February 23, 2012 3:53 PM
It’s been a little over a month since the Carolina Hurricanes’ first trade of the season provided a shakeup for the Checkers. For some of the players involved, that’s been more than enough time to settle in, while others are still working towards that goal.
Jon Matsumoto, the only player who left the Checkers’ roster in the Canes’ deal with the Florida Panthers on Jan. 18, was the highest scorer at the time of the trade and has done nothing to change that, racking up 15 points in his first 14 games with the San Antonio Rampage. That earned him something the Hurricanes couldn’t give him, namely a recall to the NHL, as Matsumoto is set to make his Panthers debut against Minnesota on Thursday night.
If the fifth-year pro more or less picked up where he left off in terms of what he’s been able to do on the ice, A.J. Jenks, one of the players acquired in exchange, has seen an increase in his fortunes. After starting the season scoreless in 25 AHL games in San Antonio, the 21-year-old seems to have found a home with Charlotte, scoring all 5 of his points (2g, 3a) over his last eight games.
“Really, I just needed something new,” said Jenks. “You can forget about everything that happened before and just start fresh, which can hopefully help get that spark in your game.
“It’s been great here so far because I get along with everyone in the room, the staff is top notch and I couldn’t be happier.”
Then there’s the third and most high-profile player in the deal, Russian winger Evgenii Dadonov, who is still in the process of getting acclimated. In 13 games with Charlotte, the 22-year-old has the same point total as Jenks, though he’d like to score more.
“It’s getting there,” said Dadonov. “It’s my first experience changing teams and I’m getting more comfortable and getting to know everyone a little better.”
Like Jenks, Dadonov was hoping the trade would bring more opportunity, but that hasn’t yet materialized at the NHL level. Fellow wingers Drayson Bowman and Jerome Samson are currently with Carolina, with the big club having summoned each player multiple times since Dadonov, who has the most major-league experience of the group (55 games) first joined the organization.
Dadonov suggested that part of the reason he hasn’t made more of a scoring impact could be that he’s been too concerned about the end result rather than the means.
“With a new team you try to show your best, but sometimes it’s hard,” he said. “It’s tough not to worry about the points, but I just have to play my best.“
“The points will come for him just because he’s so skilled, but from day one, we’ve said that it’s not just about that,” said Charlotte coach Jeff Daniels. “We need guys to play as part of our system.”
¬In a limited sample size, Jenks has proven to be capable of both. He’s been a physical presence on the team’s fourth line, has seen some time on the power play and has also become something of a shootout ace, scoring on three of his four opportunities this season.
It’s not yet clear if the 6-foot-2, 200 pound Jenks will blossom into the same type of scorer he was with the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers (he had 63 points in 52 games in his fourth and final season), but it appears that he has some of the necessary tools.
“He’s got such a good shot and release, and he’s scored some good goals for us,” said Daniels. “He just snaps it really good, and in a couple of our games he’s also had soft passes that have sprung guys on breakaways. A lot of it comes back to confidence, and he has that now.”
“I’ve never really been put in a position to be counted upon (offensively) at this level, but I feel like I could do it with a little more development,” said Jenks, the Panthers’ fourth-round pick in 2008.
Even if he isn’t a top producer, Jenks admitted to feeling some relief upon finally registering his first point of the season, a goal against Oklahoma City on Feb. 3, in his 31st game.
“It was by far the worst slump I’ve ever had at any level, so it definitely felt good to get that first one,” said Jenks, who spent part of this season in the ECHL while still a member of the Panthers organization. “I knew that once I went somewhere else and got that first one, the ball would get rolling pretty quickly and it wouldn’t be an issue.
Dadonov, whose only goal as a Checker was an empty-net tally in his third game, hopes the same will be true of his situation. As he continues to progress, it could be that he’s not far off.
“The last couple of games I’ve felt better,” he said.
UNCERTAINTY IN GOAL
One day before they began a back-to-back, two-game set against Oklahoma City at Time Warner Cable Arena, Mike Murphy’s second NHL recall of the week left the Checkers had just one goalie on the roster in rookie John Muse.
It’s possible that the Hurricanes, who play at home Thursday and Saturday, could send Murphy back to Charlotte in the interim with starter Cam Ward still day-to-day with a lower-body injury. If not, the Checkers would need to sign a backup goalie to a professional tryout contract for the fifth consecutive weekend.
Daniels said he did not have a replacement lined up in case Murphy stays in Carolina, saying that he would revisit the situation tomorrow. The only certainty is that if Murphy, who only recently recovered from his own injury suffered back on Jan. 24, does return for both games, he wouldn’t start them both.
“Murphy’s got to be sure he’s ready to play, so I don’t think we’ll use him in a back-to-back having been out for so long,” said Daniels.
Defenseman Justin Krueger will not play for the Checkers this weekend, with center Riley Nash likely to join him on the sidelines. Chris Durno has resumed practicing with the team and could potentially play his first game since Dec. 31.