Undrafted college free agents are always tough ones to figure out. General managers always tend to jump on these players once the NCAA season ends in an attempt to find some NHL-ready talent at a very low cost. Their college boxcar numbers usually look good and they have the makings of being a capable NHL-er on paper, but they don’t always turn out that way. There have been a lot of undrafted free agents like Chris Kunitz, Adam Oates, Dan Boyle, Brian Rafalski and Martin St. Louis who have gone on to have good careers but there have been just as many UDFA’s like Jason Krog, Lee Sweatt, Cory Murphy, Andrew Ebbett, Bill Thomas and Keith Aucoin who haven’t done much in the NHL during their careers. I do not deny that some GM’s have an eye for these kinds of players and have a good idea of which ones have the most potential to make it in the NHL but overall, there have just been so many of them that have gone in either direction.
The Hurricanes don’t have a ton of experience in dealing with players like this, but they are going to hope that their newest UDFA, Jeremy Welsh can step into the NHL relatively soon. Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford was quick to sign Welsh to a one-year deal after his Union Dutchmen were eliminated from the Frozen Four this spring and the Canes were fortunate enough to see him suit up for the Hurricanes in their final game of the season. He took a couple of penalties in that game but he was very solid otherwise. He ended up in the black in scoring chances and created a couple on his own according to my game reports. Unfortunately, that’s all the NHL experience he has so far but it probably won’t be his last.
One good thing that came from the Hurricanes jumping on Welsh so early is that he is close to being at the age where he should be ready for the NHL and could contribute as soon as this year. He was also coming off a fantastic junior year as the captain of Union College’s hockey team and was arguably their best player during their Frozen Four run, so there were a few teams looking to acquire him. The Hurricanes were very fortunate to get him, but they still have yet to come to terms on a new contract with Welsh. He is currently a restricted free agent and it’s taking a bit longer than expected to get a deal done, but one would think that the Hurricanes are reasonably close to getting something done. It wouldn’t be a surprised if he got a three-year, two-way contract similar to what Matt Read of the Philadelphia Flyers got before last season. Although, it might be a little hard to justify spending a considerable amount of money on him because he has played only one NHL game in his entire career. His college resume is nothing but impressive, though.
Welsh scored 27 goals and had 44 points in 40 games last season, which were the second and fifth highest ECAC totals in each category, respectively. His 6’3″ frame and ability to dominate battles along the boards have earned him the reputation as a “power forward” in college, which is something that could make him fit in nicely on a checking line next year for the Hurricanes. This along with his scoring potential makes him a very intriguing prospect and it also helps that he is close to being ready to contribute at the NHL level. Will he be able to do that next year? We’ll have to wait and see but he definitely has the tools to succeed and it’s interesting to think about what he can bring to the Hurricanes if he can carry over his play from college.
Hopefully Carolina can get this contract situation sorted out relatively soon because Welsh is good enough to make an immediate impact on the Hurricanes. He can fill the team’s void at third line center, improve the team’s forward depth and plays a strong possession-type game that the Hurricanes really need right now. If the can make the jump to be in the NHL full-time next year, then it would be a huge boost to the Canes. Whether or not he can do that is still up in the air, but the Hurricanes don’t need him to be a star like he was in college, they just need him to be a contributing top-nine player within the next couple of years. Given Welsh’s talent and college experience, this seems like a doable task.