2014 NHL Draft: Josh Wesley finally breaks the glass ceiling for NC-raised players

Josh Wesley will now have his own Hurricanes jersey. - Used with permission of CarolinaHurricanes.com

A little before noon on Saturday, Josh Wesley made history as the first player trained in North Carolina to be selected at the NHL Draft.

PHILADELPHIA - Seventeen years after the Carolina Hurricanes moved to North Carolina, the state has produced its first NHL draft pick.

Of course, Josh Wesley's pedigree is a little different than most, being the son of an NHL defenseman himself. But regardless, it was a watershed moment for hockey in the Old North State when general manager Ron Francis called Wesley's name with the Canes' first of two fourth-round picks, 96th overall, in the 2014 NHL Draft on Saturday.

For a kid who had Hurricanes paraphernalia on his wall growing up, it was a dream come true.

"I am absolutely so blessed to have this jersey on right now," Wesley said. "When I first walked in, I was in awe that I was actually here. And then when your name gets called, it's that much more special. I'm on cloud nine right now."

Wesley was one year old when he moved from Hartford to Raleigh. He was five when Canes senior director of communications Mike Sundheim started working for the team, a fact that caused Sundheim - who is not an old guy by any stretch - to simply shake his head in reminiscing about the young boy he first met when Wesley was in preschool.

And at ten, he was on the ice when his father hoisted the Stanley Cup after eighteen long years of waiting, an honor that he wouldn't mind having for himself.

"I had tears running down my face [in 2006]. I felt the connection of how hard it is to win the Cup, so to get the opportunity to play on the team, I'll work my tail off to help out the team in any way I can."

There had been widespread speculation that the Canes would draft Wesley, a 6'3", 195-pound defenseman who played last year for new Canes assistant general manager Mike Vellucci with the OHL's Plymouth Whalers.  When the Canes' two straight fourth-round picks came up without Wesley being drafted, their choice was easy.

Canes scouting director Tony MacDonald said that despite the public-relations aspect to drafting the son of a former player, the team made its decision based on Wesley's merits as a player.

"I wouldn't want to give the impression that it was only because [Glen] was a Hurricane and Josh was his son," said MacDonald. "I interviewed Josh myself in Toronto and found him to be an outstanding young man with some good physical tools. He's growing and developing as a player. He's got size and reach, and he's a competitive kid."

Even discounting Wesley's lineage, he fits in with Francis' game plan this year.  The Canes drafted seven players, all of whom are listed by the NHL as at least six feet tall. While some players will need to bulk up to handle the rigors of the NHL, the trend toward bigger players is unmistakeable.

Asked to compare himself to his father, though, Wesley said there are a few differences that Canes fans will notice that set him apart.

"My mom would say that we skate exactly the same," he said, no doubt providing Mrs. Wesley a bit of cover from having to pick one over the other. "He was a little bit more offensive when he was a lot younger, but he would tell me that I'm a little smarter defensively than he was at my age. He was a very special player who played 20 years, so to get that opportunity would be amazing.

Wesley's drafting is a validation of all the work the Canes have done over the past seventeen years to ingrain themselves in the local hockey development community.  In addition, it's further proof that the league's plan to grow the game in non-traditional markets in the 1990s is paying off.  Players like Jeff Halpern, a child of the '70s Capitals, and Jonathan Blum, Emerson Etem and Beau Bennett, legacies of the Gretzky-led Kings in the 1990s, are well known in hockey circles for their trailblazing.

Now, Wesley has the chance to add North Carolina to the list, and he didn't forget to thank the coaches who shepherded him through the youth programs in the Triangle while he was at the podium.

"Colin Muldoon, Mike O'Leary, a bunch of different coaches, helped me through so much," he said. "Coach Colin was the one who put me on D to start. They're always going to be there for you, trying to put you through to the next level. I got here from Raleigh, so that can speak volumes of how hard they're pushing guys."

Other North Carolina players, including Cary goalie Logan Halliday and Raleigh defenseman Trevor Owens, were eligible for this year's draft, but Wesley was the only one drafted.  Still, having multiple players from North Carolina on the NHL's radar is a testament to the state's nascent hockey development pipeline.

Despite sharing a name with one of the most popular Hurricanes of all time, Josh Wesley knows that this is his opportunity to blaze his own path. "I'm going to be proving that I can be my own player and not have to constantly be compared to him," he said. "There's going to be a little pressure playing under his banner, but I'm going to make myself my own player and just work hard all the time."

"We're two different people, and I'm going to play my own game."

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