For the Carolina Hurricanes, the courtship of ex-Union hockey star Jeremy Welsh began long before the Ontario native signed with the organization last April.
"We started tracking his progress at Union a couple of years back, but we didn't concentrate on it until the middle part of last season when we came in regularly to watch him live," said Carolina executive vice president and assistant general manager Jason Karmanos, whose responsibilities include player evaluations, contract negotiations and player movements.
The Hurricanes thought enough of Welsh to offer him a contract after he finished second in the ECAC with 27 goals during his junior season a year ago.
"We felt as a staff that he's a very smart player," Karmanos said. "He has good size and we heard very good things about his character and work ethic. He was producing at a pretty good clip on the ice and when you combine that with smart play and good hockey sense you feel pretty good that you're looking at a prospect for the NHL."
One difficult part of the negotiations was convincing Welsh, now 25, to bypass his senior season of college hockey.
"It was a very tough decision for him because he very much enjoyed playing and going to school at Union," Karmanos said. "It's always tough for players to make that choice to leave early. But when you had the type of success Welsh did, you're looking for a bigger challenge going forward when you made it your goal to become a hockey player."
Welsh was signed to a one-year entry-level contract last spring and was re-upped for two more years in September. The latter deal pays Welsh as much as $700,000 this year and $1 million next season.
"It has been a bit of an adjustment as it is with all kids," Karmanos said of Welsh's transition to the pro game. "It's a big jump from college hockey to pro hockey no matter what your age is because you're playing against grown men who have experience playing against other grown men at the pro level."
But Karmanos, who played college hockey at Harvard, said the organization is pleased with the way Welsh has come along.
"We feel his progress has been tremendous," Karmanos said. "He had an adjustment to the pace of the pro game as well as the schedule compared to college, where you play just a couple of games on the weekend. The pro game is much more demanding in terms of the number of games you play. The exciting part for us is that his improvement over the course of the season in terms of consistency has been very dramatic."
That could be one reason why Welsh has received three recalls to the parent club this season, the most recent being a one-day stint last Thursday in which Welsh collected his first NHL point, an assist. He was sent back down the next day when Carolina activated Tim Brent off injured reserve.
"If he was up full-time with the Hurricanes, his play at this point (based on who we have ahead of him) would be limited to fourth-line type minutes," Karmanos said. "We feel it's important for him to play a lot for his long-term development. That currently takes him to Charlotte."
It's the fourth line where Welsh has received the bulk of his NHL action, but Karmanos believes the Union product has the skill to eventually move beyond being a fourth-liner at the NHL level.
"We hope so, but that's certainly easier said than done," Karmanos said. "It's the best league in the world. We think he has the possibility to do that and we would love for him to do that. But it's going to be up to him to put in the work and continue to improve. The first step for him is to get to the point where he's a regular NHL player and contributing at the NHL level on a daily basis. He has a little bit to go there and that's not unexpected to a certain degree."
In order to get there, Karmanos said Welsh's next steps are "to increase his offensive production, to get stronger, and if at all possible to continue to get faster."
Welsh is likely to be in Charlotte's lineup when the Checkers host San Antonio tomorrow night at 7 pm.