The Checkers kicked off their training camp this morning, though it was a fairly unfamiliar group that took the ice.
With NHL camp and preseason still rolling along, the Hurricanes have yet to make substantial cuts to the Checkers, only sending Erik Karlsson, Daniel Altshuller, Clark Bishop, Josh Wesley and NHL camp invite Kyle Hagel to Charlotte Saturday afternoon. That group joined the contingent of two-way AHL contracts – Mike Ferrantino, Mitchell Heard, Levko Koper, Kevin Raine and Anthony Peters – and camp invitees – Matt Berry, Brant Harris, Mike Kirkpatrick, John McCarron and Dalton Smith – at Extreme Ice Center for day one of training camp.
After a quick power skating session to start things off, the group, which also featured a yellow “no contact” jersey-laden Andrew Miller, who has not been officially assigned to Charlotte but is rehabbing an injury here, proceeded to go through a myriad of drills led by the new coaching staff.
“It was a good first day,” said head coach Ulf Samuelsson. “We did some light skating for the players to get used to their equipment and to each other. There were some good first impressions made out there for sure.”
With a large chunk of the skaters heading into their first practices since the offseason, the quick start was a welcome jolt.
“It was good, a lot of fun,” said rookie forward Ferrantino. “There’s not too many guys out here so you’re taking a lot of reps but that’s good. It helps get the rust off quick.”
While today’s group likely doesn’t reflect too closely how the Checkers’ opening night roster will look, it does give some new players the chance to catch some eyes.
“You’re out here taking a lot of reps and each rep gives you the chance to show what you’ve got and prove yourself,” said Ferrantino. “It’s a big opportunity for a lot of us guys.”
Though they’ll have to battle for it, a roster spot is not out of the question for the two-way contracts and try outs, and the coaching staff is paying attention.
“We’re looking for good players,” said Samuelsson. “There’s a lot of different roles out there for a team, it could be a second or third or most likely fourth line spot for these guys to get a footing in. We’re looking for guys who are responsible defensively and can play their position well.”
For a rookie coming up from college like Ferrantino, making an impression right away is the key to pushing his way into the lineup.
“I’m just trying to be consistent with my energy, bring everyone up, keep being positive and have fun with it,” said the former Michigan State captain. “I think I can bring a lot of energy to the team and make smart plays and skate pretty well.”
The Checkers’ two preseason games in Lehigh Valley this weekend will be a huge chance for the young players to show their worth, but in the meantime it’s the little things in practice that can give them a leg up on their competition.
“Just give it your all,” said Wesley. “Be a leader on the ice. Talk out there and make sure that you’re paying attention during drills. If you give it your all out there, that’s what they’re looking for.”
Wesley and Ferrantino are two of a handful of rookies on the Checkers’ current camp roster and will be working with the coaching staff to bridge the transition to the pro game as smoothly as possible.
“The AHL is a very good league,” said Samuelsson. “There’s going to be a lot stronger competition for them, everyone is going to be a little quicker and hit a little harder. I think that’s going to be the biggest adjustment for them, getting ready for a higher pace of play and better players. Everyone’s more in tune with the system. It’s a really good league.”
Solid debuts and first impressions aside, Samuelsson is quick to point out that today was just the first in a long process.
“It’s only day one, we have to take it one step at a time,” said Samuelsson when asked if any player had stood out. “We have three more days of this to narrow it down. But there are some good players out there. We have a couple of games coming up this weekend so the first thing is getting ready for those and getting a team together. We’ll see who from our tryout players are looking good and could potentially come in and compete for a spot for themselves.”