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Wild vs. Hurricanes
Tracking the Storm

Opportunity Knocks for Welsh

Thursday, 06.28.2012 / 9:22 AM / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Opportunity Knocks for Welsh
For Jeremy Welsh, opportunity is knocking.

Michael Smith
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Knocking rather loudly, at that.

With the departure of center Brandon Sutter in the trade that saw Jordan Staal land in Carolina, the Carolina Hurricanes have a vacancy to fill: they need a capable two-way center with defensive prowess and an offensive upside, as well.

At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Welsh has the build for that role.

“[He has] a great opportunity,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “If I was him right now, I’d look at the situation and see the opportunity is here.”

But does he have the skill set to be effective on a regular basis? That’s what the Canes, who have a one-game snapshot of the sought-after college free agent, will be seeking to discover this week and in training camp.

“It’s definitely an important week,” said Welsh, one of 13 prospects invited to the Canes’ annual conditioning camp. “I just want to keep making a good impression.”

So far, so good.

Both Muller and President and General Manager Jim Rutherford have tossed Welsh’s name into the mix of players who could fill the roster hole. It’s something Welsh said he didn’t even think about when the trade was made, but now that he’s in town for conditioning camp, reality sank in.

“How that affects the depth chart, that’s not really my concern,” he said. “But there’s an opportunity there, so I want to earn it.”

“His skill level is there,” Muller said. “He’s still got to earn that spot, but certainly there’s an opening there for him.”

It hasn’t been the case in recent years for a center position – let alone two – to be up for grabs in training camp. That will likely be the case in September, especially if the Staal brothers play on the same line.

“It’s going to be an experimental phase in camp, but he’s certainly going to get an opportunity to play,” Muller said. “It will be fun to see guys battling for different positions, and that’s what you want to see at camp.”

“I’m thankful for the opportunity, but I have to keep up my end of the bargain over the summer,” Welsh said. “They’ve got a lot of good guys in the American League in Charlotte, too, who have been up and down and obviously will be battling for those spots.”

Just over two months ago, Welsh’s Union College Bulldogs were ousted by Ferris State in the Frozen Four. Forty-eight hours later, the ink still fresh on his contract, Welsh dressed in his first National Hockey League game, the Canes’ 2011-12 season finale against Florida.

He centered Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu on the second line, skating in 16:32 of ice time and recording two shots and four penalty minutes.

The statistics weren’t even that important, at least for Welsh; he treasured the experience.

“It was a bit of a confidence boost knowing I could do it,” Welsh said. “Rather than worrying about it all summer and not knowing what you’re getting into, it’s nice to have a bit of an understanding when I’m training what I need to improve on and how the game changes up here. That was the best case scenario: to get that taste and get a feel for things.”

Since then, the 24-year-old, Bayfield, Ontario native has been working out on and off the ice in Calgary with a handful of his former Union teammates. Muller took notice.

“He already looks a little bit stronger than the last game we saw him, so he must be doing some off-ice workouts,” he said.

Size is what Muller and the Canes are actively seeking. Getting bigger, Muller stressed, is a necessity in today’s game, especially against a number of the Eastern Conference opponents the Canes will see for a majority of the season. Acquiring Staal has partly addressed the lack of size, adding a 6-foot-4, 220-pound body to the forward corps. Inserting Welsh into the lineup would further bolster the strength down the middle.

“I think I can play a couple different roles,” Welsh said. “I can check, take the body, muck and grind and be solid defensively. But I have offensive instincts and can contribute offensively, too.

“Whatever role needs to be filled, I just try to do it.”

This much is clear: he’ll have an opportunity.

“It’s up to him,” Muller said. “He’s got to be excited.”



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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 MTL 65 41 18 6 175 146 88
2 NYI 66 42 21 3 211 185 87
3 TBL 66 40 20 6 217 173 86
4 NYR 63 39 17 7 197 155 85
5 DET 62 36 15 11 182 160 83
6 PIT 63 36 18 9 182 158 81
7 WSH 66 35 21 10 194 164 80
8 BOS 63 31 22 10 168 165 72
9 FLA 65 28 23 14 159 185 70
10 PHI 65 28 25 12 173 187 68
11 OTT 62 28 23 11 176 167 67
12 NJD 64 27 27 10 144 165 64
13 TOR 65 26 34 5 175 199 57
14 CBJ 63 26 33 4 163 201 56
15 CAR 62 24 31 7 144 167 55
16 BUF 64 19 40 5 123 215 43

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Faulk 62 12 28 -18 40
E. Staal 57 18 20 -12 38
E. Lindholm 61 11 16 -18 27
J. Skinner 57 16 10 -17 26
N. Gerbe 58 7 16 -10 23
R. Nash 59 7 15 -10 22
V. Rask 60 8 12 -16 20
J. McClement 62 6 13 3 19
J. Staal 26 4 12 -4 16
A. Nestrasil 34 4 11 4 15
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 17 20 4 .911 2.43
A. Khudobin 7 11 3 .905 2.61