As training camp continues to pick up, one of the most intriguing developments is between the pipes.

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Returning to the fold is Alex Nedeljkovic, back for his second pro season after what ended up being a tough rookie campaign. The young netminder carried a substantial load for Charlotte last year before the team turned the keys over to Tom McCollum down the stretch.

But while early struggles can be tough on young goalies, there is a strong confidence that Nedeljkovic is primed for a bounce-back season.

“I know what kind of kid he is,” said head coach Mike Vellucci, who also coached Nedeljkovic in junior. “He worked extremely hard this summer. I know he’s ready. We expect good things from him and I know he’ll answer for sure.”

Joining Nedeljkovic for the first two days of camp has been Callum Booth, a 2015 draft pick preparing to embark on his first pro campaign.

Booth was a standout netminder during his QMJHL career, but Vellucci is aware of the traps that can come with making the jump to the pro game.

“He’s going to have to get stronger physically and mentally,” said the coach. “Make sure he’s living right, sleeping well, eating right. Now he’s on his own. He’s had everybody making him food and now he’s making his own. So it’s an adjustment off the ice as well as on the ice.”

As far as getting the rookie into game action, the staff is using the past to better prepare for the future. In fact, as Vellucci points out, Nedeljkovic’s first five games last season were all on the road.

“That’s tough for a rookie, I don’t care who you are,” said Vellucci. “We’re going to have to put [Booth] in the right position to make sure he succeeds. We don’t want to start him with six or seven games on the road. Make sure he’s getting games and getting the right games.”

The third goalie manning the crease at camp so far has been Martin Ouellette, an AHL-contracted netminder who boasts the most pro experience of the trio (albeit only three seasons). The group has been getting one-on-one attention with Paul Schonfelder, hired by Carolina this offseason as their Minor League Goalie Consultant, a big benefit when it comes to ramping up for the regular season.

“We’re really lucky to have Paul here this year,” said Vellucci. “The guys are looking forward to working with him, they’ve already worked with him this summer a bit and Boother got to work with him in Traverse City. I like the way they looked today. They moved well, all three of them. With the goalie coach here and them getting a lot of work, they should be ready.”

The first two days of training camp leaned heavily toward the systems side of the game, aimed primarily at the skaters, but Vellucci stressed the importance of those drills on the netminders as well.

“They need to know what’s going on in our system too,” he said. “A good goaltender has good hockey sense, in my opinion. So they need to know what’s going on in those drills. But they get out before and they stay out after as well and the goalie coaches are working well with them.”

The Charlotte crease will only get more crowded from this point, as the Hurricanes are still carrying three goalies for their preseason slate. With veteran Jeremy Smith more than likely being the one to head down to Charlotte prior to the start of the year, there will eventually be four goalies vying for two spots on the Checkers roster.

In the meantime, the message to the young netminders is simple.

“Just play your game,” said Vellucci, “Get used to the American League and make sure you’re ready.”

In other training camp news


The Checkers continue to boast a large number of skaters during camp, with several of them trying to earn themselves a spot on Charlotte’s roster for opening night. But there are only so many available slots.

“Like [Hurricanes GM] Ron Francis said earlier this year, we have a lot of competition this year,” said Vellucci. “There’s a lot of contracted guys and some of them are going to end up with Florida in the ECHL.”

Despite what some might think, heading down a level isn’t a death sentence. Far from it, in fact.

“I use [Josh] Wesley and [Clark] Bishop last year as examples,” said Vellucci. “Bish will tell you, he was disappointed, but when he went there he was a lot better when he came back. He was more prepared for the American League. Yeah it stinks at the beginning but as long as you have a good frame of mind and work at your game, when you come up you’re going to be ready and certain that you don’t want to go back. It’s not the end of the world, it’s a good opportunity.”

Everblades head coach Brad Ralph, who has been on the ice for both training camp sessions thus far, has sculpted a strong team in Florida, and the Checkers look to utilize that to build up those fringe players who may not make the cut initially.

“We have a lot of competition here,” said Vellucci. “Whoever is going to survive right now is going to be here and whoever is not is going to go to Florida and try to get better and when it’s time to come back they’ll be ready.”


One of those players battling for a spot on the team is forward Nick Schilkey. The 23-year-old wrapped up an impressive four-year career at Ohio State last season and inked an AHL deal with the Checkers over the summer.

After an impressive stint at the prospect tournament in Traverse City last month, Schilkey earned himself a spot at Carolina’s training camp, the only AHL-contracted player there.

“I thought I had a really good camp up in Raleigh,” said Schilkey. “It was good to be up there, a good experience.”

Despite coming in as a rookie, that extended look helped give the Michigan native some familiarity going into Checkers camp.

“It was good to go to Traverse City and get to know a lot of the guys that are here,” said Schilkey. “Then obviously getting to play up there with that speed and detail was good to have that then come down here and make it translate. But I was excited to get down here and get after it with all these guys.”

Aside from his teammates, Schilkey has benefitted from spending considerable time in front of Vellucci, who has been on the ice throughout the rookie’s whole path.

“Up in Traverse City with him behind the bench, it was good to get to know how he’s going to be coaching,” said Schilkey.

All that is in the past now, however, and Schilkey is back to fighting to stay in Charlotte. As the number of players increases and impending cuts grow closer, the rookie knows what he needs to do to stand out.

“It’s just a matter of working hard every time you get on the ice, skating fast and playing how they want you to play, hard and fast,” said Schilkey. “That’s what they want you to do in these practices, then let the chips fall where they may.”