The Checkers still haven’t made a decision about where Victor Rask will play for the remainder of the season, but it seems like this weekend could go a long way.
The 19-year-old center, the youngest player to play a regular-season game for the Checkers this season, could be beginning what would be his first professional season, or he could just as easily be getting a mere taste before heading back to his junior team in Calgary of the Western Hockey League.
Even after playing his first two pro games with Charlotte last weekend, the outcome is still up in the air.
“I have no idea,” said Rask. “It’s day-by-day for me.”
There’s no question that the Carolina Hurricanes’ second-round pick in 2011 has enough talent, having scored 63 points (33g, 30a) in his first North American season with Calgary after moving on from his native Sweden.
“He’s got great hockey sense and knows where to be on both sides of the puck,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “He’s got a great shot, even though he didn’t really get a chance to use it in our first two games, but he can also make plays.”
Instead, the question is whether or not the timing is right, as the Checkers have a handful of more experienced players waiting to grab his spot in the lineup. He did not record a point in his first two games, taking one shot on goal.
“He took a while to adapt to the pace,” said Daniels, when asked to evaluate Rask’s performance last weekend. “It’s stepped up so many times from our camp to our scrimmages and now to our games. For any player going from junior to the pros is a very big step, especially for an underage player.”
Rask mostly agreed with that assessment.
“It’s a little bit faster and the guys are stronger, so you have to be careful when you have the puck,” he said. “You don’t have much time.”
Growing pains or not, the coaching staff has seen enough to keep him around for this long, although it’s possible he may not play all three games this weekend as Daniels attempts to give players on his roster, which features four extra players, as much of an opportunity as possible. At Thursday’s practice, third-year forward A.J. Jenks was in Rask’s previous spot centering the team’s third line, with Rask centering the fifth group with Justin Soryal and Jared Staal.
If there’s one thing Daniels has been clear about when discussing Rask, it’s that having him sit out too many times or become a seldom-used depth player would not be the best course of action. With Calgary, he’d be a top player on an already-strong team off to a 7-2-2 start without him, likely playing extensively in all situations.
“We’ll have to make sure that he’s getting enough minutes to develop, because if he’s not, that would be bad for him,” said Daniels.
Even if Rask was to sit out one of the team’s upcoming games, it is certain that he’ll still get a fair amount of playing time, and that his coaches will be watching closely.
“This weekend will be a big test for him,” said Daniels.