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Eminger reunited with junior coach DeBoer

by John McGourty
On the surface, the deal Wednesday that sent Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Steve Eminger to the Florida Panthers for defenseman Noah Welch and a third-round pick looks like an exchange of spare parts, but it could be exactly what's needed to restore Eminger to his former lofty status as the No. 12 selection in the 2002 Entry Draft.

The trade reunites Eminger with Panthers coach Peter DeBoer, with whom Eminger won the 2003 Memorial Cup as a member of the OHL Kitchener Rangers. Eminger has since struggled in his six-year NHL career.

Eminger, 25, is a 6-foot-2, 211-pound right-handed shooter.

The Capitals were a struggling team in 2003 when they rushed Eminger to the NHL. He wasn't successful and was returned to Kitchener for one more season of junior experience. Eminger had 2 goals and 27 assists to help drive Kitchener in the regular season and then he added 3 goals and 8 assists in 21 playoff games. Eminger was named to the Memorial Cup All-Star team.

He was also named to the OHL Second All-Star Team following both the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. Eminger also will rejoin Kitchener teammate Gregory Campbell in Florida.

Eminger suffered a concussion early in the 2003-04 season while with the Capitals and has had at least one other head injury. He split that season between Washington and the AHL Portland Pirates and then played for Portland during the work-stoppage season. He became a full-time member of the Capitals in 2005-06, when he had 5 goals and 13 assists. He had 1 goal and 16 assists the next season but struggled with an ankle injury early last season and fell out of favor with coach Bruce Boudreau.

The Capitals traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers on June 20, 2008, with a third-round draft pick in 2008 for the Flyers' first-round pick. He had 2 assists in 20 games for Philadelphia before being traded on Nov. 7, with Steve Downie and a fourth-round pick in 2009, for defenseman Matt Carle and a 2009 third-round pick.

Eminger had 4 goals and 19 assists for 23 points in 50 games for Tampa Bay. He ranked fifth on the Lightning in assists and power-play points.

He has 10 goals and 58 assists in 274 NHL games. His minus-48 career record could be a reflection of the weak teams he played with in Washington and Tampa Bay.

The difference between Eminger in juniors and the NHL has been astounding. In Kitchener, he controlled play, offensively and defensively. He was well positioned and strong on defense, and crafty with the puck on offense, quarterbacking the power play.

Until he joined the Lightning, Eminger showed little of those skills and even less confidence. Reuniting with DeBoer could be exactly what he needs.

Welch, 26, was taken in the second round, No. 54, in the 2001 Entry Draft out of St. Sebastian's Prep. He spent the next four years playing for Harvard and played his first professional season for the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2005-06 when he had 9 goals and 20 assists in 77 games. He played five games for the Pittsburgh Penguins that season.

Welch split the first half of the 2006-07 between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre before being traded to the Panthers for Gary Roberts on Feb. 27, 2007. He finished the year with the AHL Rochester Americans. Welch suffered a shoulder injury in October 2007 and missed most of last season. He had 1 goal and 1 assist in 23 games with Florida this season.

Welch is a 6-foot-4, 218-pound left-hand shooter. He is not as physical as his size implies and he hasn't shown the offensive skills in the pros that he had in college.

Eminger will be an unrestricted free agent this summer while Welch will be a restricted free agent.

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