To many, the hiring of Mike Vellucci as the Carolina Hurricanes' new assistant general manager/director of hockey operations seemed like par for the course: another from-the-ranks promotion for an organization that many believe needs a fresh set of eyes.
The inclination to think that way is understandable. Vellucci has spent the past 14 years with the Peter Karmanos-owned Plymouth Whalers and his association with the Hurricanes franchise began well before that.
Vellucci was a seventh-round pick of the Hartford Whalers in 1984 and suited up for two games for the team in 1988. The captain of that team was a 24-year-old center named Ron Francis. Vellucci played in the minor leagues until the mid-'90s and then started his off-the-ice career with the Detroit Compuware North American Hockey League team owned by Karmanos. Four successful seasons there — including a championship in 1999 — led to his promotion to Plymouth of the Ontario Hockey League as coach and general manager in 2001, replacing current Devils head coach Peter DeBoer.
His time with the Whalers established Vellucci as one of the best minds in junior hockey. Vellucci reached the postseason every year in Plymouth, extending the franchise's run to 23 consecutive years with a playoff berth.
With the exception of a brief stretch from December 2007 to November 2008 when Vellucci stepped aside as coach to focus solely on his general manager duties — current Hurricanes goalie coach Greg Stefan took over the head coaching duties, but went just 22-31-5 and the Whalers were swept in the 2008 playoffs under his watch — the 47-year-old Vellucci led the Whalers both on and off the ice. He was the first American to win the Matt Leyden Trophy as the OHL's coach of the year (2006-07). In 2012-13 he one-upped that, winning the award a second time and also being named OHL executive of the year (an honor now-retired Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford won in both 1993 and 1994).
So it's no surprise that he has drafted and groomed several current NHLers, including many that played for the Hurricanes in recent years (for example, Justin Peters, Brett Bellemore and Chris Terry) and others that have gone on to star in the league, including Tyler Seguin, James Neal and James Wisniewski to name a few. In just the past five years, 16 Whalers have been selected in the first round of the NHL Draft, including six first-round picks.
And that's where the Hurricanes expect and need Vellucci to make his biggest impact: as an evaluator of talent both in the NHL and the prospect ranks. While this is Vellucci's first front office job in the NHL, he does bring the experience of running a team from top to bottom. Couple that with Francis' apprenticeship under Rutherford and Carolina's new power pair has more going for it than it appears on the surface.
You can expect Vellucci's impact to be immediate: he will have an insight into the OHL that no one on the Hurricanes payroll can expect to have, and he has the connections to continue having that knowledge going forward.
Vellucci's new job in Raleigh may feel like par for the course, but don't be surprised if the Hurricanes notched a hole-in-one with this hire.