After the Coyote’s second match of the Hull Rookie Tournament, Hockey’s Future was able to catch up with Phoenix’s prospect and the former Golden Gopher Jeff Taffe.
NAME: Jeff Taffe
TEAM: Phoenix Coyotes
HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6 foot 3, 195 lbs.
BIRTHDATE/PLACE:1981-02-19 Hastings, Minnesota
DRAFT STATUS: St. Louis Blues, 1st pick in the 2000 Entry Draft (30th Overall)
– Was traded to Phoenix by the St. Louis Blues along with Ladislav Nagy, Michal Handzus, and a 2002 1st rounder for Keith Tkachuk.
– Member of the 2002 NCAA Champions Minnesota Golden Gophers
– Taffe, who was the 5th leading scorer in the nation, signed a 3-year contract with the Phoenix Coyotes on April, 2002. He had another year of College eligiblity remaining.
Jeff Taffe is an incredibly versatile talent. A natural scorer, Jeff possesses the skill set to develop into a top-notch NHL point producer. What makes Taffe a rarity among his class is his great size and willingness to play physical hockey. After bulking up in the off-season, Jeff looks and plays like a budding power forward.
Hockey’s Future: How do you feel? Any impressions about the (Hull Rookie) Tournament so far?
Jeff Taffe: A lot of good players here. It feels kind of tough losing two games in a row back-to-back, but guys will just have to keep plugging away if they want a chance to be with the big club some day.
HF: For you, this tournament comes as a preparation for the Coyotes= training camp. Will you go there with full expectations of making the big club?
JT: Obviously you want to fulfill expectations and no one wants to settle for second best. There are spots open for guys and if they work hard, it can happen for them as (Coyotes are) a young team. I’ve done everything they’ve asked me so far, so it’s just a matter of playing hard every night and hopefully it’ll all work out.
HF: You have reportedly gained some muscle during the off-season. How much have you gained?
JT: I came to the earlier camp a couple of months ago and I started at 182 and I think I was 195 the other day and lost 2 percent body fat. So I put on about 13-14 pounds, so I am very happy about it and I just have to keep working with that.
HF: Where do you work out?
JT: We actually work out at a place called Athletes Performance Institute. It is unbelievable – they have the best trainers and experts. We work out and have practices out there and I’ve been there pretty much all summer.
HF: As a natural centre, would you be ready to move to a wing position if the Coyotes require that from you?
JT: I’ll do anything that they ask me to. It’s one of those things where I played centre my whole life and it is tough to adjust to a new position, especially when you play in the National Hockey League. (The wing) is a tough position to play, but obviously you have to do whats best for the organizaton, if that happens, it happens. If not, then I’m pretty happy at centre right now.
HF: Do you consider yourself more of a scorer or a playmaker?
JT: I think I’m a scorer, actually. I haven’t scored many goals out here so far (Hull Rookie Tournament), but it’s one of those things where you have to share with your linemates the best you can. But I have certainly scored goals my whole life, so I feel that I should keep doing that.
HF: You seem NHL-ready right now. Do you feel you’ve made the necessary strides in the past year to further solidify your game?
JT: I feel that my game has come around this year than in any other year, actually. Trying to do the little things that get you to the next level is what I look at and hopefully it all pans out in the next couple of days.
HF: Is there a player on the Coyotes with whom you specifically look forward to playing?
JT: Actually, there isn’t one specific player on the team – they’re all great guys and I’ve played with them a lot this summer. There are also a lot of guys in the organization that work with us during the summer, like the older players and trainers that looks after the younger guys during the summer. I think that I’ve learned what it takes to be a more complete player during that time.
HF: You’re a guy that strives to play well along the boards. How important is that to your game?
JT: It’s huge. It’s the key to the game for me. There are a lot of pucks around the boards and it’s the toughest part of the game. If you want to move to the next level, obviously you can’t be shying away out there. And this is something that I have realized… I don’t care if I get ran over every time, but I have to make an effort and do the best I can and obviously the boards are important and you have to keep it in the zone at all times.
HF: What would you say has been your greatest achievement so far in your hockey career?
JT: Right now, I would have to say the NCAA Tournament. Nothing is going to beat that – we (Minnesota Golden Gophers) won at St. Paul, right at our back yard. It was an awesome feeling and I don’t think anything can top that.
HF: Which aspects of your game do you feel still require work, as you make the transition from college to the NHL?
JT: I think I still have to work on speed a little bit. I need to be a bit quicker, especially being a centre I feel I have to be ahead of the opposition. It’s a tough position to play, but in order to do that I had to gain a lot of weight during the off-season and I have done that and now I just have to keep lifting weights and strive to get better.
HF: You wore jersey number 22 in College. Will you approach Claude Lemieux (#22 with Phoenix) about wearing that number?
JT: (laughs) Oh, no. I’ll never approach him about that. I’ll just take the number that I get – I’ll be happy with anything.