Though he lasted longer than some might have expected, Victor Rask’s time with the Checkers has come to an end.
Coach Jeff Daniels announced Tuesday that the team has assigned the 19-year-old Swedish center, the youngest player on the roster all season, back to his junior team in Calgary of the Western Hockey League. Rask, a 2011 second-round pick and one of the Carolina Hurricanes’ top offensive prospects, scored five points (1g, 4a) in 10 games with Charlotte.
“We’re just trying to do what we think is best for Victor,” said Daniels, who kept Rask out of his lineup for three games this season as a healthy scratch. “We want him to be able to get as much ice time as possible in all situations that he might not have gotten here. He needs to be playing at the end of games, taking key faceoffs and being in more of a leadership role.”
Rask should have no problem getting those opportunities in Calgary. As a rookie playing his first season in North America last season, Rask ranked third on the team with 63 points (33g, 30a) in 64 games. He has yet to make his debut for the Hitmen this season, having sat out the team’s first two games in preparation for training camp with the Checkers in September.
Given the influx of talent in Charlotte and around the AHL this season caused by the NHL lockout, Rask always had an uphill battle to win a permanent role on the team. However, a strong camp and start to the season bought him some time to showcase his skills.
“He really opened our eyes,” said Daniels of Rask, who ranked tied for second among AHL rookies with a plus-seven rating at the time of his assignment. “We’re really happy and Carolina is really happy with the way he played. His hockey sense is really good, and he was making plays.”
Even after Rask’s departure, the Checkers, an experienced team with only one other-first year player on its roster, 24-year-old Jeremy Welsh, will carry two extra forwards. In any other season (or in any non-lockout season, to be more specific) things may have turned out differently. In that scenario, Rask may have been able to play a more prominent role on a Checkers team that would certainly lose a few players to the NHL.
“It’s tough to say because you don’t know who you would lose to go up top,” said Daniels, when asked the ongoing lockout affected the decision to assign Rask to Calgary. “It was definitely something that was debated and discussed.”
Even if the lockout ended tomorrow, Rask would not be allowed to rejoin the Checkers until after the conclusion of his junior season. That may not be for a while, as the Hitmen, without one of their best players in Rask, rank first in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
Besides featuring for the Hitmen for the rest of the season, Rask should also likely play a key role on the Swedish entry at the World Junior Championship starting in December. Last season, Rask captured a gold medal at the annual tournament that features the world’s best young players.