PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. -- It takes perhaps an hour and a half to drive from Wilkes-Barre to Philadelphia.
Noah Welch took the circuitous route and was happy to do so.
The defenseman was with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins on their way to Chicago for a weekend series when he got the call from the Penguins that he was being promoted to replace injured defenseman Josef Melichar.
The Penguins were in South Florida after playing the Panthers Wednesday night.
So Welch made a long trek south, staying just long enough to skate with the NHL club once before heading with them yesterday to Philadelphia, where the Penguins play this afternoon.
"I basically just came in for practice," Welch said after the workout yesterday. "It worked out great, though, because I have family down here."
Welch arrived Thursday afternoon and spent the rest of the day at the Miami home of his brother, Keith, baby-sitting his niece and nephews while the Penguins had a day off. He then traveled to near Fort Lauderdale for practice.
Melichar is expected to miss three to four weeks because of a sprained medial collateral ligament sustained in the Penguins' 5-2 loss Wednesday at Florida.
Welch was paired with defenseman Alain Nasreddine in practice.
Welch's journey to join the Penguins for the third time can't be counted just in frequent-flyer miles or highway markers.
It's one better measured in how well Welch, who is 6 feet 4 and 212 pounds, plays at both ends of the rink when he's with the NHL club and how comfortable he feels.
There's been a sharp contrast in his productivity this season with Wilkes-Barre and with the Penguins. He has played 18 games for each team, getting five goals, 12 assists and being plus-5 for the American Hockey League affiliate, just one goal and one assist and minus-1 for the Penguins.
"He was playing well at Wilkes-Barre," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "I watched him play a game at Christmas time. I thought he was pretty solid, and we got a great report on him."
The former Harvard player had a brief NHL debut last season, getting a goal and three assists in five games.
He didn't have a great training camp and opened this season with Wilkes-Barre before being promoted Oct. 23 as the Penguins anticipated sending defenseman Kris Letang back to his junior team.
On Dec. 4, Welch was returned to Wilkes-Barre, with Therrien saying he needed to play more and regain his confidence.
"When I got sent down, my confidence was a little down," Welch said. "It's a little better now.
"It was probably a combination of things. I knew I wasn't playing my best, and then your ice time goes down.
"When you're not getting out there on a regular shift, you don't want to make a mistake and you start playing to avoid mistakes, and you can't be doing that."
Welch played well enough with the Baby Penguins to be named a starter for the AHL All-Star game later this month -- a game he would be happy to have to miss if he is in the NHL.
"I'm happy with the results I got while I was there," he said, adding that he is not the type of player who frets over a trip to the minor leagues.
"It's part of a process," Welch said. "It's only my second year of pro. It's all still a learning experience.
"I wasn't traumatized or anything like that. I know it happens. As long as you deal with it and use it as positive, you're going to be OK. There's plenty of guys on the team who have gone through the same thing and have responded well and are NHLers now. If you have a good attitude about it, you can use it to your advantage."
There's little doubt Welch will get to play plenty, at least in the short term. For now, the Penguins have just six healthy defensemen.
Welch is looking forward to playing with Nasreddine, a former teammate in Wilkes-Barre.
"We kind of had a seesaw effect," Welch said.
"Every time he went up, I went down, and every time I was down, he came up. So I haven't played an NHL game with him."
Now he'll get that chance -- and perhaps the chance to stick in the NHL for good if he plays well enough.
"It's another opportunity, that's what it is," Welch said. "I don't know what their plans are. All I can do is control my play."Rick Stewart, Getty Images
An injury to Josef Melichar has opened the door for Noah Welch's return to the Penguins.
Click photo for larger image.
Matchup: Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers, 2:08 p.m. today, Wachovia Center, Philadelphia.
TV, radio: WPXI, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Antero Niittymaki for Flyers.
Penguins: Have lost three games in row. ... Are 4-0 vs. Flyers this season by a combined 23-8. ... C Sidney Crosby has 29 points (14 goals, 15 assists) in 13 career games vs. Philadelphia, with at least one point in 12 of the 13 games and at least two in the past seven games.
Flyers: Have lost five games in a row. ... Have won three home games, lowest in NHL. ... Niittymaki has lost past 12 decisions (0-11-1).
Hidden stat: The Flyers' 11-28-4 record through 41 games is their worst half-season in team history.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721.