Zac Dalpe loaded up a U-Haul, hopped in his Chevy truck and made the 13-hour drive from Charlotte back home to Paris, Ontario.
This past weekend's long haul gave the Charlotte Checkers forward a lot of time to think. Surely on his mind: the words of Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford.
"For me, Dalpe is our No. 1 guy to come on the Hurricanes team of anybody in Charlotte," Rutherford said last week. "He can really skate, and he can really shoot. I would be very surprised if Dalpe doesn't play regularly in the top nine all year."
And not only that. Rutherford lifted some eyebrows at his news conference when he said Dalpe possibly could play the wing opposite Jeff Skinner on Tuomo Ruutu's line next season.
"Wow," Dalpe said. "I can't complain about that. To hear that is nice, but I know I'll have to prove myself at training camp.
"I'll just take it for what it is and use it as motivation. It should be a big summer for me. But they're all big summers now."
Dalpe, 21, began this past season with the Hurricanes, making the trip to Finland. Used primarily on the fourth line, the rookie played in seven games before being reassigned to the Checkers, the Canes' American Hockey League affiliate.
Recalled by the Canes in early January, Dalpe scored his first NHL goal against the New Jersey Devils, then scored again the next game against the Florida Panthers and added a third against the Atlanta Thrashers before going back down. And it was his enthusiasm, relentless work and productivity for the Checkers, in his first full pro season, that had Rutherford speaking so highly about him.
Dalpe, chosen to the AHL's all-rookie team, had 23 goals and 57 points in 61 regular-season games for Charlotte. He then added six goals and 13 points in 16 Calder Cup playoff games as the Checkers knocked off the Hersey Bears and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins before being swept by the Binghamton Senators.
"The thing I learned on the NHL level was you need to strive for consistency, and not just game to game but shift to shift," Dalpe said. "Now, the one thing I need to work on is getting stronger and putting more weight on."
Dalpe said he's likely to add about 10 pounds and push his weight to 200, all the better to handle the rigors of the season.
"The first game I got sent down (to Charlotte) was the start of playing eight games in 11 nights," he said. "I think I lost 10 pounds. But I don't want to add too much weight. I think my speed is my greatest asset."
It was Dalpe's speed and his inner drive that helped make him a second-round NHL draft pick in 2008. It helped make him a two-year standout at Ohio State.
Dalpe is a natural center but said he could make the switch to the wing in the NHL.
"Few people know this, but I used to play defense," Dalpe said, laughing." I was a D-man until I was 12. I've been a centerman most of my life, but I'll play anywhere."
Skinner made that center-to-wing transition last season - with phenomenal results. The Canes' top draft pick in 2010 scored 31 goals at age 18 and may win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year.
"He had a pretty decent year for an 18-year-old, don't you think?" Dalpe said, tongue in cheek. "That's kid's a freak. It would be great to get a chance to play with him."
Dalpe apparently will get that chance.
"I think with Ruutu moving to center and wanting to stay there, moving Dalpe to the wing to get him used to this league, like we have with Skinner, is the way to go," Rutherford said. "Dalpe going with Ruutu and Skinner, I think, would probably work pretty well. That would give some extra speed on that line."
But for now, it's all about the offseason work for Dalpe, about his summer in Paris.
"My dad owns a wood-packing plant and works hard," Dalpe said. "He's always telling me to never take anything for granted. I always keep that in mind."
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