Monday, March 3, 2014

As trade deadline looms, several Checkers making a push

With the NHL trade deadline looming less than 41 hours away and the Hurricanes in the midst of a five-game losing streak, here's a look at several Charlotte Checkers that might be worth an extended look in Raleigh...

We'll start with the hero of Sunday afternoon, Zach Boychuk. The 24-year-old former first round pick in 2008, netted goals 25, 26 and 27 of the season during the third period of the Checker's 6-3 win over the Bears in Hershey.

The hat trick was the third this season for Boychuk, whose previous career-high in goals had been 23. After what he terms a wake-up call last season, Boychuk no longer seems content to float around on the ice at times and it's shown in his numbers.

Over the last seven games, Boychuk has nine points (4g, 5a) and his 49 points (27g, 22a) overall are tied with Chris Terry for the most on the Checkers this season.

Almost since day one this year, Charlotte coach Jeff Daniels has praised Boychuk's focus and commitment.

Next up is another Checker who recorded three points on Sunday, in Aaron Palushaj (3 assists). With 47 points (18g, 29a) this season, the 24-year-old wing has already put together his best year since his 2010-11 campaign with Hamilton, where he finished the season with 57 points (22g, 35a).

Palushaj had the Checkers' points lead for much of the season, before turning in a five-point month of January (3g, 2a). He remains a speedy, hard-working forward with 68 career NHL games already under his belt.

On the day the Hurricanes assigned Ryan Murphy to the Checkers, a scout at the game told me that I was going to enjoy watching him play, adding also that Murphy should be a point-a-game guy in the AHL.

Safe to say that the scout has been dead on so far. With a goal and an assist on Sunday, Murphy extended his current point-streak to 10 games. He also has an assist in all 10 games, which is a franchise record for a Checkers defenseman.

You can live with Murphy's mistakes on defense when he's producing on the other end of the ice like he has. In his 15 games with Charlotte, Murphy has 17 points (1g, 16a) and is a plus-2 overall. His 1.13 points per game average is tops on the Checkers, among players who have 10 or more appearances this season.

Now for the one I get more emails and tweets about than anyone else, Victor Rask. For a guy who turned 21 this past Saturday, his season hasn't been anything to shake your head at. Despite being buried on the third and fourth lines at times, Rask -- who was drafted in the second round in 2011 -- has still managed to record 28 points (10g, 18a).

A two-month goal drought (from early October into December) seemed to set Rask back a bit, but since snapping that skid, he's produced 11 points (5g and 6a) -- including one goal and two assists in his last two games.

Many fans -- and some scouts -- would have liked to have seen him progress a bit faster, especially with the Hurricanes record of developing prospects as of late. But Rask should still figure prominently into Carolina's future plans.

He'll need to learn to take better care of the puck if he wants to succeed at the next level, but there's no doubting that the talent's there. He might have the most posts of anyone in Charlotte this season.

Last for today's list is Chris Terry. He's been a model of consistency since the Checkers came back into existence in 2010, with point totals of 64, 59 and 60. With 49 (19g, 30a) already this season and 21 games remaining, he's right about where you'd expect him to be.

Its tough to pick any one skill that the 25-year-old excels at the most, or that would best translate to the next level. As time has gone on, he's become more than just an offensive threat, often being tabbed by Daniels to put in extra time on the PK.

After a 13-game goalless streak that stretched from December into January, Terry has caught fire, netting 10 points (5g, 5a) over his last seven games. In the game Terry broke out of his scoring slump, he ripped off a season-high nine shots (two of which found the back of the net).

Justin Shugg 28 points (13g, 15a) and rookie defenseman Danny Biega are also guys to watch out for, while Brett Sutter 29 points (8g, 21a), Nicolas Blanchard, Michal Jordan and Mark Flood could all potentially fill holes on an NHL team.