Twenty-year-old Alex Grant is just getting his feet wet in pro hockey after a four-year junior career, played mostly with the QMJHL Saint John Sea Dogs. The Nova Scotian was a fourth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007.
"Alex has a good combination of both offense and defense," Nailers head coach Greg Puhalski said. "With him, it’s a matter of just handling one at a time. Not doing two at a time. Playing solid defensively if that’s what is demanded, and if offense is required, then use your offensive abilities. Right now he’s getting caught trying to do too much too soon."
So far, Grant has one assist and is +1 in three games. He has seen time on the power play and penalty kill.
Hockey’s Future spoke to Grant on Sunday following Wheeling’s victory over the Gwinnett Gladiators.
HF: You’ve got three pro games under your belt now, how do you feel like it’s going?
AG: It got better every game. The team got off to a rough start, no one really brought their best, but tonight was a lot better.
HF: Were there any surprises moving your game from junior to pro?
AG: Yeah, it’s definitely different, playing against older guys. Stronger, more mature, and smarter — they know how to play the game better. So it’s a little bit of an adjustment.
HF: Everyone talks about "bigger, stronger, faster," which one of those was more than you imagined?
AG: I’d say guys are a lot stronger for sure. Some guys are in their 30’s or late 20’s. Coming out of junior, you’re only 20, 21 years old. That’s probably the biggest difference. Obviously you work hard over the summer, but it will come with age as well.
HF: Were you disappointed to be sent down to Wheeling or were you kind of expecting it?
AG: I wasn’t expecting it, I was definitely disappointed. But that didn’t last long, you can’t dwell on it. No one likes getting sent down. But once I got down here, a few practices…I didn’t feel like I played great the first game, a little better the second game and then a little better tonight. Still a lot of room for improvement though. I really look forward to working with the guys here and the coaches.
HF: What did Pittsburgh say they wanted you to do while you’re here?
AG: They just said I was still young and still had high hopes for me, still a great hockey player. That it’s a good league down here. It’s still much higher than junior. It definitely wasn’t an option with them to go back to junior, they told me that. They said come down, play some games and if there’s an injury and you’re playing well at the time, you’ll get a chance at a call-up. And then don’t let us send you back down.
HF: What part of your game do you think you still need to work on this year?
AG: I’ve been working on my defensive side of the game for a while now. Just being consistent every night and making quick decisions.
HF: Your coach said he wanted you to be offensive when the situation called for it and defensive when it called for it. What does that mean to you?
AG: When the opportunity’s there to jump up in a rush or get an offensive chance, then go. But just be smart about it. Don’t go every time. Don’t try to do it yourself. Make a pass and join the rush. And then when there’s a defensive situation and you need to shut down guys, then do that.
HF: Do you think you need to do a better job of that too?
AG: For sure, and I’ve heard it before and I try to do it as best I can. It’s mostly keeping it simple. That’s the easiest way to do it for sure.
HF: It seems like you’re getting lots of ice time here.
AG: Yeah, it’s good for sure. It’s good to be playing. The only way to get better is to play. I’m getting pretty much all situations.
HF: How do you like being a rookie again?
AG: (laughs) You never want to be a rookie. You’ve got to do a lot more things around the room and bus trips, but it’s alright. It’s only one year.
HF: Besides carrying bags, what else do they have you do?
AG: Clean the bus after road trips. Most of them aren’t too concerned about where they put their food, so there’s usually a big mess. Little things on the ice too, it’s not too major.
HF: You look even taller on the ice than in person. Have you heard that before?
AG: Yeah, I’ve heard that. Quite a few times.
HF: Why do you think that is?
AG: I don’t know, but the (game notes) always say I’m shorter than I am. I’ve (supposedly) been 6’1 for like four years now in all the books.
HF: And how tall are you actually?
AG: I was 6’3 at Penguins camp. The 6’1 was from my first year of junior. That’s what I was then.
HF: We thought maybe you look tall because you use a long stick.
AG: I do use a long stick, yeah. It’s probably a bit above my nose without skates.
HF: So what’s your goal for the year, to get up to Wilkes-Barre?
AG: Yeah, obviously I’d love to get called back up. And just to work hard every practice, every game, try to get better every day I’m at the rink. Improve in all areas.