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Making The Steps And Making A Difference

by Glenn Odebralski / Florida Panthers
Casey Wellman skates up the ice against the Dallas Stars in San Antonio's season opener on October 13th. (Darren Abate, San Antonio Rampage team photographer)

It’s like a recurring dream…except in the AHL, it's reality.

With the way the AHL schedule is set up, teams in the same division play each other 12 times during a 76-game season. Last season, as a member of the Houston Aeros, Casey Wellman and his teammates saw San Antonio often as the two teams clashed as part of the West Division.

"It is kind of funny because when I was with Houston, it was like 'who are we playing this week? We got San Antonio at least once'", joked Wellman last month following a training session. "Playing against them, you kind of get to know (the opponents) a little bit too.

"I think it will be a good experience and I think playing Houston will be funny. I still have some good friends on that team. It will be fun."

Funny? Sure. Victorious. Take one of 12 between the two, now newly re-named South Division opponents.

Just two games into the 2012-13 season and Wellman has already done damage to his "good friends".

After torching the Rampage to the tune of 12 points (nine goals) in 10 career games, the forward returned the favor against his old team. Stationed inside the Houston zone with less than seven minutes to play in regulation and a game tied at two, the forward got the puck and found Colby Robak who was coming into the zone with a cross-ice pass. The blueliner blasted it top shelf for what would be the game-winner in San Antonio's first victory of the season this past Sunday.

Signed as a college free agent by Minnesota in 2010 after putting up 33 and 45 point for UMass-Amherst, the Brentwood, CA native was deemed by many as a quality signing; one that can provide offense to a team, given the chance.

After making his NHL debut while recording an assist on March 19, 2010 at Columbus and recording his first NHL goal on April 10, 2010 against Dallas, Wellman finished the 2009-10 season with four points in 12 games for the Wild. In 2010-11 he split time once again between the clubs, posting 35 points with Houston (42 games) and two points in 15 games with Minnesota. Wellman spent the 2011-12 season with three teams as he was traded mid season. He had posted 25 points in 26 games with Houston and another seven in 14 games before being traded to the NY Rangers. He spent the rest of the season with their AHL affiliate, the Connecticut Whale where he posted 22 points in 31 games.

This past summer, Wellman was once again on the move as Panthers GM Dale Tallon acquired him on July 20 in exchange for a fifth round selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The forward was extremely excited to join the Panthers organization.

"It's great," said Wellman. "This organization has obviously made a big step last season, going to the playoffs. It was good because from what I heard, it brought a lot of fans back...everything I heard about this organization is top notch and they treat the players well so I think that's great."

Wellman fights for the puck against the Stars (Darren Abate, San Antonio Rampage team photographer)

Not only did the Panthers make the playoffs, but so did the Rampage. San Antonio in fact made it to the second round as they dispatched the Chicago Wolves in a thrilling five-game series that went to double overtime to net a winner.

With posting 82 points in 99 games (37-45-82), Wellman is expected to help provide an offensive punch.

"I've got some speed and I like to say I'm an offensive player," said Wellman.

While he will provide that to the Rampage this season, he's got his eye on becoming a complete player.

"In the NHL you need to make sure you're a solid two-way player," said Wellman. "That's something I've been working on the last few years of being a pro."

Competing in the AHL, the just turned 25-year old (born Oct. 18, 1987) knows first hand what the league can do for a young player.

"The AHL. It's a great league," said Wellman. "It's a developmental league. Guys are trying to get better but it's competitive every night and I think it truly does make players better."

That development, along with a leaning on by the San Antonio staff for the time being will help Wellman in the future with the Panthers.

"Really I'm just looking forward to a good opportunity," said Wellman. "I think I'm ready to make the steps."

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