On Saturday night the Charlotte Checkers defeated the Chicago Wolves to capture their first ever Calder Cup. The Checkers were a dominant regular season squad, and under head coach Mike Vellucci, carried that success directly into the postseason. In my December AHL recap, we discussed the “Best Developing AHL Teams”, of which, the Cane’s affiliate ranked number one. Although the team received outstanding contributions from their entire, and I mean entire lineup, a massive cog in their success this season was UNH alumni, Andrew Poturalski. It’s Poturalski’s story that really developed my interest in the Checkers this season and what inspired this article.
The 25-year-old forward was undrafted to the NHL, after a devastating first eligible campaign with the Cedar Rapids Roughriders. From then on, he flew under the radar of NHL squads, and more than likely focused his sights on getting an education. It wasn’t until his sophomore season at UNH that the NHL dream, once again, became a reality. Midway through that 52-point breakout campaign is when I started following him, and when the NHL took notice. Upon completing his second year, the Canes signed Poturalski to an ELC, but have left him to drive their AHL squad ever since – and now he’s an AHL playoff MVP. It’s his future that has me intrigued by the Checkers Championship. Does a 25-year-old with no draft pedigree, but an otherwise outstanding resume have a chance to become a fantasy darling? And if not, who from this powerhouse team will be the next to break out at the NHL level.
As I mentioned, the Checkers won by committee this year. Not the mid-range caliber type of committee either, there were several players from this young squad (average age – 24.1) that have a bright future in the NHL. That list includes, but is not limited to:
Following the links to any of the above players will give you the in-depth details of their fantasy future. Better yet, check out the Dobber Hockey store for our recently published, and continuously updated Fantasy Prospects Report… here’s a sample courtesy of @DobberHockey himself:
If you’re wondering, the answer is yes – you do in fact get hundreds of these exact types of individual prospect reports and quick-hit comparables in the FPR.
In order to accurately project the future of this bright AHL squad, I thought it would be good to have a look back and previous AHL championship teams and where they are now.
2017-18 – Toronto Marlies, Average age – 24.5, 9 current NHLers, 3 projected NHLers
MVP: Andreas Johnsson, 23
2016-17 – Grand Rapids Griffins, Average age – 25.54, 7 current NHLers, 2 projected NHLers
MVP: Tyler Bertuzzi, 22
2015-16 – Lake Erie Monsters, Average age – 25.51, 6 current NHLers, 1 projected NHLer
Oliver Bjorkstrand, 21
2014-15 – Manchester Monarchs, Average age – 24.63, 6 current NHLers
MVP: Jordan Weal, 23
2013-14 – Texas Stars, Average age – 24.00, 7 current NHLers
MVP: Travis Morin, 30
2012-13 – Grand Rapids Griffins, Average age – 23.97, 8 current NHLers
MVP: Tomas Tatar, 22
2011-12 – Norfolk Admirals, Average age – 24.18, 5 current NHLers
MVP: Alexandre Picard, 26
2010-11 – Binghampton Senators, Average age – 24.23, 4 current NHLers
MVP: Robin Lehner, 19
2009-10 – Hershey Bears, Average age – 25.36, 7 current NHLers
MVP: Chris Borque, 22
2008-09 – Hershey Bears, Average age – 24.64, 5 current NHLers
MVP: Michael Neuvirth, 21
Looking at the past MVP winners, there isn’t a ton of history by which to compare Poturalski. The lone player to win within a year of age difference was Alexandre Picard of the Norfolk Admirals. 26-years-old at the time, Picard’s MVP honors would be the last of his successes, as the following year, he signed in the Swiss league. At the time of his championship, however, Picard had already played in a total of 67 NHL games and certainly had his chance.
Poturalski, on the other hand, has not. The next closest winner in terms of age is last year’s MVP, Andreas Johnsson – and we all know how well things have gone for the now 24-year-old. MVP status aside, Yanni Gourde is a player who took a similar path to the NHL and didn’t come close to breaking out until his 25-year-old season.
Another thing that Poturalski has going for him is his current free agent status, which is that of a Group 6 UFA. Based on his age, and lack of NHL games played, the 25-year-old now has his pick of the litter, as to which NHL team he feels he has the best opportunity to make an impression with – my money is on Ottawa.
Aside from our MVP, the Hurricanes have a plethora of prospects that they do hope to retain going forward. One of the best case scenarios is that this team puts forth players similar to how the 2011-12 Norfolk Admirals did. The stars of this squad have become, what is two-thirds of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s triplets – Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, plus Alex Killorn.
It should also be noted that this Checkers team is the youngest to win an AHL title since the 2013-14 Texas Stars and the second youngest over the span of the last 10+ years. That Stars team became a group of NHL regulars that includes John Klingberg, Jamie Oleksiak, Radek Faksa, and Jack Campbell.
Of the group, Martin Necas, Alex Nedeljkovic, Jake Bean and Aleksi Saarela are likely to be the next to push for jobs with the ‘Canes and be impactful on the fantasy front. After an impressive playoff run, Morgan Geekie is likely not far behind either. In the ten years of past winners shown above, it’s fairly clear that young teams that have this kind of success are more than capable of producing NHL talent. Stay tuned!