The 2014 NHL draft represented a big step for Josh Wesley and the state of hockey in North Carolina.
When the Hurricanes selected Wesley – the son of former Carolina legend, Glen – in the fourth round (96th overall), they made the defenseman the first North Carolina-developed prospect to hear his named called in an NHL draft.
And this week, a phone call from Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis let Wesley know he’d be taking one more step toward becoming the state’s first NHL player.
Francis “asked me how my summer was going and then he asked me if I wanted to put the skates back on,” Wesley said from a luxury box during the Charlotte Checkers’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Barons on Thursday night at Time Warner Cable Arena . “I just couldn’t turn that opportunity down.”
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Francis told Wesley, who will turn 19 in six days, that he’d just be practicing with the American Hockey League’s Checkers, but to approach his time in Charlotte like he’s trying to get into the game.
“That’s the mindset that I’ve brought down here,” Wesley said. “It would be really nice to get a little experience, but they make the decisions and I’m just really excited to be here.”
Although he’s the son of a Hurricanes’ legend, Wesley’s trip to Charlotte isn’t the team’s idea of a favor.
At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, he comes with the reputation for being a shutdown defenseman, despite playing forward for much of his early career. Wesley converted to being a full-time defenseman with the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes under-16 team in 2011-12.
He finished this season with five goals and five assists for the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers and likely will return there next season.
“He’s come in and skated well,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels, who picked up on Wesley’s love of the game back when he played along slide his father while with the Hurricanes.
“He wants to learn and he wants to get better. He’s not shy in practice, when we’re doing the battle drills, he’s right in them and playing his game.”
Josh Wesley learned to skate in the “Mice on Ice” program in Raleigh about age 2. He was 10 years old and on the ice when the Hurricanes won the 2006 Stanley Cup. He could be a Hurricane in 2016-17.
“Growing up, (the Hurricanes) were my favorite team,” Wesley said. “So being picked by your favorite team, that’s a huge honor. And it makes it even better being a hometown guy.”
In a state where playing pond hockey generally qualifies as a terrible idea, Wesley – who was a year old when the Hurricanes moved to North Carolina – represents hope for the Old North State’s potential to develop legitimate NHL prospects.
“He always wanted to be a player and he worked at it,” Daniels said of Wesley. “I give him a lot of credit to have come through the North Carolina hockey system – which has obviously gotten better – but he deserves all the credit for finding a way to make it.”