Zac Dalpe’s most recent AHL assignment comes with a little more uncertainty than his last.
The Checkers’ forward’s first stint with the team two weeks ago was publicly labeled as temporary as the player worked his way back from three weeks on the sidelines with a lower-body injury. Now back following Thursday’s transaction
that also saw defenseman Justin Faulk head to Raleigh, Dalpe’s just here to play.
“There’s no timeframe,” he said. “They just told me to go down and get a lot of minutes. If I can be in the NHL in a fourth-line role I’ll do it, but they think of me as more of an offensive player who needs to be able to play more.”
When in the lineup, the fourth line is where Dalpe saw the majority of his time during nine NHL games this season. He broke the 10-minute mark just once (in the Hurricanes’ season opener), and played as little as 2:41 during the past week as the Canes began to rely more on veteran players to help reverse their slide of six losses in seven games.
Having become accustomed to big minutes during his successful first season with the Checkers in 2010-11 that saw him score at nearly a point-per-game pace and earn AHL All-Rookie honors, that situation was often difficult.
“It’s tough to get into the flow of the game, and when you get in it’s tough to make plays,” he said. “The injury was a setback for me because I felt like I was just starting to get rolling.”
That would be the goal of his return to the Checkers. Dalpe is expected to play top minutes at the center position against Rockford tonight, which is where he played last season and for one of two games during his conditioning visit.
“Obviously he’s proven in the past that he’s capable of providing some offense,” said coach Jeff Daniels, who had been looking for a spark in that department even before Dalpe’s arrival. “When you’ve got a player like him on your team, you want to play him a lot.”
That will be welcome news to Dalpe, who realizes that he needs ice time in order to accomplish his goal of being a scorer at the NHL level.
“It’s a process,” he said. “No matter what, you want to be in the NHL all year long, but there are things I need to work on. I was just talking with my dad, and there are some guys like (Boston Bruins forward) Rich Peverly, who’s one of my favorite players, that took some time in the minors before breaking through in the NHL.”
True to Dalpe’s point, Peverly, who won a Stanley Cup with the Bruins last year, spent the bulk of three consecutive seasons with the Milwaukee Admirals before making it as an NHL regular with the Atlanta Thrashers as a 26-year-old in 2008-09.
The arrival of Dalpe, still just 22, gives the Checkers more than enough forwards, as they’ll make Scott Pitt and Jared Staal healthy extras for tonight’s contest. It’s a different story on defense, which has become suddenly thin after Faulk’s recall and the news that Bobby Sanguinetti will be unable to dress due to injury tonight.
As of this morning, the Checkers had just five healthy blueliners, meaning that a recall or signing would need to be made in order to dress the traditional allotment of six.
“I’m going to have to go find someone,” said Daniels.
Should a player be able to arrive from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades in time, Chris Murray, the team’s second-highest scorer with 11 points (3g, 8a) in 14 games, and Ryan Donald, who spent the first few weeks of the season with the Checkers but did not see game action, are a few of the options. The Everblades are at home tonight to face Greenville, which coincidentally would be the next-best option for a temporary player signing due to proximity.
Justin Peters, who owns a .955 save percentage and 1.34 goals-against average in his last three games, will get the start in goal.