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Carolina Hurricanes 2016-2017 Season Preview: Charlotte Checkers Preview

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A new coach, some new faces, and high expectations greet the Checkers as they enter the 2016-17 AHL season.

Alex Nedeljkovic will earn a good bit of work this season with the Checkers, but how much will he split with Michael Leighton?
Jamie Kellner

After not making the playoffs the past three seasons, the Charlotte Checkers needed a change behind the bench to shake things up.

Enter Ulf Samuelsson.

The former New York Rangers assistant coach will begin his first season as a head coach and he'll have plenty of talent with which to work. With one of the most talented rosters in recent memory, returning to the American Hockey League playoffs could be within the foreseeable feature for the Checkers.

There are questions surrounding the roster but Ron Francis' work in Raleigh is beginning to show in Charlotte. Top prospects Haydn Fleury and Alex Nedeljkovic will both begin their first full professional seasons and some of Charlotte's top performers last season, Derek Ryan and Sergey Tolchinsky, will be returning.

The biggest concern for the Checkers is how to balance their goaltending situation. With Cam Ward and Eddie Lack manning the net for the Hurricanes, it will be tough to balance the playing time of Michael Leighton, Daniel Altshuller and Alex Nedeljkovic in Charlotte. With Leighton the recent veteran acquisition and Nedeljkovic the goalie of the future in Carolina, that likely leaves Altshuller the odd man out. Expect him to be assigned to the ECHL and for Leighton to carry a majority of the workload in Charlotte.

A player who could see a return to Charlotte is Phil Di Giuseppe, who is in the final year of his entry-level contract and does not require waivers to be assigned to the Checkers. With the addition of forwards Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Viktor Stalberg and Bryan Bickell, Di Giuseppe may be the odd man out. It's not ideal to let him sit in a press box all season with the Hurricanes, so sending him to Charlotte to develop further may be ideal for all involved.

The coaching staff's main focus this season should be on the continued development of the franchise's young defensemen. With the most recent wave of young defensemen from the AHL (Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce) excelling in Raleigh, it's up to Samuelsson to fine-tune players such as Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown and prepare them for the NHL.

A few predictions for the Checkers 2016-17 season (that will end up completely wrong):

  • Top point producer: Sergey Tolchinsky (56 points)
  • Goalie games played: Leighton (56 games) and Nedeljkovic (26 games)
  • First to be called up: Haydn Fleury
  • Points in the standings: 93

Top six forwards:

Sergey Tolchinsky - Derek Ryan - Brock McGinn
Kyle Hagel - Brody Sutter - Patrick Brown (Di Giuseppe if sent down)

Defensive pairings:

Haydn Fleury - Roland McKeown
Trevor Carrick - Matt Tennyson
Keegan Lowe - Dennis Robertson

Goaltenders:

Michael Leighton
Alex Nedeljkovic

Tell us what your projections and predictions are for the Charlotte Checkers are this season!