom McCollum, who starred for the Checkers down the stretch last season, was on loan from the Flames, who still have him under contract for this upcoming campaign.