Noah Welch has an identity on the ice.
Now, he’s working on improving it at Penguins rookie camp.
“It’s funny; I have been playing this game since I was 5, but probably until last year when I talked to Coach Therrien and Coach Yeo, I really didn’t have an identity as a player,” he said. “Am I completely offensive? Am I a two-way? When I got called up last year, the coaches told me how they wanted me to play and I was pretty happy with the results.
“Knowing kind of what I need to do to be successful at this level helps a lot because I can focus on that more. And, a lot of times, that’s not making the fancy play. It’s getting the puck out of the zone and maybe hopping in the play once in a while.
“Sometimes, less is better.”
Welch is keeping his game simple – and successful – at rookie camp, in preparation for the Penguins’ main training camp, which opens Thursday.
“I am just trying to kind of put things in perspective this whole week and just making sure that I am working hard and working on little things I need to bring into the next camp,” he said. “I think the coaches have done a good job. They are beating us up a little bit, but not too much. Just enough to push us, but they are not overbearing. It’s been a great camp so far and we’re learning a lot. I think that’s huge.”
Welch, the Penguins’ 2001 second-round pick, is using his size – 6-foot-4, 212 lbs. – to clear people out of the defensive zone and his skill to keep pucks out of the net.
“I have to be a big body out there and kind of throw my weight around. The first thing is, to keep the puck out of the net, I have to keep it out of the zone, if I can,” he said. “I also can skate fairly well. If the option is there to maybe jump up in the play and add some offense, I will sometimes. We have guys up front who can put the puck in the net and they don’t need me jumping up every play because I probably won’t score much. My goal is my defensive zone and I take pride in that. If I can contribute on offense in some way, I will, but it’s d-zone first for me.”
In his first professional season last year, Welch finished with 29 points (9+20) and 99 penalty minutes in 77 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL. He started on defense for the World USA squad at the 2006 RBK Hockey AHL/All-Star Classic as well.
He made his NHL debut with the Penguins, too, on March 24. He played five games with Pittsburgh and totaled four points (1+3) and two penalty minutes in addition to solid defensive play that left fans excited for Welch’s future.
And, rookie camp observers note Welch’s game is only getting better, even though he’s playing against younger players.
“There are a lot of young guys here and I feel like an old man and it’s only my second professional year; it’s kind of humbling,” said Welch, who is 24. “When you see a guy who is younger than you that maybe doesn’t have as much experience and he’s going hard, it pushes you – you don’t have a choice.
“I tip my hat to everyone here because everyone is going hard and competing in a good way that shows a lot of character,” he continued. “They are not competing to make another guy look bad or get an edge that way. They are all competing to make themselves and everyone else better. Everyone here has made me a better player this week, including the coaches.”
Like the youngster at rookie camp, Welch will battle to earn a spot on the Penguins’ roster once that training camp opens. He knows that competition will benefit everyone.
“You have to take a step back. As competitive as it is, we’re all part of this thing and it is kind of a family,” he said. “I think that’s what Mr. Shero wants – to build chemistry throughout the entire organization – and I think that’s what we have been doing. For training camp, as a second-year player, if I can give it a go and it pushes the veteran guys a little bit, that just helps the organization out.”
Nevertheless, Welch’s future is bright. As one of the team’s top young prospects, he figures to be a solid contributor for many years.
“We’re on the right path I think, for sure,” he said. “I am very excited about the future of this organization and I think little things like [healthy competition] can help out a lot.”