If Brett Bellemore were of a certain mind, he might interpret many of the Carolina Hurricanes’ offseason moves as statements of a lack of confidence in him.
First, they traded for Andrej Sekera. Then they signed Mike Komisarek. And when Joni Pitkanen was declared out for the season, they went out and grabbed Ron Hainsey. It was all designed to bolster a blue line that looked decidedly shaky last season, but it had the secondary effect of keeping Bellemore eighth on the depth chart.
“I try not to worry too much about the moves that they make,” Bellemore said. “This summer, I just focused on myself and tried to come into camp the best shape that I could to try and keep a job here. That was my mentality.”
It was no reflection on Bellemore, who may yet be worthy of a bigger role before the season is out.
At 25, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound defenseman is just starting to come into his own. The eight NHL games he played last season are already more than would have been expected of a sixth-round draft pick. And Bellemore showed Wednesday night in the Hurricanes’ preseason opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a 5-4 loss, that he can be counted upon when needed.
That’s something Jeff Daniels, Bellemore’s coach for the past four seasons in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers, figured out a while back.
“You have to watch him for an extended period of time to appreciate him,” Daniels said. “He may not look pretty out there, but at the end of the night he gets it done.”
Bellemore may not be ready for a regular role yet, but he’s an option, either as the last man on the NHL roster or as a top-pairing defenseman in Charlotte: big, strong, willing to be physical. If he continues to hone his overall game, there may be more for him here, and he offered hints of that Wednesday.
Bellemore stood out for his effectiveness ahead of some of his more veteran teammates, at one point directing Jeff Skinner into proper defensive position. Afterward, he earned praise from Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller on a night when the coach was gravely disappointed with the team’s overall performance.
“I was happy with ‘Beller,’” Muller said. “He’s been good from Day 1. Quite frankly, his stock has gone up.”
Bellemore also stands out because he has a chance to be the first NHL defenseman developed through the Hurricanes’ system in more than a decade. Justin Faulk didn’t need any seasoning in the minors, and Ryan Murphy won’t get much either. Bellemore has taken time to make it this far, and the question now is whether he can make the next step.
Bellemore has been given nothing. He was sent back to play an extra year of junior hockey. He spent four long seasons in the AHL before getting his first sniff at the NHL. Only Nicolas Blanchard has a longer tenure with the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate.
“There’s new blood that comes in every year, all these young guys, and they’re all good,” Bellemore said. “As a stay-at-home (defenseman), especially adding my physicality the last couple years, maybe it took me a little longer to develop that. But right now, I think I can play in this league.”
For some players, it just takes a little longer, not only to figure it out but to be properly appreciated. Wednesday was the first preseason game of his career, which means Bellemore made his NHL debut before he ever got a real opportunity in training camp. Whatever opportunities he is getting now, he has earned.