One of the biggest battles in Checkers training camp up to this point has been between the pipes.

Fairfield Inn and Suites
The team started with the offseason with four solid options at the position – veteran Jeremy Smith, Martin Ouellette, Alex Nedeljkovic and rookie Callum Booth. Ouellette was the first to head to the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, while the duo of Nedeljkovic and Booth backstopped the Checkers during their two preseason contests in Lehigh Valley.

With Smith joining the Checkers following that weekend slate, the coaching staff had a choice to make, and went with the tandem of Nedeljkovic and Smith, opting to assign Booth to the Everblades.

“I know them both,” said Vellucci of his goalie tandem. “I’ve been fortunate enough to coach them both in Plymouth and they’re both really good goalies, good at playing the puck, good hockey sense. I know what they’re capable of so I feel very comfortable with them.”

Smith was brought in by Carolina over the offseason as a strong veteran presence, while Nedeljkovic returns for his second pro year, giving the Checkers what they believe to be a strong one-two punch.

“I know Ned’s going to have a good bounce back year,” said Vellucci. “I know Smitty had a great year last year, so I feel fine with our goaltending.”

As for who will take the reins as a starter, Vellucci isn’t rushing that decision.

“We’re going to develop them both,” he said. “We only play two-game series for the first few weekends in a row so we’ll probably split them in those. And then from there see who’s playing well and who’s not.”


With yesterday’s assignments of Lucas Wallmark and Phil Di Giuseppe to Charlotte, the Checkers enter the 2017-18 campaign with each of their top seven scorers back on the roster. That alone is enough to draw fans’ excitement for the team’s attack, but the real danger could come from what they’ve drawn into the fold.

“I think we added some good offense with some good scorers,” said Vellucci. “More speed up front with [Nicolas] Roy and Goat [Julien Gauthier] and [Warren] Foegele, so I think we’ve added what we needed to.”

Despite their overall success a year ago, especially down the stretch, the Checkers had their fair share of issues on the offensive side of the puck, specifically a power-play unit that ranked last in the league and went scoreless in the postseason. With a bevy of new and returning weapons, the aim is to eliminate those problems.

“Last year the team got to the playoffs but lacked in special teams and lacked in scoring,” said Vellucci. “So we’re going to concentrate on those. With the guys we added up front, I think we’re going to score more.”

If last weekend’s blowout preseason victories in Lehigh Valley proved anything, it was that the Checkers’ new-look offense could create a lethal attack in Charlotte.

“The first game it was special teams,” said Vellucci. “We went four-for-six on the power play and that obviously helps. And then just a good forecheck and some good five-on-five play. We’ve got speed and we’ve got size. We’ve got guys who can shoot it.”


The Checkers couldn’t avoid the injury bug during the quick two-game preseason swing, as Brenden Kichton was caught up high and has been forced to the sidelines.

“He’s going to be out for a while with a fracture in his mouth area from when he took a puck there,” said Vellucci. “He’ll be out for a while, not sure when he’ll be back.”

Kichton, an offseason addition with a strong knack for the offensive side of the game, will be missed on the Charlotte blue line, as he figured to slide into one of the team’s top two pairings. With a wrench thrown into those plans, the coaching staff will turn to one of the two remaining defensemen in camp.

“It’s either Welsey or Ganly,” said Vellucci of who would slot in for the injured Kichton.

Both skaters have experience being an extra blueliner for Charlotte and swapping into game action, but neither have been an everyday player yet. Wesley appeared in nine games scattered throughout the first half for Charlotte while spending the majority of his rookie season with the Everblades, turning in an impressive 29 points in 48 games. Injuries kept Ganly sidelined for much of last season, making two appearances for the Checkers and 11 for Florida, but his rookie year saw him log 26 games for Charlotte.

Who grabs the spot between the two of them will be something to watch for as we draw closer to Friday’s opener.

“We’ll see how practice goes this week,” said Vellucci of how he’ll make the decision.