When Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos called Mike Vellucci "a better coach today than three or four guys now coaching in the NHL," the clock started ticking on the end of his time with the OHL's Plymouth Whalers.
On Monday, as part of a long-rumoured front office reshuffling where Hall of Famer Ron Francis was installed as Carolina general manager, Vellucci was named the Hurricanes assistant GM and director of hockey operations. While it's not the coaching job many foresaw the 47-year-old two-time OHL coach of the year ascending to sooner rather than later, it's a coup for Vellucci. It also sounds as if the Hurricanes coveted Vellucci's versatility acumen with player development.
"Mike's actually a former teammate of mine," Francis said during a press conference in Raleigh, N.C.. "He's been very successful running the Plymouth Whalers in the Ontario Hockey League for years. 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."
The Whalers have been a model franchise in many aspects over Vellucci's tenure. No fewer than five Whalers were first-round NHL picks over the last four drafts, including the Washington Capitals' Tom Wilson, Anaheim Ducks' Rickard Rakell and Dallas Stars' Tyler Seguin, who are each on the way to becoming established big-leaguers. Vellucci has also had several special projects who blossomed into NHL prospects (think Mitchell Heard, who became a Colorado Avalanche second-rounder after being passed over for the NHL draft twice).
It's a credit to the coach that he handed over the keys to the Whalers while the club is partway into a building cycle, rather than at square one. This season, Vellucci also managed to steer the Whalers franchise to its 23rd consecutive playoff appearance despite having 15 newcomers, including all four of his centres. While there aren't a lot of certainties in the junior hockey world, one could always count on Vellucci's Plymouth teams giving a honest accounting, regardless of the raw material the multitasking coach had to work with.
The OHL will definitely be less colourful without Vellucci behind the Whalers bench. There's a pretty good legacy there, plus being the one who called the London Knights "the New York Yankees of the OHL" while a lot of people were listening will long outlast him.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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