When it comes to fielding an effective power play this season, the Checkers should have no shortage of choices.
Prior to Thursday’s practice at Extreme Ice Center, coach Jeff Daniels held a meeting with players who were candidates to play on the man advantage, and it was a group that ended up being quite large. Put simply, the message was that the team has more capable players than it has ice time.
“We have a lot of guys who can play on the power play,” said Daniels. “We have 12 that I know for sure can do it, so we’re going to give opportunities to a lot of different people early on.”
The team does have the luxury of having four elite men who can play the point, using pairings of Chris Terry and Bobby Sanguinetti, its top two scorers from last season, and Justin Faulk and Marc-Andre Gragnani, two players who spent most, if not all, of last season in the NHL. Given the demonstrated success of all four players, not much should change there.
Up front is where it gets interesting. Each of the Checkers’ top eight forwards (excluding Terry, who has played the point for most of his pro career) are skilled offensive players accustomed to playing on the power play. Choosing six of Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe, Riley Nash, Victor Rask, Jerome Samson, Tim Wallace and Jeremy Welsh (or just three, depending on the situation), will be extremely difficult.
It’s something players in that group are already well aware of.
“We almost have three full units, and it’s all going to come down to who’s getting it done,” said Boychuk, the team’s leading goal scorer from last season.
The groupings in the early part of the season figure to be fluid as players get a chance to separate themselves from the competition. As with other coaching headaches caused by the team’s new-found depth, it qualifies as a good problem for Daniels and a bad one for opposing teams that have to decide where to allocate their best penalty killers in match-up situations.
On other side of the puck, jobs on the penalty kill should be more secure. All of the key players from last season’s group are back, including forwards Nicolas Blanchard, Sean Dolan and Brett Sutter and defensemen Brett Bellemore, Michal Jordan, Justin Krueger and Rasmus Rissanen.
“Those guys know that they’re going to be out there, and they take a lot of pride in what they do,” said Daniels.
The Checkers will still face some competition from around the league, including its own division. By the time the Checkers first face Oklahoma City in late November, the Barons could ice a first unit that includes Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz – all players that would cause problems for NHL teams in a non-lockout year.
Should it come to that, the Checkers, who were already adept at special teams last season, finishing with the league’s fourth-ranked power play (19.8 percent) and No. 7 penalty kill (84.1 percent), should have the personnel to compete.
“Whoever we put out there, I’m confident we can have success with it,” said Daniels.