In just his third pro season, 26-year-old Jake Chelios would hardly be considered a veteran. But on a youthful Charlotte blue line, he emerged as a go-to option.

“As weird as it is, I was one of the older guys back there,” said Chelios. “But it was awesome.”

The Michigan native embraced the role, teaming up with fellow third-year-pro Trevor Carrick to form one of the team’s premier pairings, earning the trust of the coaching staff to be deployed in all scenarios.

“I played my off-side for the first time and playing with Trev is so easy,” said Chelios. “We’re good at reading off each other even though we never played together last year. It was a bit of a learning curve for a couple weeks but after that it was smooth.”

Chelios enjoyed a breakout season in 2015-16, his first season with the Checkers, as was rewarded last summer with an NHL contract from Carolina. An undrafted skater who had previously only ever been on AHL deals, Chelios took full advantage of his new situation this season.

“It was nice to be rewarded for having a good season like that,” said Chelios. “When you’re on an AHL deal you’re focused on staying in the AHL and when you get on an NHL deal you set your goals a little higher. It was really nice of them to give me that and I hope that it continues.”

While he saw his goal total drop off from a year ago, Chelios was able to set a new career high in assists this season and land just one point shy of last year’s total. Perhaps more importantly though, is that the once offensively minded Chelios showed growth on the other side of the puck.

“I wasn’t too focused on the points, even when they weren’t coming,” said Chelios. “As a defenseman that’s not really where you want to be focused. I wanted to be able to be trusted against the other team’s top line and I think I got better at that.”

Chelios proved to be an asset off the ice as well, earning the coaching staff’s trust as a member of he leadership group, even wearing the captain’s C for a stint when Patrick Brown was in Raleigh.

“It was awesome,” said Chelios. “To get to experience that and be recognized with a letter is something that I’ve never had and it was awesome. It was a great group of guys to lead.”

Fresh off his first NHL contract, Chelios is ready to head into another summer of proving himself.

“I’m just trying to get better every summer,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do every summer. Since I started not on an NHL deal, it’s always going to be tougher. But the goal is still to make the NHL.”

With a bevy of young blue liners already in the system and even more on the way, Chelios’ year brought him a long way towards attaining that goal.

“Chelios had a tremendous year,” said head coach Ulf Samuelsson. “He’s now considered, in my opinion, a strong two-way NHL prospect.”