The Checkers have welcomed their share of new players in recent weeks, but three in one day is still a little extreme.
As it stands, a four-injury weekend that brought the team’s total to nine players out of the lineup, not to mention those in the NHL with Carolina, created an opening for a trio of newcomers to make their Checkers debuts against Norfolk on Wednesday. Defenseman Danny Biega, who the Checkers signed to an amateur tryout contract earlier in the day, joins forwards Casey Pierro-Zabotel and C.J. Severyn, who signed professional tryouts on Tuesday.
While Pierro-Zabotel and Severyn at least have professional experience at the ECHL level (Pierro-Zabotel has also played nine AHL games, while Severyn is set for his league debut), Biega, a 21-year-old Hurricanes prospect drafted in the third round (67th overall) in 2010, will be thrown into the fire, so to speak.
That may not be entirely ideal – Biega will be the 12th player in tonight’s lineup who began the season in a league lower than the AHL – but, at this point, it can’t be avoided.
“We’ve got no other options,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “They’re excited, they’re hoping to help us and prove a point that they belong here.”
Daniels said he made offers to his new forwards after a few days making phone calls and seeking recommendations from around the hockey world. Biega, who just completed his college career at Harvard, is less-known, though he comes with the most important reference of all.
“I’ve never seen him play, but I know he’s a guy Carolina is high on,” said Daniels. “They say he’s a strong guy that can skate and isn’t afraid to join the rush at the right time.”
To that point, Biega (6-foot-0, 200 pounds), gained notoriety as one of the best-conditioned athletes at his pre-draft combine. Though his offensive numbers took a dip this season on a Harvard team that struggled to a 10-19-3 record, he earned or was at least in the running for several conference, regional and national awards after putting up 35 points (10g, 25a) in 34 games during his junior season.
Whether Biega becomes a regular for the rest of the season or will have to fight for playing time when Marc-Andre Gragnani and Michal Jordan return from injury remains to be seen. However, with Carolina simultaneously locking Biega up to an entry-level contract, there is a good chance he’ll get a chance to make his mark as a full-time player next season and beyond.
Meanwhile, at forward, Severyn enters the organization with some familiarity. Zac Dalpe, who took part in Wednesday’s morning skate in a non-contact jersey, was his roommate when the two played together at Ohio State. Dalpe even picked him up at the airport and had some steaks marinating when they got back to his residence, where Severyn will fill in for Zach Boychuk as his roommate for the time being.
“It’s a blast from the past to see a guy like that,” said Dalpe. “We had some good times together back in college.”
Severyn, previously a low scorer in college and in his rookie ECHL campaign last season, has 42 points and 100 penalty minutes in 59 games with the Orlando Solar Bears this season, earning an All-Star nod.
“Over the summer I really took care of myself, worked hard at the gym and worked on my skills,” said Severyn, 23. “I’m also playing with some skilled players now, but part of my game is to get in hard on the forecheck, get pucks to the net and play physical.”
“He’s pretty reliable, and this year it seems like he’s found his scoring touch,” said Dalpe. “I know he’s a little nervous, but I’m excited to see him get thrown into the mix.”
As far as his expectations for all three of his new players, Daniels, without much time to acclimate each player to the finer points of the team’s style of playing, will stress that each player continue to do what got them to this point.
“I’ll meet with each of them individually to go over some things, but at the same time you don’t want to overwhelm them because they know what they do best,” said Daniels. “They don’t have to score two or three goals to make an impression.”