Over the last couple of days, the Carolina Hurricanes AHL affiliate in Charlotte released their final roster cuts and with training camp being more populated now due to the NHL lockout, there were bound to be a few surprises. Out of the five players who didn't make the team, the most surprising names on that list were Justin Shugg, Brody Sutter and John Muse. All three of these players were sent to the team's ECHL affiliate in Florida but something tells me that they would be good enough to make the Checkers in a non-lockout season.
I mentioned a month ago that the AHL was going to see a big influx of talent with the NHL allowing players on two-way deals to play for their AHL affiliates until the lockout is over and the Checkers are one of the many teams who took advantage of this. Until the lockout is over, you'll see NHL talents in Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner playing for the Checkers along with the likes of some NHL hopefuls such as Jeremy Welsh, Tim Wallace, Zac Dalpe, Bobby Sanguinetti, Dan Ellis, Drayson Bowman and Marc-Andre Gragnani. The Checkers roster looks like it's in very good shape for this upcoming season but I can't help but feel that Muse, Shugg and Sutter are also good enough to be on this team but ended up being the odd-men out due to there being too many players on the roster.
Take Shugg for example. This is a player who dominated in his last two years in junior but was hurt for most of his rookie AHL season and ended up playing some games in Florida to get him back into playing shape. He went onto be a point-per-game player with the Everblades during both is regular season and playoff stints with the team. It's a small sample size, but it tells me that Shugg is ready for the next level and that more time in a mid-level league isn't going to do much for him as far as his development is concerned. Shugg is the type of player who is suited for a scoring role and he wouldn't be able to get those minutes in Charlotte now with so many would-be NHL-ers on the roster there. Thus, Shugg ends up being one of the odd-men out in this situation despite performing well in training camp and the pre-season.
The same can be said for Brody Sutter, who was an overager in the OHL last season and played four games with the Checkers. Sutter also had a good camp and since he was already an overager last year, the AHL seems like the next logical step for him but he can't stay in Charlotte because there simple isn't enough room. In a non-lockout year, there would likely be at least two more forward spots open and both Shugg & Sutter would make the team. They are both very young players who have still yet to be tested much in a professional league, which is why you could make the case for them having not much to gain from playing in the ECHL. It's possible that the ECHL will see the same influx in talent as the AHL and be more competitive, though since I'm sure other teams have had to make similar decisions.
Goaltender John Muse is another player who was sent to Florida, which is where he spent most of last season starting 25 games and posting a .920 save percentage. However, Muse also played 15 games with the Checkers and was rewarded with a one-year contract this year to possibly compete for the starting job. Since Mike Murphy left for Russia and Justin Peters was likely going to start the year as the Hurricanes back-up due to a injury to Brian Boucher, it was very likely that Muse could have earned at least a 1 A/B role with the Checkers. Instead, he is going back to the ECHL with Peters being stuck in the AHL and the Checkers signing Dan Ellis on a tryout contract. Muse is the weakest goalie of the three so it makes sense to assign him to the ECHL but he was probably hoping for more than that this year.
Even after Sutter and Shugg being sent to the ECHL, Charlotte still has 16 forwards on the roster and I'm curious to see how head coach Jeff Daniels runs his lines and chooses which players to use on some nights. Obviously players like Skinner, Welsh, Bowman, Dalpe, Boychuk, Terry and Samson will be playing every night but what about some of the bottom-six players? Charlotte is obviously a stronger team now and having Skinner, Welsh and Dalpe there every day is going to lead to great things but it may also hurt some players like Riley Nash and AJ Jenks who were aiming to have bigger roles this year. Is playing fewer minutes or being healthy scratched on some nights going to effect their development at all? I should also mention that the Checkers captain, Brett Sutter, is a regular bottom-six player even in Charlotte and he may get shuffled around due to there being so many forwards on the roster.
The Checkers are going to be exciting to watch this season but I can't help but feel that there are some players who are going to be missing out on an opportunity due to being lost in the numbers game. It's just an example of how the lockout will indirectly have an impact on everyone involved with the organization. I'm sure other teams/players are going through the same dilemma.