The Marlies have an unusual opponent for back-to-back games this weekend: the Charlotte Checkers. This is a team the Marlies haven’t played against since the 2014-15 season, when both teams resided in the AHL Western Conference. The Marlies left the Checkers behind when they moved to the Eastern Conference for the following season, but now the Checkers have made the same move, and the Marlies will face them four times this season. The first two games are this weekend.
1) Tell us about Lucas Wallmark. He's a 2014 draft pick leading the team in points so far this season, after he earned 46 points in 62 games last season. Is he in line to be called up this season?
Lucas Wallmark is a very gifted playmaker. Checkers head coach Mike Vellucci recently told me that Wallmark was just "a step or two" away from making a jump to the NHL. He makes the players around him better with his speed and ability to gain an edge on defenders. He played 8 games with the 'Canes which were ultimately underwhelming but earned 2 assists. His 46 points last season ranked him second on the team in points. He's put up 8 points in 4 games this season heading into Friday's game. It's not a forgone conclusion that he will be called up again this season but an injury in Raleigh added with continued success from Wallmark just may equal another shot for him.
2) How are the Checkers goalies? Is goaltending an area of strength or weakness for the team?
The Checkers current goaltending tandem is Jeremy Smith and Alex Nedeljkovic. Smith is an AHL journeyman while Nedeljkovic was drafted by Carolina in the 2nd round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. "Ned" struggled in his first season in the pros but looks to have a better chance at claiming the number one spot. The Checkers have stated that they will rotate Smith and Nedeljkovic through the first two months with not many games on the schedule and move forward from there as to whom will be the number one.
3) Who would you say is the underrated player of the team or a line that could surprise the Marlies?
The most underrated player on the Checkers is by far Andrew Poturalski. His is the fastest player on the team and can finish around the net. As a rookie, he led the team in scoring with 52 points in 74 games, helping lead the team to a playoff berth. He hasn't scored yet this season but look for him to break through.
4) How physical of a game does this team play? Do they take a lot of penalties?
The Marlies don't have to worry much about committing penalties against the Checkers. The Checkers ranked dead last on the power play last season but have been better this season. As for committing penalties, Charlotte is mediocre on the kill but Vellucci wants his team to be more disciplined.
5) What are your thoughts on this weekend series. Will they split the games, one team win both?
I think the teams will split the series. Charlotte plays on Friday as well so they may be a bit tired coming into the weekend. Charlotte's offensive power should be able to match the Marlies. It should be an interesting weekend!
Right now the Checkers are first in the AHL Atlantic Division with four wins and one loss. That’s the same record the Marlies have.
In net will be one of Garret Sparks or Calvin Pickard as Kasimir Kaskisuo was assigned to the Solar Bears yesterday.
We’ll update this post with the lines for Saturday when they are available. The Marlies will take to the ice at 4pm.