With enough healthy forwards to make it through two more home games this weekend, the Checkers sent forward A.J. Jenks on a conditioning stint to ECHL Florida on Wednesday.
Jenks, a 22-year-old, third-year forward, is only expected to remain with the Everblades for their home games against Greenville on Friday and Saturday. Previously an everyday player for the Checkers ever since he joined the organization via trade last January, Jenks played just six of the team’s 19 games this season due primarily to roster crowding caused by the NHL’s ongoing work stoppage.
"It was a situation where he wasn’t going to play Saturday, so we took the chance to get him some games to get that rhythm back," said coach Jeff Daniels.
Daniels added that it was a combination of his team's glut of forwards and what he had seen from Jenks so far that prompted the decision.
"We’re deeper than we were last year because of the lockout, and he’s no different than a guy like Justin Shugg who needs to be playing," said Daniels of Jenks, who has one assist and a minus-four rating this season. "It’s about making the most of your opportunities when you’re in the lineup, but to be fair to him I just haven’t had a chance to get him two games in a row."
The move cuts the Checkers’ roster down to 22 players, the smallest it’s been this season. After having to routinely sit as many as four players as healthy scratches for much of the year, Daniels may only need to sit one for Saturday’s game against Rockford, depending on the health of defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani, who has been out since Nov. 8 with a lower-body injury.
Even with the rest of his forwards healthy, Daniels said that he was still hesitant to send one down to the ECHL for anything longer than a conditioning stint.
"(Jenks) is a guy that we feel like we can use in our lineup," he said.
Jenks becomes one of seven Carolina signees on ECHL rosters, an unusually high number that reflects the increased talent level of that league in a lockout season. Forwards Shugg and Brody Sutter, defensemen Tommi Kivisto and Beau Schmitz and goalie John Muse are already in Florida, while another defenseman, Joe Sova, is on loan with the San Francisco Bulls.
Jenks, Florida’s fourth-round pick in the 2008 NHL draft, has six points (3g, 3a) in 13 career ECHL games with Cincinnati, all of which came last season prior to the trade that sent him to Charlotte. After joining the Checkers last season, he scored nine points (4g, 5a) in 27 games spent mostly in the fourth-line center role.
The Everblades, last season’s Kelly Cup champions, are off to a 7-7-4 start this season and rank 10th in the Eastern Conference.