Though his signing was not yet official, 23-year-old forward Stefan Della Rovere was one of 16 players on the ice Monday. According to coach Jeff Daniels, the former Washington Capitals draft pick who represented Canada at the 2009 and 2010 World Junior Championships is expected to finalize a two-way AHL/ECHL contract with the Checkers in the near future.
Update: The Checkers made the signing official on Oct. 3.
At his best, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound native of Richmond Hill, Ontario, is capable of providing a gritty presence.
“I’m a power forward who’s in your face, an agitator. I’ve always played like that,” he said.
“He’s a guy we’ve seen over the last two years in Peoria,” said Daniels, referring to the since-relocated Rivermen franchise where Della Rovere spent most of the last three seasons. “You noticed him when he was out there.”
A point producer in junior hockey with the Barrie Colts of the OHL, Della Rovere’s pro career to this point has been in depth roles, totaling 28 points (13g, 15a) in 168 AHL games. He found the stat sheet in other ways during that time, twice recording seasons of over 100 penalty minutes.
After his three-year contract with the St. Louis Blues, who acquired him from Washington in 2010, expired this summer, Della Rovere left it late before deciding to join the Checkers within the last two weeks.
“I had a very poor year (last year), I was hurt early on and it was up and down,” said Della Rovere. “I’m looking for a chance to prove myself and get back to playing the game I can play.”
As is the case with many players who suffer an injury during the preseason – he tore his meniscus while working out a little over a year ago – Della Rovere had a tough time breaking back into the Rivermen lineup. After returning to action in late November, he split the rest of the season between Peoria (two points in 33 games) and its ECHL affiliate in Evansville (seven points in 12 games).
For a player who appeared in seven NHL games in 2010-11, it was his first ECHL experience since a brief two-game tryout while still in junior.
“You feel great coming into camp, and then you can’t do anything for a month,” said Della Rovere of his injury. “I was excited to get back, but then it’s up and down and you get healthy scratched.
“It was just an up and down year. It’s over with, and I can’t even think about it now.”
Della Rovere does have some familiarity with the Checkers, as he played alongside Zach Boychuk on the 2009 Canadian junior team that won gold in Ottawa and knows Justin Shugg and Mike Murphy from their time together in the OHL.
That’s help him feel somewhat at ease with his new surroundings, though he know he has a fight on his hands to stay there. With four more forwards coming down from Carolina on Monday, there are now 13 on the Checkers roster, one more than absolutely necessary. As many as four more could follow once the Hurricanes conclude their exhibition schedule later this week.
“I’m here to battle for a spot,” said Della Rovere. “It’s training camp and anything can happen.”