With the season opener on the horizon, the Checkers used much of this week's practice schedule sorting out how their lineup would look come Friday evening.

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At the top, the Checkers are turning to one of their most prolific lines from a year ago, as the trio of Valentin Zykov, Lucas Wallmark and Andrew Miller prepare to team up once again. Down the back half of last season, you would have been hard-pressed to find a more productive offensive threat than that trio - Wallmark’s lethal shot propelled him to a team-best goal total, Miller found himself on an impressive offensive roll and Zykov used his physical presence to open up the offense and thrive down low. The coaching staff is now putting their hopes in a repeat of that performance.

“Their line was great last year,” said head coach Mike Vellucci. “It was the reason they made it to the playoffs. That line played really well together and there’s some chemistry there.”

While not official, the Checkers have been fairly consistent in deploying the same set of lines over the past few days of practice. Perennial AHL powerhouse Phil Di Giuseppe, defending scoring leader Andrew Poturalski and breakout success Aleksi Saarela have made up what could prove to be a nightmare grouping for opponents, while Sergey Tolchinsky has been lining up with rookies Nicolas Roy and Julien Gauthier. Combine that with a fourth line of Warren Foegele, Clark Bishop and Patrick Brown and the Checkers could be looking to trot out one of their strongest lineups ever, top to bottom.

“I was talking to our coaches this morning and we call them our third and fourth line but we wouldn’t mind those lines against anybody,” said Vellucci. “They can play against the top lines easily because they’re all responsible, hardworking guys who have skill. The depth is there, now it’s just a matter of putting it together.”

While the lineup began to emerge in practice, Vellucci is quick to mention nothing is set, specifically with the depth Charlotte currently possesses. As it stands the team is carrying three extra skaters at forward – veteran Zack Stortini, preseason standout Nick Schilkey and Mike Ferrantino, who impressed enough as a training camp invite to earn a PTO heading into the season – all of whom could feasibly fold into the lineup if need be.

“Things change too, though,” said Vellucci. “We’ll see how it starts off. If it’s not working well we’ll make some changes. We’ve got a lot of pieces that we can add to the puzzle.”

Things remain a bit more fluid on the back end. The Checkers currently house eight defensemen on their roster, but Brenden Kichton, an exciting offseason addition, is sidelined for a bit after taking a puck to the face during one of the team’s preseason games in Lehigh Valley. Kichton’s absence opens up one spot on an otherwise incumbent blue line, a spot that the coaching staff has put up for grabs between Tyler Ganly and Josh Wesley.

Whichever blueliner slots into the job on any given night will have the confidence of the coaches on his side.

“Early on they’ll get the opportunity to show us what they have,” said Vellucci. “If there are stumbles the other guy will go back in. Early on we don’t have too many games in a week, but by November we have those nine games in 18 days on the road, so we’re going to have to count on everybody. We’ve got to let them play and work through the kinks.”

With the lineup becoming more solidified, one question remains heading into Friday’s opener in Hartford – who will be wearing letters for the Checkers?

As of the conclusion of Thursday’s practice Vellucci didn’t have a concrete answer. Not yet, anyway.

“Probably this afternoon,” he said of when the decision would be made. “We’ve talked about it and I’m going to talk to the guys and see. All three of the captains from last year are here so I can’t imagine I’m going to make any changes.”

Those three full-time captains from a year ago are Patrick Brown, Jake Chelios and Trevor Carrick, but they’ll hardly be the lone leaders on the club.

“As far as letters, there’s three guys that will wear letters but I’ve got seven or eight older, experienced guys and I’m going to talk to them as our leaders together,” said Vellucci. “It’s not just going to be those three guys. When we have our coach and captains meetings I’m going to have six or seven guys in there. We have plenty of leaders.”

Given the overall youth on the team this season, Vellucci has been encouraged by what he has seen thus far from the more established players.

“It’s been great,” he said. “Everyone who has gotten sent down, obviously there’s that initial sense of disappointment but each one has come to me and said they want to be a leader on this team and help the young guys out.”