Beneath the commotion around Ron Francis' promotion to general manager, junior league dynasty coach Mike Vellucci may slip in quietly to the Carolina Hurricanes' new assistant GM position.
Vellucci, 47, has dominated the Canadian junior leagues for the past 14 years, coaching the OHL's Plymouth Whalers (also owned by Carolina owner Peter Karmanos) to six West Division titles and nine second-round postseason appearances in 13 seasons (he took most of 2007-08 off).
He's produced five NHL first-round selections the past four years, including 2010 No. 2 pick Tyler Seguin.
He's worked with a number of current Hurricanes players and prospects including Brett Bellemore, Justin Peters, Chris Terry, Michal Jordan, Beau Schmitz and Austin Levi.
And Monday, he was handed a massive new job with the NHL franchise he has long maintained ties with, taking over one of two assistant GM openings—along with more experienced NHL front office man Brian Tatum—as well as the Director of Hockey Operations position.
Vellucci is taking over the same roles held by Francis the past three seasons and has a strong relationship with the team's new GM.
Said Francis of Vellucci at Monday's press conference:
He's dabbled in all facets of their business from the draft to their coaching to being their general manager. I think he even ran the building up there. He's got a lot of, not only hockey experience but business experience. I'm looking forward to working with Mike as he's eager to take on the next challenge in his career.
But Vellucci also brings a fresh perspective and a habit of success to the 'Canes organization, which is decidedly lacking in both of those regards.
During his time in Plymouth, the Whalers consistently remained one of the powers of the OHL, recording 398 wins, 218 losses, 38 overtime losses and 36 ties in 690 regular-season games.
Vellucci won OHL Coach of the Year in 2006-07, leading Plymouth to a franchise record 65-18-2-3 combined record and a league title. He also worked directly with a number of future NHL superstars over the years, from Columbus' James Wisniewski (70 points in 50 games in 2003-04) to Pittsburgh's James Neal (who scored 65 points in 45 games in 2006-07) and Dallas' Seguin (103 points in 63 games in 2009-10).
"It's been a good, long 14 years," Vellucci told George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press. "Hopefully I've put a good product on the ice for them and made them proud to be Whaler fans."
Now Vellucci will be working with—albeit indirectly—such superstars as Eric Staal, Alexander Semin, Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk. He'll be part of Francis' new "cabinet," advising on NHL personnel transactions.
He'll be helping on the scouting side, too, making trips much like Francis' voyage to Finland last week that delayed the Rutherford resignation announcement.
Said Vellucci to Tim Smith of the Observer & Eccentric on Monday:
You get out what you put into it and I pride myself on being a loyal employee, and somebody that works hard every day. In return, people will take notice. And being able to work in the National Hockey League has been a dream of mine. To work with somebody like Ron Francis is a very prestigious thing and a cool thing. I’m proud I’m getting the opportunity.
In the face of criticism that this spring's changes are more of an reorganization than a rebuilding—Rutherford is staying as president, Francis and Tatum were both already part of the franchise, and the disliked Karmanos is moving to Raleigh from Detroit to take over the team's business operations—Vellucci's unfamiliar face may earn him a warm welcome from Day 1 on.
He clearly knows how to make a team win from behind the bench. That much is certain.
Now the biggest challenge of his career lies ahead: translating that experience and legacy to the front office of an NHL franchise.
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