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DeCock: Bellemore’s time may be coming soon

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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RALEIGH If Brett Bellemore was of a certain mind, he might take 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.

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 far 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, figured out a while back.

“He’s gotten stronger and a little more confident with the puck,” Daniels said. “He’s always had that long reach and good hockey sense defensively. He’s learning to use his body more. Some stuff just takes time.”

The less the Hurricanes are relying on Bellemore, and to a lesser extent Ryan Murphy in the seventh slot, the better off they’ll be. 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 a bigger role for him here, and he offered hints of that Wednesday.

On a night when the defensive coverage was less than stellar in front of Cam Ward, Bellemore stood out for his effectiveness ahead of some of his more veteran teammates. At one point, he even directed Jeff Skinner into proper defensive position.

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 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.

“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.”

In many ways, he’s the opposite of his fellow rookie Murphy, in size, skill, style and opportunity.

Murphy, the 5-11, 185-pound first-round pick is an offensive dynamo whose raw talent makes up for his lack of stature. Since he was taken 12th overall in 2011, the Hurricanes have given Murphy every opportunity, calling him up from his junior team for a four-game stint last winter, making him the subject of an in-house documentary this summer.

Bellemore has none of that skill, but you can’t teach size, either. He 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.) Whatever opportunities Bellemore is getting now, he has earned.

For some players, it just takes a little longer – both to figure it out and to be properly appreciated.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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