OTTAWA, ON - JUNE 21: 45th overall pick, Zac Dalpe of the Carolina Hurricanes is interviewed during the 2008 NHL Entry Draft at Scotiabank Place on June 21, 2008 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
A little under four weeks ago, the Hurricanes made the decision to send Zac Dalpe down to the AHL to make room for Tim Wallace. Dalpe has been one of Carolina's best forward prospects for quite some time now but he has yet to make his mark in the NHL despite making the Hurricanes out of training camp for three years in a row. I'll admit that he was in a bit over his head during his first two seasons since he wasn't doing much to drive the play against opposing team's fourth lines. There also wasn't much room for him on the roster and he was constantly used on the fourth line instead of being placed in a scoring role, so giving him top-six minutes in the AHL made sense.
Dalpe has been able to thrive in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers the last couple of seasons and earned a spot on the Hurricanes after training camp this year. The difference was that there was room for him in the top-six as he was played on the second line along with Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner. Dalpe might have struggled in his previous NHL stints, but he played much better this season and looked like he could finally settle into a full-time role. Then he was re-assigned after playing only six games. Now he is back with the team again and will look to make a more lasting impression this time around, something he was well on his way to doing so during his last stint.
Sure, Dalpe's two points in six games might tell some people that he wasn't doing his job in the top-six, but goals and points are not everything in hockey. I know it's probably frustrating to know that Dalpe hasn't scored a goal since December of 2011, but he has only played in 11 games since then and only six this season. Judging his overall body of work based on a small sample size is not the best thing to do, so the door is open for Dalpe to succeed if he continues to build on what he did during his previous stint with the Hurricanes.
If I can quote an older post, here are some of Dalpe's underlying numbers from right before he was sent down.
Dalpe was making the most of his minutes by creating more scoring chances relative to his ice time than both of his linemates. He was also slightly better than his linemates at territorial play than his linemates while playing some pretty tough minutes on Jordan Staal's line. Dalpe was also one of the team's stronger players in terms of neutral zone play, by having control of the puck on 59% of his zone entries. That percentage is far away from being the best on the team, but it's a fine rate for a top-six forward and better than some other players were performing. Whether or not he can continue that remains to be seen, but it's a little confusing that the Hurricanes decided to send Dalpe back to the AHL when they did because he was doing just about everything right but score.
The Hurricanes have struggled to find linemates for Jordan Staal all season long and things got even more difficult after Jeff Skinner went down with a concussion, so this is a perfect time for Dalpe to step in and make an impact. Dalpe did not miss a beat when returning to AHL play as he continued to tear it up during his most recent stint with five goals and eight points in seven games and a 3.42 shots per game rate. He has already proven what he needs to in the AHL and now it's time for him to get a longer test at the next level. Personally, I thought he should have never been sent down because he was doing a lot of good things with the Hurricanes and didn't do anything to lose his roster spot. The team has needed another scoring forward for awhile now and he should be able to fill that void given the opportunity. .
Much like we can't judge Dalpe as a player based on his small sample size of NHL games he has played, we can't automatically guarantee that he will succeed based on six strong games at the NHL this year. That being said, if he continues to play like he did in his first stint with Carolina this year, then I think he will be in Raleigh to stay.