PHILADELPHIA -- From a story standpoint, the script could not have been written more perfectly.
Defenseman Josh Wesley, son of Carolina Hurricanes’ great Glen, was selected in the fourth round by the Hurricanes. Wesley becomes North Carolina’s first homegrown player to be drafted into the National Hockey League, 17 years after the team arrived in the state.
“I’m so blessed to have this jersey on right now,” Wesley said with an inerasable smile on his face. “Growing up, this was my favorite team to watch. I had Hurricanes stuff.”
It is, indeed, the early part of Josh’s life that makes this day so memorable. Josh was raised in North Carolina, as his father, of course, logged 10 seasons with the Hurricanes. Josh was first on skates as a young boy in the Triangle with fellow draftee Kasperi Kapanen as part of a Mice on Ice program in Cary.
Today, Wesley joined the team he grew up watching.
“I got here from Raleigh, so that really speaks volumes about how hard they’re pushing guys,” Wesley said of the RYHA's Jr. Hurricanes, as he joined the program at its infancy to see it to the burgeoning organization it has become today.
After playing with the United States National Team Development Program as a 16-year-old, Wesley chose the junior hockey path over the collegiate path, just like his dad did with the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League.
Playing under then Plymouth head coach and now Canes Assistant General Manager Mike Vellucci, Wesley completed his first full season in the Ontario Hockey League in 2013-14, skating in 68 games.
“He was an absolutely great coach to me. When I was there, he had a lot of faith in me, and he put me in a lot of situations,” Wesley said of Vellucci. “I pushed myself, and he always had faith in me.”
The NHL’s Central Scouting Service listed Wesley 79th among North American skaters in their midterm rankings. Though that position would drop in the final rankings, Wesley was still figured to be a mid-round draft pick come this weekend.
“I’ve been enjoying the experience and everything going on,” Wesley said. “When I first walked in, I was in awe that I was actually here. When your name gets called, it’s that much more special. I’m on cloud nine right now.”
Wesley’s connection the crest he bore on his chest is obvious, but that wasn’t the reason the Hurricanes picked him 96th overall.
“I interviewed Josh myself in Toronto and found him to be an outstanding young man,” said Tony MacDonald, the Canes head of amateur scouting. “He’s a fine man with some good physical tools. He’s growing and developing as a player. He had a pretty solid season in Plymouth, and we think that he’ll continue to grow and develop as a player.”
“He’s just a great kid,” said Canes Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis. “It was neat for us to see a kid come to the table just so excited to be a part of the Carolina Hurricanes.”
And Wesley is eager to carve his own career path.
“I’m going to be proving that I can be my own player,” Wesley said. “My mom and a lot of people would say that we skate exactly the same. He was a little more offensive when he was younger. He’ll tell me that I’m a little smarter defensively than he was at my age. But he was a very special player who played for 20 years. Even to get that opportunity would be amazing.
“There’s going to be a little bit of pressure if I make the team playing under his banner,” Wesley continued. “But we’re two different people, and I’m going to play my own game.”
Quite the lasting image for a hockey-playing youngster, a 10-year-old Josh and his family streamed onto the ice to celebrate Glen and the Hurricanes winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. Being drafted into the NHL gets Wesley one step closer to achieving that ultimate goal of every hockey player.
“When the Canes won in ‘06, I had tears running down my face because I felt the connection of how hard it is to win the Cup,” Wesley said. “If I get an opportunity to play on the team, I’d work my tail off to help the team in any way I can.”
From being a young, Hurricanes jersey-wearing fan to being an NHL prospect wearing an actual Hurricanes sweater at the Draft, Wesley has paved a new trail for young hockey players in North Carolina.
“He wanted to play in the National Hockey League, but he really wanted to be a Carolina Hurricane,” Francis said. “I was glad that it worked out that way today.”