The 24-year-old center, who finished his third campaign at Union College before signing with the Carolina Hurricanes last season, is one of just three Checkers skaters without a point in five games. Though it’s still very early in the season, it’s probably not the start that most would have expected from a player that seemingly had the inside track for an NHL roster spot prior to the work stoppage.
After acknowledging that fact, both Welsh and his coach agreed that things do appear to be headed in the right direction.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment, and learning the systems has probably been the biggest thing,” said Welsh, whose only prior pro experience was a one-game audition in the Hurricanes’ final game last season. “I do feel like I’m getting more comfortable, because in my first three games I struggled but in four and five I started to feel like myself again.”
“It’s an adjustment for any player, but I think he’s getting there,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “I talked with him about how every game needs to be better, and Sunday was his best game.”
Daniels cited the increased pace at the professional level, the grind of travel and having to play three games in three nights as possible factors behind Welsh’s adjustment period, though it should be noted that Sunday’s game was the team’s third in as many nights.
As Welsh alluded to earlier, learning the team’s style of play, something everyone on the team is going through due to changes passed down from Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller, has been a challenge.
“You sort of get paralyzed out there worrying about where you’re supposed to be and where your man is,” said Welsh, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound late bloomer known for having a knack around the net. “I’ve talked to (Daniels) about overthinking when I play, and when I let my hockey sense take over and started to think about scoring goals I felt a lot better.”
He may not have quite the same opportunity to provide offense as in earlier games, as he didn’t appear to have a regular spot on the team’s forward lines during Wednesday’s practice. Having started the season on what could have easily been called the team’s top line with Zac Dalpe and Chris Terry, a spot in which he scored two goals in the team’s first red/white scrimmage of training camp, he was instead rotating with Sean Dolan as the team’s fourth-line center.
If that seems drastic, it’s only due to the increased depth on the team and around the AHL this season. At center, A.J. Jenks, a third-year pro who played regularly for the team last season, has only managed to crack the lineup for one game, which saw him play well and record an assist, only to return to the press box the next night. Meanwhile, nineteen-year-old Victor Rask has surpassed expectations, earning a goal and two assists in his first four professional games.
With Riley Nash a part of the team’s most consistently effective line with Zach Boychuk and Tim Wallace and Dolan a key part of a successful penalty kill, that leaves little margin for error. That being said, Welsh, who scored 27 goals in 40 games to lead Union to its first-ever Frozen Four appearance last season, may not have much to worry about as he continues to get settled.
“He’s a mature guy, and I’m sure he’ll be able to handle it,” said Daniels.