American Hockey League

Kinkaid excited for fresh start with Charlotte

The Carolina Hurricanes goalie shortage has had a ripple effect on Charlotte, their American Hockey League affiliate, and opened a new opportunity for NHL veteran Keith Kinkaid.

Charlotte goalies Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg were called up to the Hurricanes after injuries to Petr Mrazek and James Reimer against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 22, the game that emergency backup David Ayres eventually won 6-3 to launch his unlikely rise to fame.

That left Charlotte, the defending AHL champion, scrambling for goalies. Charlotte acquired veteran Mike Condon on loan from the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 29-year-old, who has played 127 NHL games, lasted one start with Charlotte, a 5-3 loss at Lehigh Valley (Philadelphia Flyers) on Saturday, before being recalled by the Lightning on Sunday.

Charlotte then turned to Kinkaid, who was acquired on loan from the Montreal Canadiens last weekend. The 30-year-old has played in 157 NHL games. But he found himself pushed out of the Montreal goaltending picture and eventually third on the AHL depth chart with Laval behind prospects Cayden Primeau and Michael McNiven. Kinkaid went 1-1-3 with a 4.24 goals-against average and .875 save percentage in six games for the Canadiens this season; with Laval, he went 3-7-3 in 13 games with a 3.44 GAA and .876 save percentage.

Kinkaid made 28 saves in a 6-3 win at Hershey, his Charlotte debut.

“I think the biggest thing for me is I having fun,” Kinkaid said. “I kind of lost the fun back in Montreal and Laval, so I’ve just got to get back to having fun.”

Charlotte coach Ryan Warsofsky said, “[Kinkaid] approaches it as a great opportunity. It’s a great opportunity to get his career back [to] where we think it can be at a high level. He wants to get back to the NHL and show scouts that are in the building and the rest of the league that he belongs in the NHL.”

Activity before the NHL Trade Deadline also shook up the Charlotte roster. 

Defenseman Chase Priskie and forward Eetu Luostarinen, were part of the trade with the Florida Panthers for forward Vincent Trocheck on Feb. 24. Luostarinen and Priskie were sent to Florida’s AHL affiliate, Springfield, one of the teams chasing Charlotte in the Atlantic Division.

Later that same day, two more Charlotte players, leading scorer Janne Kuokkanen and defenseman Fredrik Claesson, departed in the trade that brought defenseman Sami Vatanen from New Jersey to the Hurricanes

Forward Julien Gauthier, who had 26 goals in 44 games for Charlotte, was traded by Carolina to the New York Rangers for defenseman Joey Keane on Feb. 18. Gauthier is eligible to play for New York’s AHL affiliate, Hartford, a potential first-round opponent for Charlotte.

Despite all the changes, Charlotte finished a six-game road trip 3-3 to increase its hold on fourth place to six points in a push for another trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs

“We saw a lot of character in our group,” said Warsofsky. “Like I said to the guys, if doesn’t matter who was over there, we play together. We play the right way. If everyone’s committed to it, you can win.”

Warsofsky was promoted from assistant when Mike Vellucci, the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award winner last season as the top coach in the AHL, left for the Pittsburgh Penguins organization in the offseason. Warsofsky became the youngest coach in the AHL at 32 years old when he was hired.

Among the seven players left from the 2019 championship team is Morgan Geekie, a 21-year-old forward who has 43 points (22 goals, 21 assists) in 54 games. Carolina took him in the third round (No. 67) of the 2017 NHL Draft.

“His motor away from the puck is something that we’ve really worked on a lot in this second half of the season,” Warsofsky said. “He does a great job protecting the puck.”

Jake Bean, a 21-year-old defenseman, continues to make a push for a permanent role with Carolina. He leads AHL defensemen with 46 points (nine goals, 37 assists) in 55 games. Carolina selected Bean No. 13 in the 2016 NHL Draft.

“Jake Bean is a leader,” Warsofsky said.

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