The Carolina Hurricanes are preparing for their second busy off-season in a row and head coach Kirk Muller is more than OK with dishing out big money to land a top free agent. But Muller made one thing certain during the NHL draft – there are some Hurricanes who will not be changing sweaters for a long time.
Twenty-year-old skaters Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner were two players the Blue Jackets, Penguins and other teams were interested in on draft day, and Muller rightfully turned his head the other way. Faulk and Skinner were both members of the NHL’s All-Rookie teams and Skinner won the rookie-of-the-year award last summer.
These two players are the main building blocks of the Carolina franchise for years to come. Even with the Hurricanes recent playoff-push mentality, the Canes have no reason to trade their top prospects when they have eight figures available to spend on free agents starting July 1.
Besides spending money on another top six forward like Zach Parise or Alexander Semin when the market opens, the next big question is who is going to replace shutdown center Brandon Sutter on the second or third line?
Even though the Hurricanes will be buyers this summer, it is unlikely that the Hurricanes spend money to replace Sutter’s roster spot because there are a few reliable assets waiting in the wings.
The top choice for the job at this moment is Jeremy Welsh. Both Muller and GM Jim Rutherford love what Welsh brings to the rink because he can be a two-way player. The 6-foot3, 200 pound center was one of 13 players invited to the teams prospect conditioning camp and Welsh is optimistic that he can make a good impression.
Last season, Welsh competed in the collegiate Frozen Four and also made his NHL debut in the season finale against the Florida Panthers. He is only 24 years old and already has 16 minutes skating between Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu. At this stage of his career, any experience will give him a leg up against the competition in camp.
Now, does he have the determination? It seems like he does since Muller last talked to the Ontario native while he was practicing in Calgary with his Union teammates. He is focusing on getting stronger by the start of next season. Muller’s philosophy is centered around toughness because he wants his team to play big in order to compete in the Eastern Conference.
With all eyes on Welsh, he told the media that he is looking forward to his opportunity to compete for the third-line center role and also said he is comfortable playing whatever style the Canes need him to play. He is a grinder, a checker, an above average defender and looks great in Carolina red. I think we are all curious to see how he handles this opportunity.