The last remaining free agent under team control has been signed as the Hurricanes were finally able to come to terms with Union College star Jeremy Welsh on a two-year contract. The contract is a two-way deal in the first year, where Welsh will be paid $700,000 to play in the NHL and $105,000 in the AHL, it then becomes a one-way contract the next year where he will be paid $1,000,000 no matter where he plays. This is a pretty standard contract for a college free agents since players such as Matt Read and Stephane Da Costa received similar deals at the beginning of their NHL careers. Now that Welsh is finally under contract, we can start to speculate what kind of career he will have with the Hurricanes and as of right now, it's really tough to tell what the Canes will get from Welsh in these two years.
Undrafted college free agents are somewhat of a crap shoot because if you look at a list of them over the years, the names are really all over the place. General manages always seem to be in a rush to sign these players in April in hopes that they will get a useful player at a bargain price, but it's tough figure out what you'll get with UDFA's no matter how good their numbers were in college or whatever other league they were previously in.
Take Welsh for instance, he was more than a point-per-game player during his junior year at Union College (44 points in 40 games) and had 37 points in 40 games the year before that, so that could lead you to believe that he has a great NHL career in front of him. He might, but it's not a given. That certainly makes the outlook very bright for him but there have been more than a few top-performers in college who stayed in the AHL for most of their careers. Is that going to happen to Welsh? Hopefully not, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility since we know so little about him and whether or not he has the tools to succeed in the NHL.
Judging by the contract the Hurricanes gave him, it looks like they see Welsh playing in the NHL as soon as this coming season. If they thought otherwise then they wouldn't have signed him a deal where he's guaranteed at least $1 mil. The popular thought seems to be that he will step into the vacant third-line center role and that wouldn't be a bad option given the Hurricanes have a lot of solid, bottom-six forwards who could flank that line. Welsh plays a gritty, physical style so he should be right at home on the Canes checking line if that's how the Canes decide to use him for next season. He is also in his mid-20's, so he's right around the age where we should know if he is NHL ready or not.
Welsh earning a roster spot out camp isn't a given but it's a definite possibility since Jim Rutherford is pretty high on him and he has some good intangible qualities that could help the Canes. He was the captain of a Union College team that went to the Frozen Four last season and he also seems like the type of player that can improve the Canes forecheck, something that was a big problem for this team last year. I would expect him to get a long look in training camp and be one of the top borderline players to be in the running for that third line center position. That being said, he could spend next season in the AHL, too since he is on a two-way deal and the team could opt to send him there as soon as next week with the lockout pending.
Either way, the future looks bright for Welsh and even though I'm not sure where he will be playing in this organization in this coming season, I have a good feeling that he will be a solid contributor whether he plays in Raleigh or Charlotte. If Welsh is able to stick on the Hurricanes third line for the majority of the year then the Canes should be extremley pleased with what they got out of him.