April 23, 2012 1:43 PM
For most of the Checkers’ top forwards, this past season produced as many frustrations as it did successes.
While each player went through prolific scoring runs at times, lean stretches often followed. Of the team’s biggest scoring threats, none improved on last season’s offensive numbers, which was a contributing factor in the team falling from second in total offense in its inaugural campaign to 18th this past season.
As coach Jeff Daniels noted following the season, each case is different. With that in mind, we’ll highlight a few of them here.
ZACH BOYCHUK AND ZAC DALPE
Despite each playing a comparable amount of games this season than the one before it (Boychuk played four more, Dalpe five less), the Hurricanes’ first two picks in the 2008 draft didn’t produce the same numbers. Boychuk, the team’s leading scorer in its inaugural season, had 21 fewer points, while Dalpe fell 25 short of his total from his AHL All-Rookie campaign.
That led Carolina General Manager Jim Rutherford to mention those two by name at his season-ending conference as players who, “didn’t develop as well as we would have liked.” Though not responding directly to it, both players more or less supported that assessment.
“It was a roller coaster of emotions,” said Dalpe of his season, which took place mostly in Charlotte despite starting in the NHL. “I feel like I worked as hard or maybe harder this year as in any other year. I think I took some steps back in some areas but I felt like I took some steps forward in others.”
Both Boychuk and Dalpe showed flashes of what made them the 14th and 45th overall picks in 2008, respectively. Most of Boychuk’s scoring came in bunches, as he enjoyed a team-high five two-goal games after starting the season with six points in his first five outings and spending most of November in the NHL. However, he also endured three goal droughts of seven or more games, including a career-long, 10-game stretch in January and February.
Similarly, Dalpe’s season was highlighted by scoring surges like his six-game streak (5g, 2a) in January that led to a brief return to Carolina, but also featured a six-game point drought prior to that and eight games without a goal to conclude the season.
In assessing those players, the Hurricanes will continue to look at the big picture, taking into account the ups as well as the downs.
“Jim mentioned Dalpe and Boychuk in his press conference as guys who he wished had done more,” said Ron Francis, the Canes’ director of hockey operations. “That statement in no way indicates that we don’t think they’re good prospects, because we do. Sometimes guys get frustrated, and you have to keep battling for it. They’ve got the summer to get refocused and work hard.”
Even at this early stage of the offseason, it appears each player will do just that.
“I took a bit of a step back this year, but it definitely gives me that extra fire in my belly to go up this summer, work on my game and just get stronger,” said Boychuk.
“You go home in the summer and you work hard and you work out and you shoot pucks all day, and I love doing that stuff, but it all comes down to between the ears mentally,” said Dalpe. “I think this year I learned a lot. I think I grew maturity-wise, because there were a lot of emotions I had to deal with and I brought them on myself. I feel like coming down in the next year, it’ll make me a stronger player.”
Boychuk, now with three professional seasons under his belt, becomes a restricted free agent on July 1 and, in the event that he re-signs, would need to clear waivers if Carolina cuts him from next season’s training camp. Dalpe enters his third season with a contract in place and no such waiver restrictions.
From the start of this season’s training camp, Nash, a first-round pick in 2007, had the makings of a breakout player. The Hurricanes were impressed with his all-around game to the point that they made him the last player to leave the NHL training camp, and even that was no sure thing.
“He came into camp and arguably made our team,” said Francis. “He was the last guy cut, and there were discussions about whether he should stay after that.”
Though his two-way game and hockey sense alone were enough to earn him his first five NHL games over the course of the season, Nash said that he did not produce the kind offensive numbers (20 points in 58 games) that he expected given his promotion from a checking line to a scoring line.
“I think I got into a role where I played a lot more and they depended more on me,” he said. “That’s always nice, but next year I’m really looking to step it up offensively, because I just wasn’t happy with that.”
Around the time of his NHL recalls, Nash did begin to enjoy some successful stretches, including a January run in which he scored eight points (4g, 4a) in seven games. However, a concussion suffered on Feb. 10 halted that momentum, as he missed 11 games and then scored just two points (1g, 1a) in 16 games to close the season.
As he enters next season with another year left on his entry-level deal, the Hurricanes, who recently signed Jeremy Welsh from Union College to add competition at center, are hoping Nash can pick up where he left off prior to the injury.
“He’ll be a guy we expect will come in and do everything he can to try and take one of the jobs here,” said Francis. “We hope it’s a situation where he makes it an easy decision for us.”
Though most Checkers went through the ups and downs described above, perhaps none were as wild as Terry’s. The team’s scoring leader (59 points in 74 games) had three point streaks of five or more games, including two eight-game runs. One of those, a four-goal, 11-assist stretch in January, led to his first appearance at the AHL All-Star Classic, where he scored three more points for good measure.
When everything was said and done, Terry did shatter his career high for assists, posting 47 compared to 30 in each of the last two seasons. However, goals were down to 16 from his team-leading 34 from one year prior, as he opened the season with two goals in his first 17 games and later experienced a 13-game drought in the second half.
Despite that inconsistency, Francis went out of his way to list Terry as a player who had taken strides forward this season.
“We’ve been on Chris to work harder in games and to prepare himself over the summer, and I think he did a good job of working with our trainers to monitor his diet and what he does off the ice,” said Francis.
While Terry had just two points (1g, 1a) in the last eight games of the season, he was perhaps as snake-bitten as any Checker and was a bright spot in the four-game home losing streak that put the Checkers in an irreversible deficit two weeks from the end.
“I thought it really showed in the way he played down the stretch and how he competed,” said Francis.
Like Boychuk, Terry is a restricted free agent that has now played three professional seasons. If he re-signs and is cut from next season’s training camp, he would need to clear waivers for the first time.