The days when the Carolina Hurricanes would extend invitations to their prospect development camp to promising young local players are over. There are two in camp this week, which concludes Saturday. Both of them would be here no matter where they’re from.
First, there’s Josh Wesley, son of Glen, who became the first player developed in North Carolina to be drafted by an NHL team when the Hurricanes took him in the fifth round last June. He’s making his second appearance at the camp.
There’s also Trevor Owens, from Raleigh, a defenseman at Northeastern, thrice undrafted but very much on the Hurricanes’ radar as a potential signing regardless of his hometown. He was planning to go to the Calgary Flames’ prospect camp until the Hurricanes called.
“It’s a nice perk to have a kid from Raleigh in our camp but he earned his way here,” Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis said. “It’s not just a token invite.”
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Which isn’t to say that any of the other undrafted players who have appeared at the camp over the past few years were token invites. What’s really different about Owens is that players like him are no longer a novelty – they’re becoming common both in Division I and major junior hockey.
“Being one of the first-generation players, I’ve helped create a lane or a path for other youth players so they can have those opportunities,” Owens said. “I don’t just want it to be me. I want it to be another two guys, another three guys that can go to this camp or go to different camps.”
Owens was born in Michigan but moved to north Raleigh when he was 2. Part of the first generation to grow up with the game, Owens was 12 when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. Now 21, he left five years ago to play junior hockey in pursuit of a scholarship.
Passed over in the 2012 and 2013 NHL drafts, Owens just completed his freshman year at Northeastern, where his teammates included players from other unusual places – three from Florida and one from California, all representative of the new state of hockey.
Two played in the Ontario Hockey League last season, and two more 1999-born players were drafted by the OHL in April, including Rod Brind’Amour’s son Skyler. There are also North Carolina players at Yale, Western Michigan, Minnesota, Air Force and Maine in addition to those still seeking scholarships in junior hockey.
“And there’s more coming,” Northeastern coach Jim Madigan said. “There’s a lot of Carolina kids in the prep-school ranks now. We see a lot of them in New England. They’ve done a good job starting to develop the players from that area. Hockey’s in a different spot. It’s not like it was 15-20 years ago. I see players coming from all different regions.”
At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Owens is big, strong and athletic. He still needs work on his technique, some of the details of playing defense, but Madigan thinks Owens can pick them up over the next three years.
“He’s getting there quicker than a lot of other people,” Madigan said. “He wants to get better.”
There are a still barriers still to crack: the first North Carolina-trained player to make the NHL, the first to be drafted in the first round, and so on. While Wesley was a trend-setter in the draft, there’s nothing that says Owens, with a two-year head start, couldn’t potentially beat him to the NHL, even if it’s a very long shot.
“I just try to lead by example and show them hard work does pay off,” Owens said. “No matter where you are and no matter where you’re from you can make it anywhere as long as you put in the work.”
At the very least, Owens made it back home to practice with the Hurricanes’ prospects. That’s no small journey.
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947