Luke DeCock

June 28, 2014

DeCock: Second-generation Wesley a Tar Heel hockey trailblazer

Josh Wesley became the first North Carolina-developed player to be drafted by an NHL team, his hometown Carolina Hurricanes. The door is still open for an NC born-and-bred prospect.

Hockey history was made in the Triangle on Saturday, just not as much as might have been hoped.

Josh Wesley, son of Carolina Hurricanes legend Glen, became the first North Carolina-developed NHL draft pick when the Hurricanes took him in the fourth round. Wesley, 18, was born in Connecticut a year before the team moved here, leaving the title of first born-and-bred draft pick open.

Logan Halladay, a goalie from Cary, was in Philadelphia for the draft and hoping to be that guy. He was the 16th-ranked goalie prospect in North America according to NHL Central Scouting, but was not among the 210 players selected.

Still, with the Hurricanes’ selection of Wesley, the Triangle took its final step toward hockey marketdom: It generated an official NHL prospect. And if the Hurricanes hadn’t shopped locally, someone else would have taken Wesley.

The timing is just about right. Today’s 18-year-olds have never known a North Carolina without NHL hockey. They were 2 when the team moved here, 10 when it won the Stanley Cup, teenagers playing competitively during the last playoff appearance.

Wesley, who plays for the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, was along for the entire ride. He was on the ice with the Cup in 2006, skating with his father as the No. 2 banner rose to the rafters in 2009, even in the stands for the draft here in 2004.

“That was a neat experience,” Wesley said. “This one is that much more special when you’re actually part of it.”

There have been draftees with North Carolina connections before. Patrick O’Sullivan put on skates for the first time here when his father was playing minor-minor-minor-league hockey in Winston-Salem. Teppo Numminen played a year of youth hockey in Greensboro as a 9-year-old while his mother was in graduate school at UNCG.

Like Wesley, Kasperi Kapanen, picked in the first round by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, learned to play while his father, Sami, played for the Hurricanes. Wesley, though, was the first to grow into a complete player here, only leaving two summers ago to play for the U.S. Under-17 team. He is unquestionably a trailblazer.

“It’s a huge honor,” Wesley said. “I know that a lot of the guys in Raleigh helped me to where I’m going to be. A lot of them are out playing in different places. Logan Halladay is here at the draft. I’m rooting for him. We both pushed each other to get to the next level.”

Alas, it wasn’t to be for Halladay, who plays for the Janesville Jets of the North American Hockey League and has committed to Minnesota. Nine of the top 20 goalies on the North American list were taken. He wasn’t one of them, which is the nature of the draft, but he was part of a large local group that piqued scouts’ interest leading up to this weekend.

Bryan Moore, a forward for Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL from Matthews, was ranked by Central Scouting but went undrafted for the third year in a row. Northeastern-bound defenseman Trevor Owens of Raleigh received some attention. Charlie Pelnik, the defenseman from Cary who committed to North Dakota as a 15-year-old and is currently playing in British Columbia, has been passed over twice after being slowed by injuries.

“Now that we’ve had some success here, got into the playoffs, won the Cup, there are more kids playing here,” said Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis, who played an important role in the expansion of elite-level youth hockey here. “Hopefully Josh isn’t the last one.”

There will be more. This is only the beginning for North Carolina as a source of hockey players. Adolescence has become adulthood for the market and these players alike.

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