With a youth movement up front, the Checkers leaned heavily on an experienced blue line to steady the team this season. One of those players stepping up to shoulder the bulk of the workload was Trevor Carrick.

Carrick entered the 2017-18 campaign searching to regain a scoring touch that was largely absent the year before. The blue liner notched just 16 points in 2016-17 after recording over 30 and 40 points in his first two pro seasons. Carrick left last season on a positive note, pointing to an uptick in his all-round play, but knew that his offensive output needed work.

“The bottom line is I struggled to get points this year,” Carrick said at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. “I don’t know if it was one thing in particular. That’s today’s game, you’ve got to be good at moving the puck and join the rush. There’s no such thing as a stay-at-home defenseman anymore. You’ve got to have a little bit of offensive game in you.”

A year later, it’s safe to say Carrick found that offensive game. The 23-year-old ranked in the top 10 among all AHL defensemen in goals, assists and points this season, setting or matching career highs in each category. In fact, from Feb. 10 to the end of the regular season, no defensemen scored more than Carrick.

Reestablishing himself as one of the league’s premier offensive threats from the blue line, Carrick’s strong performance went a long way toward showing that his down year was more of an anomaly.

“I don’t think I changed anything up over the past few years,” he said. “It’s just part of my game. Jumping in and getting shots through from the point and picking my spots when to join the rush. I had some success this year, more so than last year, and that just comes from trying to play my game.”

Carrick’s offensive resurgence only tells part of the impact he had on the club, however. The blue liner served as one of the team’s workhorses on the back end, logging heavy minutes in all situations and using his experience at this level to aid what was a fairly young team.

“It was experience that we didn’t really have overall as a team and they brought it consistently,” said head coach Mike Vellucci of his defensemen. “They carried us along most of the year.”

That extended off the ice as well, as Carrick served as an alternate captain and embraced his leadership role.

“It’s a good feeling when your coach can trust you like that,” said Carrick. “I’ve spent a few years here in Charlotte and I’ve been in the league for a bit so I can help the guys coming into the league now. I think Mike saw that. It’s always a plus.”

After that down 2016-17, Carrick, who did not appear in an NHL game that season after logging two the year before, found himself wondering what exactly he needed to do to make the jump to the next level. Now, with the confidence of a career year (and another NHL appearance) behind him, the blue liner is ready to make it happen.

“For me I’m just trying to do anything I can, whether that’s putting on a few pounds this summer or playing a little more physical,” said Carrick. “I’m just trying to play steady and bring it every night.”

Headed towards becoming an unrestricted free agent, Carrick wasted no time agreeing to a new one-year, two-way contract with Carolina earlier this week.

“We expect to have a competitive training camp,” said Hurricanes GM Don Waddell in a press release. “He will be among the players who have opportunities to step up and earn time on the NHL level.”

Now the stage is set for Carrick to do just that.

“Everybody wants to be in the NHL, they want to make that step,” said Carrick. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”