Jeremy Welsh believed he had nothing left to prove in his Union College career. Dutchmen coach Rick Bennett agreed.
After an outstanding three-year career with the Dutchmen, the 23-year-old Welsh is giving up his senior season to join the Carolina Hurricanes. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound center signed a one-year deal late Thursday night that will pay him $832,500 on the NHL level and $70,000 on the AHL level, along with a signing bonus of $92,500.
Welsh will make his NHL debut tonight when the Hurricanes close out the season at the Florida Panthers.
Welsh leaves Union as the Dutchmen’s top single-season scorer in the Division I era with 27 this season. He collected his 100th career point Thursday, assisting on Daniel Carr’s second-period goal in the Dutchmen’s season-ending 3-1 loss to Ferris State in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinal. Welsh became the first Union Division I player to record 100 career points by the end of his junior season. He is eighth on the team’s career scoring list, and third in career goals with 53.
Welsh led the team in scoring this season with 27 goals and 17 assists. His 44 points are the second-most in a season in the Union Division I era. Mario Valery-Trabucco has the record of 45, set in 2009-10, when Welsh was a freshman.
“I just feel, for my development as a hockey player, it was time to move on and take the next challenge,” Welsh said Friday morning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. “I’m going to get my education [done] by the end of the summer. It’s time to move and just keep developing.”
Bennett is very happy for Welsh. He believes the timing is right for Welsh to go.
“He has our full blessing,” Bennett said. “It’s great to see good people rewarded for their hard work. He’s older. He’s really taken care of his course work.
“I think he’s my age right now,” Bennett joked, “so it was time to go.”
Ron Francis, the Hurricanes’ director of hockey operations, said in a statement: “Of all of the college free agents available, we identified Jeremy as the one who most fit our organizational needs. He provides another big body for us down the middle, and is a player who has shown character and leadership at the college level, in addition to scoring ability.”
Several teams were interested in Welsh, including the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins. Welsh was in the Blackhawks’ prospect camp last summer.
But Welsh believes the Hurricanes are the perfect fit for him because of the people who can help him develop as a pro center.
“Ron Francis, [assistant coach] Rod Brind’Amour, coach Kirk Muller, [assistant coach] John MacLean, all those guys have Stanley Cups,” Welsh said. “All of those guys had great careers as two-way centermen in the NHL. They were hard-working players, and guys I looked up to. If I can learn from them and surround myself with guys that, I think, play the right way, it’s a better chance for success, I guess.”
The decision to sign happened quickly after the Dutchmen’s loss.
“We took our time, did the [postgame] interview, and it was emotional in the room afterward.
Everyone was disappointed,” Welsh said. “When we stepped outside, my family advisor was waiting, and got things going. We went back to the hotel, ate the team meal. Then, the Carolina brass, Brind’Amour, Francis, [assistant general manager] Jason Karmanos, came over to the hotel and met me in a room at 10 o’clock. We got it all official.”
Welsh was honored to have Francis scouting him.
“He’s one of the best centermen who ever played the game,” Welsh said. “When a guy like that tells you they want you, I can go learn from those guys and soak up their knowledge.”
Welsh will become the first Union Division I player to play in an NHL game. Former Dutchmen goalie Keith Kinkaid dressed for a couple of games with the New Jersey, but didn’t get in.
Union had three players from the Division III era to play in the NHL — goalie Steve Baker (New York Rangers), defenseman Duane Joyce (Dallas Stars) and defenseman Mario Giallonardo (Colorado Rockies).
“It’s nice to see that we’re putting guys in the National Hockey League now,” Bennett said. “That’ll be a proud, proud moment for our whole staff and players included.”