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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 61 40 16 5 167 135 85
2 NYI 63 41 20 2 202 174 84
3 NYR 60 38 16 6 190 148 82
4 TBL 63 38 19 6 207 167 82
5 DET 61 35 15 11 180 159 81
6 PIT 61 35 17 9 176 152 79
7 WSH 63 33 20 10 184 159 76
8 BOS 61 30 22 9 161 160 69
9 FLA 62 27 22 13 150 175 67
10 PHI 62 26 25 11 164 181 63
11 OTT 59 26 23 10 167 161 62
12 NJD 62 25 27 10 139 164 60
13 CBJ 60 26 30 4 157 189 56
14 TOR 61 25 31 5 170 185 55
15 CAR 60 23 30 7 137 159 53
16 BUF 63 19 39 5 123 212 43

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Faulk 60 11 28 -14 39
E. Staal 55 18 18 -9 36
E. Lindholm 59 11 16 -15 27
J. Skinner 55 16 9 -15 25
R. Nash 57 7 15 -8 22
N. Gerbe 56 7 14 -11 21
V. Rask 58 8 11 -16 19
J. McClement 60 4 12 1 16
J. Staal 24 4 11 -1 15
A. Semin 36 2 12 -8 14
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 16 19 4 .914 2.35
A. Khudobin 7 11 3 .906 2.60