Noah Welch has come full circle.
It’s been a long journey for the defenseman, who last played an NHL game on April 11, 2009 (ironically against the Thrashers).
After coming back from knee surgery and playing an abbreviated AHL season last year, Welch will wear a Thrashers uniform for the first time in a regular-season game Wednesday against the Rangers. With Zach Bogosian and Freddy Meyer out with injury, Welch was the player the team re-called from AHL Chicago.
“It’s really humbling,” Welch said. “I was thinking about it yesterday. I signed my first NHL contract in Florida and that was supposed to be my breakthrough as an NHL defenseman. It didn’t work out. It’s been a long road with surgeries. I feel very blessed to see how God’s guided my career.”
There was one big benefit from spending time in Chicago. Welch met his wife there last year.
“I didn’t want to be in Chicago at all,” Welch said. “It’s just another reminder of how blessed I am.”
Welch didn’t want to be in Chicago this year, either. He appeared in just one exhibition game with the Thrashers before being re-assigned to the AHL.
“I’m not going to lie, it was tough when I got sent down,” Welch said. “I thought I played well and I was hoping to get another [exhibition] game in. I know that there are a lot of guys that are worthy and deserve to be in my position right now. I’m very grateful to be here. We are all competitors and when I got sent down I was disappointed but I also knew that there was a chance [to return to the Thrashers] and they made it clear that there was. I knew it was a numbers game and that’s how the business is. If it’s not here it could be somewhere else. I obviously wanted it to be here. I’m very happy that it is. I knew if I played well, someone would give me an opportunity. There are four or five guys that could be in this spot so I’m very grateful for this opportunity.”
Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay said the organization considered bringing up a young prospect. Arturs Kulda or Alexei Zubarev would have been such candidates. However, Welch’s training camp performance and 73 games of NHL experience were the determining factors.
“He only played one game in the preseason, but he played very well,” Ramsay said. “We were looking at perhaps a couple of the younger defenseman, but he played extremely well in the game. They said he’s playing extremely well in Chicago. He’s the guy that deserves the chance to play, so he’s here.”
Welch was a second-round pick of Florida in 2001. He has also appeared in games with Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay before signing with the Thrashers as a free agent last July. He spent most of the season rehabbing from knee surgery.
The length of Welch’s stay with the Thrashers will be determined on the recovery of Bogosian (shoulder) and Meyer (mid-body). Bogosian will miss his sixth straight game. Meyer hasn’t practiced since Saturday’s game at Washington. Neither made the trip to New York. Welch is still happy to back.
“[The call-up] reminded me when I was a rookie getting the call for the first time,” Welch said. “You almost feel like a rookie again with all the injuries and where I’ve been in the minors for the last few years. I was like a little kid again. I called my family. Everybody was excited. I had to remind myself that I do have some NHL experience and not to get too excited.”
In other news from Wednesday’s morning skate:
* Jim Slater will be a healthy scratch for tonight’s game against the Rangers. Ramsay said it wasn’t anything more than a number’s issue with the return of Nik Antropov after his day off.
“Antro took a night off and he’s coming back in,” Ramsay said. “We have an extra player that we truly believe can play. We are going to move some people in and out. We play three in four and you are going to move some people. It isn’t that we don’t like some one, it’s that there is another body and we want to keep everybody as busy as we can. At some point, someone is out. It’s unfortunate, but that’s part of the business.”
* The Thrashers tweaked their line combinations again with Anthony Stewart moving to play with Eric Boulton and Rich Peverley.
* The defensive pairings remain the same with Welch playing with Johnny Oduya in place of Bogosian and Meyer.