Views from the Press Box with Dan Weiss

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Everyone knows that old saying in sports that “…if you can’t beat them, join them!” Well, the Rampage have revised that saying a bit with their latest acquisition proclaiming that “…if you can’t beat them, sign them!” The Panthers made one of their bigger acquisitions likely destined for San Antonio this off-season last Friday by acquiring forward Casey Wellman from the New York Rangers in exchange for a fifth round draft pick in 2014. This is the second time that Wellman has been traded in the last six months, and while he has posted solid numbers in his AHL career with 37 goals and 82 points in 99 games over two seasons (mostly in Houston) and appeared in 41 NHL games as well, he doesn’t necessarily come with that “can’t miss prospect” tag as some of the other up-and-comers in the Florida system. So why then is this such a big trade? Wellman has feasted on the Rampage every time he has lined up against the Silver and Black. With nine goals and 12 points in 10 career games against San Antonio, Wellman has nearly 25% of entire AHL goal total and almost 15% of his combined AHL points against the Rampage alone. He struck for four goals on five shots in 5-3 Aeros win on Dec. 10, 2010 at Toyota Center, and last year waged an epic back-and-forth battle with Jon Matsumoto scoring two goals and adding an assist in an eventual 4-3 Rampage shootout win on Jan. 22 also at Toyota Center. One attribute Wellman arrives with is an athletic genealogy. His father Brad was an infielder for the Royals, Giants, and Dodgers in the 1980’s and appeared in 441 major league games. Wellman grew up in Northern California but moved to Michigan at age 14 to play high school hockey before eventually landing at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He left UMASS following his sophomore season in which he scored 23 goals and added 22 assists to sign a pro contract with the Minnesota Wild, and now will likely return to Texas to begin the upcoming season to hopefully fill the offensive void left by the departure of the Rampage’s top three scorers from a year ago. While he’s been hampered a bit by injuries and has yet to play a full season healthy, Panthers Assistant General Manager Mike Santos believes that Wellman can be a consistent 70-80 point scorer in the AHL. One thing that’s for certain is that he won’t be torturing the Rampage any time soon.

The Rampage made a couple of additional signings this week inking forwards Justin Vaive and rookie Josh Birkholz to AHL deals. Vaive landed his way on last season’s playoff roster after doing a nice job on the checking line for 10 games. Standing 6’6”, Vaive skates well for his size and showed that he wasn’t afraid to drop the mitts when necessary. If he can improve his offensive game at the AHL level, Vaive could be a nightly regular in the Rampage line-up. Birkholz was Florida’s third-round pick back in 2009 and, despite not signing an NHL entry-level contract, will remain in the Panthers system to begin his pro career. Birkholz led the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League last season with 29 goals and 57 points. He will challenge for a spot on the Rampage roster in training camp, but could start the season in ECHL Cincinnati.

Nice to the see the Syracuse Crunch ink a long-term lease with the city that will keep them playing in Onondaga County and upstate New York through the 2023-24 season. Minor league sports often seems to be synonymous with short-term instability so it’s nice to see that the Crunch, who are tied for the sixth longest current tenure in the AHL, be able to put any questions about their long term future to rest for a while. It’s been a good summer in Syracuse as the Crunch inked a new multi-year affiliation deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning whose previous affiliate in Norfolk ripped off 28 straight wins and captured the organization’s first Calder Cup in June.

Views From The Press Box Archieve
Week 1: June 15, 2012
Week 2: June 22, 2012
Week 3: June 29, 2012
Week 4: July 6, 2012
Week 5: July 13, 2012
Week 6: July 20, 2012

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