Josh Wesley - Destined for the Canes’

Author: Carlos Preza, for PHPA.com
Date: Oct 27, 2017

When examining the careers of most professional hockey players, a noticeable aspect of their journey is that they almost all travel down an unpredictable path that consists of many teams, cities, and changes along the way.  This trend has been no different for 21-year-old Josh Wesley of the American Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers.  Unlike many of his AHL peers though, it seems Wesley was destined for a chance to play with the Checkers’ National Hockey League parent club, the Carolina Hurricanes. 

Wesley was born in Hartford, CT.  At the time of his birth, his father Glen, was a member of the Hartford Whalers.  The following year, the Whalers relocated to Greensboro, NC and became the Carolina Hurricanes.  After a brief time in Greensboro, the team moved to a new arena in the state capital of Raleigh where Josh would begin his hockey career and set a goal of one day playing in the NHL for the Carolina Hurricanes, like his dad. 

His ascent through hockey began with the Jr. Hurricanes program, and soon thereafter moved on to join the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (NTDP).  He grew up playing center but switched to defence during his midget year, and it was with the NTDP where Josh started to hone his skills as a blueliner.

Wesley admitted he wasn’t keen on the idea of switching to defence. “At first I was hesitant, but I pushed through it,” he said.  “Between the US program and my major junior career, I developed really well on defence.” 

As he began to receive scholarship offers from NCAA schools, Wesley was drafted by the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, and soon made the decision to skip the collegiate route, joining Plymouth for the 2013-14 season.  “I chose the major junior route based on the positive experiences I had watching Plymouth games and the confidence shown by then Plymouth head coach Mike Vellucci in my ability to develop into a top defenceman.”

One year later, at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Wesley was selected in the fourth round by his hometown Carolina Hurricanes, making him the first player to be drafted out of the state of North Carolina.

“It was a huge honor, honestly,” Wesley said of being drafted by the team so close to his heart. “It’s always been a goal of mine to make the big team in Carolina, and for them to draft me was unbelievable.”

Wesley spent the 2014-15 season with Plymouth, and even made his professional debut in a game with the Checkers. The following season, Wesley began the year with the Flint Firebirds (the relocated Whalers) before being traded to the Niagara IceDogs midway through the season.  Wesley would post his best major junior numbers to date with 18 points and a plus/minus of +7 in just 57 games and was a key contributor in a long playoff run by the IceDogs. 

After three seasons in the OHL, Wesley made the leap to the professional level full-time in 2016-17.  Though he spent some time with the Checkers, Wesley played the majority of the season with Charlotte’s ECHL affiliate, the Florida Everblades.

Though the challenge of moving from team to team is difficult, Wesley never lets the transient nature of hockey get to him.

“It’s nerve-racking having to change teams, but I’ve been fortunate to know a few guys everywhere I’ve gone, and they made the adjustments easier by introducing me to everyone else on the teams,” Wesley said. “I love the camaraderie around the rink and teammates end up being like brothers, so it really makes going to play hockey anywhere a fun time.”

For Wesley, the difference in skill level and hockey sense between the junior and pro level was pronounced.

“In major junior, you may have some players who are always in the right spots, but not everyone is at the same skill level.  At the pro level, most of the guys know where they are supposed to be, so it makes it easier to jump into the rush and trust that guys will be in the right spots.”

Wesley spent nine games with the Checkers and 48 with the Everblades in his rookie year. In those 48 games, Wesley tallied 29 points and was +19.  His single-year point total almost matched his cumulative points haul for his entire OHL career. 

The increase in offence was the result of his desire to become a better two-way defenceman – one capable of shutting down opponents, but also joining in offensively to produce points. This desire drove Wesley to study NHL film and tailor his training and practices in a way that would lead him closer to achieving that goal.

Wesley believes that having his first professional season under his belt will aid in his development with the Checkers as he continues to aspire to join the Hurricanes.   Wesley also credits his time in the ECHL with preparing him for a jump to the next level.

“Being able to put up those numbers in Florida was a huge confidence boost,” Wesley said. “Coming into training camp for Charlotte this year, the extra confidence made it a lot easier to deal with the higher level of play." 

This past June, Wesley represented the Florida Everblades at the Professional Hockey Players’ Association Annual Meeting of Player Representatives, and is continuing to serve as a Player Representative on behalf of his teammates in Charlotte.

“I had a lot of questions in my first year as a pro and the main advice I always received when seeking help from my teammates was to get the guys over at the PHPA to help. I didn’t know much about them, but after receiving so much help, I decided that I wanted to become a Player Rep so I could learn more about the organization and help my teammates.”

Wesley says the recent PHPA Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida was a great bonding experience.

“It was an absolute blast.  It was awesome meeting other player reps that you compete so hard against on the ice and becoming good friends with them off the ice.  I learned a ton and highly recommend it to other players.”

As Wesley continues to work hard to improve his game, he remains confident that he is on the right path to transitioning into not only an effective AHL player, but also one who will be able to succeed at the NHL level. Though Wesley has always held his conditioning to a high standard, this past off-season he decided that it would be more beneficial to also focus heavily on his skating and his physical strength.

“I worked hard at bulking up over the summer, and now I feel more comfortable skating because I have filled out more and grown into my body.”

While Wesley’s journey in hockey has seen him develop from team to team, switching positions, and having to adjust to new environments, the commitment he makes to improving his game has remained constant. As he continues to grow as a professional, it’s quite possible the kid from Raleigh, North Carolina will come full circle and live out his dream of playing for his hometown Carolina Hurricanes. 

 

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