It may have only been the preseason, but last weekend saw the Checkers give fans a reason to get excited for the upcoming campaign.

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Heading to Lehigh Valley for a pair of exhibition games, the Checkers came out firing on all cylinders, blowing out the Phantoms 8-1 on Friday before taking the following night’s rematch 5-2.

“We had good pace out there and good speed,” said assistant coach Peter Andersson. “We played fast. I think that was the key for this weekend.”

The roster, which didn’t include the last few rounds of NHL cuts, featured a mix of experience levels but leaned more heavily on the younger crop of players. Having gone through a long run up all summer, the prospects were eager to show their worth.

“They were ready,” said Andersson. “Most of them played up in Traverse City too so they were game ready. That was good to see. It’s training camp so everyone needs to show us that they want to play here.”

The rookies stepped their game up for the exhibition series, accounting for 10 of the 13 goals that the Checkers scored, with the duo of Nick Schilkey and Warren Foegele leading the charge. Donning Charlotte sweaters for the first time, the pair finished the weekend slate atop the team scoring list, notching seven goals between them.

“They’ve been scoring and played well too,” said Andersson of the two rookies. “Schilkey works hard and he’s in the right position to score. [Foegele] is a strong forward, good speed and a good shot.”

Schilkey, an undrafted forward who inked an AHL deal with Charlotte this past offseason, has made a name for himself over the past few weeks, earning an invitation to NHL camp in Raleigh. Getting into his first game action with the Checkers, the 23-year-old took full advantage, racking up seven points across the two games, including a hat trick in the series opener.

“In the couple of practices before coach told me to shoot the puck more so I just kind of continued that and used my shot,” said Schilkey. “It started with that opportunity on the power play right off the bat [in Friday’s game] and then after that good things happened.”

Hot on his heels was Foegele, a touted third-round draft pick coming off an MVP performance in last year’s OHL playoffs. The forward didn’t miss a beat jumping into game action with Charlotte, picking up five points across the pair of contests.

“I thought as a group we all did really good,” said Foegele. “You could see from the results that we were all clicking and playing a fast-paced game. I was fortunate enough to get some lucky bounces and get great passes from my linemates.”

While the end results of preseason games don’t carry much (or any) weight, they were both skaters’ first experiences with the pro level of play in a game setting. For Schilkey, his extended summer played a strong part in his early success.

“I think the speed up in Traverse City was pretty good,” said Schilkey. “A lot of guys are coming off of summer hockey so it’s not as detailed as you’d like it to be, but at least the speed is there. Going through the camp up in Raleigh was huge for getting up to pace with those guys and getting used to that speed. That really prepared me for sure.”

For Foegele, the key was treating things like business as usual.

“You’re obviously a little nervous playing your first professional game but for myself I just tried to stay calm,” said Foegele. “I’ve been playing hockey long enough so I just tried to stick to what I do.”

The duo are set to embark on their first seasons of pro hockey, something that comes with its fair share of ups and downs. But with the volume of young players currently in the room, they won’t have to look far to find guys in similar situations.

“There’s a huge familiarity there,” said Foegele. “There’s a lot of rookies here and they’re all in the same position as me as first-year pros. We have a great leadership group and we just try to take any bit of information from the older guys and try to translate that onto the ice.”

Schilkey has been impressive over the course of the last few weeks, but his being on an AHL contract puts him in a fight to stay on the Checkers’ roster heading into this coming weekend’s season opener.

“I sure hope so,” said Schilkey when asked whether he has done enough to show he belongs in Charlotte. “I think the preseason games were good for just knowing that I can play with these guys. I want to be here real bad. Going out there and having a good weekend was huge but the work is far from done. I just have to keep working hard and see what happens. It’s about the work ethic and hopefully the bounces keep coming.”