The Charlotte Checkers have never been here before. With the Calder Cup now in the Queen City, the Checkers and their free agents were left with some tough decisions. Since the team lifted the trophy on June 9th, many players have either been traded or released and have gone on to new opportunities.
Re-tools or even rebuilds are common after a championship, whether for aging veterans, financial reasons or players cashing in on bigger paydays elsewhere after a strong postseason showing. Teams that raise the banner the following season often have a different look come the next season. This will be the case for the Checkers when the puck drops on the 2019-20 American Hockey League season.
The Checkers are facing an uphill battle when the season begins. They’ll be without leading scorer Andrew Poturalski, who left for a better opportunity with the Anaheim Ducks organization. They’ll be without their captain and leader, Patrick Brown, who signed with the Vegas Golden Knights and may play for the team the Checkers beat to win the title, the Chicago Wolves. They may also lose Martin Necas and Jake Bean who could graduate to full-time NHL roles, given a good Hurricanes training camp.
So for the reigning Calder-Cup champion Charlotte Checkers...— #WhyNot? (@LankyLape) July 1, 2019
Andrew Poturalski [ANA]
Nic Roy [VGK]
Patrick Brown [VGK]
Aleksi Saarela [Trade -CHI]
Scott Darling [Trade/Buyout - FLA]
Tomas Jurco [EDM]
Josiah Didier [BOS]
HC Mike Vellucci [WBS]
Most notably, the Checkers will be without head coach Mike Vellucci who left for to fill the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins vacant head coach position. Vellucci had seemed to be the heir apparent to an NHL job with the Penguins — until just days later, when the team announced they were re-signing head coach Mike Sullivan to a contract extension. The Checkers will also be without their two key deadline acquisitions that helped clinch the title. Tomas Jurco moved on to join the Edmonton Oilers organization, while Dustin Tokarski joined Vellucci in Wilkes-Barre.
The coaching carousel continued, but instead of looking around, the Checkers promoted from within and announced Ryan Warsofsky had been named the team’s head coach. The promotion makes sense, with the returning Checkers familiar with their new head coach. Despite Warsofsky becoming the youngest head coach in the AHL since the 2000-01 season, he brings head coaching experience to the promotion, having served as head coach of the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays from 2016-2018 before accepting his assistant coach role with the Checkers last season.
High expectations will be rampant, and the Checkers have a target on their head with a championship now under their belts. Warsofsky can likely lead this team to a playoff spot playing in the top-heavy Atlantic Division, but for the team to repeat as champions, the young team will face an uphill battle.
With notable names leaving, an influx of new talent will result. The return of Janne Kuokkanen from injury will help fill the hole left behind by Andrew Poturalski’s departure. Callum Booth could step back into the backup role to fill the role that Tokarski took from him down the stretch. Booth appeared strong in some games but with just 10 games under his belt, his stats fluctuated. The Checkers could also give the net to Jeremy Helvig, who played well for the Florida Everblades and finished with a 2.27 GAA and a .918 save percentage in 39 appearances. The Checkers filled some holes with the addition of Alex Lintuniemi on defense and Brian Gibbons at forward.
There is work to do and some players will need to step up, but the organization has enough depth to hold its own when the 2019-20 season begins.