By Thomas Harrington
Andy Welinski completed his first professional hockey season this past year. He was selected back in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and is the only player that Anaheim selected that year who has yet to make his NHL debut. For a lot of players that would be a problem, but considering the depth that Anaheim has had on its blueline and in its prospect system over the last several years, they’ve been able to be extremely patient with Welinski, and it’s helped his development. He played for the San Diego Gulls and became one of their more reliable defenders as the season went on.
Welinski had actually made his AHL debut at the end of the 2015-2016 season when he skated in five regular season games at the end of the season, as well as eight playoff games. That experience helped him get ready for this season when he skated in 63 of San Diego’s 68 games and scored six goals and 29 points. For a player not known for his offensive abilities, those are pretty good numbers for a rookie defenseman. The 29 points was a higher offensive total than any Welinski had in any of his four NCAA seasons. Among AHL rookie defensemen, he ranked ninth in goals, assists, and points. Welinski also holds a surprising San Diego distinction. Since the team moved from Norfolk two years ago, only one player has recorded a hat trick: Welinski. At the end of March, Welinski had three goals in his rookie campaign, a pretty good number for him. The Gulls were in Tucson to close out the month, and Welinski had a night that he’ll never forget. He scored San Diego’s fourth goal of the first period to give the Gulls a commanding 4-0 lead less than seven minutes into the contest. He followed that up by scoring a goal in both the second and third periods, giving him the hat trick and helping lead the Gulls to an 8-2 victory. He also assisted on Kevin Roy’s first-period goal, giving him a career high four points that night. Welinski also played in all 10 of the Gulls’ playoff games and recorded three assists, all of them against Ontario in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Gulls struggled against San Jose in the second round, and Welinski was no exception.
A year ago, I said that I just wanted to see Welinski play as many games as he could; by playing in all but five games this past season, Welinski easily met my expectations for his rookie campaign. I also hoped that he’d get time in San Diego’s top four and carve out a spot for himself on the Gulls’ special teams. It took a little while, but with Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour seeing so much time in Anaheim, Welinski was given more ice time and became a dependable player on the powerplay and penalty kill. For his freshman campaign, Welinski did all that I hoped for and more, a great sign of how he’s developed and how patience has paid off for the Ducks.
This coming season, Welinski will be counted on to be one of San Diego’s top defensive players from the start of the season. With Theodore in Vegas and Montour almost assuredly in Anaheim for most, if not all, of the season, the Gulls have lost their two big guns on defense. The team still has Jaycob Megna and Keaton Thompson from last season, as well as the recently signed Steve Olesky, and will likely have rookies Jacob Larsson and Marcus Pettersson, but there are some big shoes to fill with Theodore and Montour gone. Given Welinski’s growth last season, he’s one of the prime candidates to step up and see more ice time. I’d like to see him break the 30 point mark, while still being a dependable defensive presence whenever he’s on the ice. It would also be great if he made his NHL debut this season.
Welinski was drafted six years ago, and if he wants to make it to the NHL, he’s going to need to take that step sooner rather than later. The Ducks have never had an entire draft year play at least one game in the NHL. So far, Rickard Rakell, John Gibson, William Karlsson, Joseph Cramarossa, Max Friberg, and Josh Manson, who represent six of the seven players taken in 2011, have all played at least one NHL game. Amazingly enough, all have played at least one game for the Ducks. If Welinski does make his NHL debut this season or future seasons, 2011 can be looked back on as arguably the best draft year in Anaheim history. It already could be, but if Welinski can make his way to the NHL, it could really cement its status. However, he’s got his work cut out for him. As has been the case for the last few seasons, Anaheim has a very deep defensive core. Even with Theodore and Clayton Stoner gone, the Ducks still have a stacked blueline. However, injuries will happen, and if they do, Welinski could get his chance, just as Manson did a couple of seasons ago.
In terms of his NHL future, Welinski won’t ever be a top pairing defenseman. However, he could become a solid fourth or fifth guy who gets some time on the penalty kill unit. He’s not an amazing player at any one aspect of the game, but he is a very safe player who makes smart plays with and without the puck. He’s not overly physical but is a good skater who moves the puck well. He’s come along way in the last couple of seasons, and now he needs to show that he’s ready for the NHL.
Welinski is signed for one more year and will be a restricted free agent next season. Assuming he has another solid year for the Gulls, I fully expect him to get an extension in a year’s time. It won’t be a long term one, and it will probably be a two-way deal again, but the Ducks seem happy with his development. However, if he feels like he won’t get a chance in Anaheim because of their defensive depth, he could ask to not be qualified or request a trade as he tries to make it to the NHL.
My next prospect update will be on Julius Nattinen.
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July 30th, 2017