Nashville fans have lamented the loss at last season’s trade deadline of diminutive, but popular, center Cliff Ronning. While his veteran savvy and scoring touch have yet to be replaced in the Predators’ lineup, there could be a replacement on the horizon in the form of Milwaukee Admirals’ right wing Darren Haydar.
Haydar completed a stellar NCAA career earlier this year, in a season that saw him lead the University of New Hampshire to the Frozen Four tournament. Darren was second in scoring in the nation in 01-02, an effort that made him a finalist for college hockey’s top trophy, the Hobey Baker Award. Nashville took notice of the Milton, ON native’s great season, and signed Haydar to a pro contract in the off-season.
Haydar has made himself right at home in the AHL, where he is currently 4th overall in scoring, and tops amongst rookie scorers. His fine work did not go unnoticed, as Darren was named the AHL’s Rookie of the Month for October. The Predators certainly hope that Haydar can continue his offensive exploits in the NHL in the very near future.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Darren prior to a recent AHL contest. The transcript of that chat is below.
HF: First, talk a little about making the transition from college to the pro game. What are some of the differences you’ve noticed since coming here?
DH: First off, positioning would be the biggest difference. Guys in the pros seem to be in their positions more often than in college. College seems to be a little bit more of a run-and-gun type of game. With the red line back into play, you have to be in position, you have to be in the right spots. That’s been one of the tough things to transition to. Guys are a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, of course. Everything just seems to be a step ahead, or a year ahead of college hockey. I think that college hockey isn’t that far off, but it’s a little bit behind.
HF: What areas of your game have you needed to improve since moving to the AHL?
DH: Of course, skating. Most players need to improve their skating, and that is one of the things I worked on all summer was improving the strength in my legs. Positioning, as well, just knowing where to be, and being reliable in your own end. Same thing in the offensive zone, just continuing to do what I’ve been doing the last couple of years.
HF: Just to reminisce for a minute, let’s go back to your college days. Obviously last year was a good year for you, but what are some of your better memories from your college years?
DH: Of course, freshman year. The whole year was a great experience. It took me a couple of games to get in the lineup and be a consistent player, but once I did, it was a wild ride. We made it to the Frozen Four, we beat Michigan State in the first round to go to the finals to play Maine. In that game, we went to overtime. We were down most of the game, we tied it up 3-3, I believe, then in double overtime (Maine) scored. It was a great experience, especially being a freshman, it makes you think it’ll be that easy every year, but it isn’t really. It took me until my senior year to get back there, and I was just excited and thrilled to get back there. That’s one of the things I wanted to do as a senior captain on the team was to help the team get back to the Frozen Four.
HF: And you ended up being one of the finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. I know you must have been disappointed not to win it, but it must still have been exciting to be considered for that trophy.
DH: It was definitely exciting. I told all the guys on UNH that it was an individual award, but it comes from the team. It’s an individual award, but you have to be with a top club to be able to get that recognition. You have to be winning and scoring, and we had the team to do it. I don’t want to say it was disappointing, but it was definitely a great feeling to be classified as a top 3 last year in college hockey.
HF: Now, you recently played a game in the NHL, did you not? What are your thoughts on that? Obviously, you must have been nervous.
DH: Oh, definitely! It was a great experience. It was my 4th game in 4 nights, so I don’t know if my nerves were put aside, but I was totally exhausted. It went well, though. I didn’t expect too much ice, but I got a heck of a lot more than I expected. I played well, and felt more comfortable after the 1st period. It was a great experience, it came earlier than I expected, but I’m thankful for it. Hopefully I’ll get another opportunity at it.
HF: Going forward, do you think you’ll be in Milwaukee most of the year, with the one game in Nashville being your first taste of the NHL?
DH: Oh, definitely. I’m sure that was just letting me know that it’s going to be there, I’m going to have my chances, I’m being watched, and I just have to continue doing what I’ve been doing here. I just need to worry about Milwaukee, and not worry about being called up night-to-night, and hopefully continue on where I left off.
HF: Who have been your linemates in Milwaukee so far this season?
DH: At the start of the season, it was Vernon Fiddler and Cameron Mann, and then recently it was Eric Anderson and Cameron Mann, and Eric Anderson and Greg Keeler.
HF: Those are guys who have been in the AHL a bit, so they’ve probably helped you out.
DH: Definitely. We’ve got a lot of guys that have played NHL games, and many of those guys have helped me out over the course of the first 20 games here.
HF: Where is Milton, ON?
DH: Just over the border, just past Hamilton. It ‘s the Burlington-Oakville area between Hamilton and Toronto.
HF: Are there any players that you played with or against when you were younger who have gone on to the NHL?
DH: Not really, not yet. The only one, and I didn’t play with him, but the only one from my town is Steve Webb, who plays for the Islanders.
HF: I’m assuming you were a Leafs fan growing up, then.
DH: Oh, definitely a Leafs fan. Got to go out to a few games and watch the big boys play.
HF: Any player you pattern yourself after at all?
DH: Not necessarily from the Leafs. My favorite growing up was Cam Neely. I don’t necessarily play like him. I play like him in the sense that he was in the right place at the right time, he wasn’t flashy. I try to emulate guys like Fleury and Yzerman, kind of a mix between them, but not as feisty as Fleury. Cliff Ronning is another guy that people have kind of compared me to.
HF: Those are good comparisons, so hopefully you’ll live up to those comparisons. What things do you do well that make you a good NHL prospect?
DH: I think I know where to be, and when to be there. I seem to have done that my whole career. Scoring goals comes with being in the right place at the right time. I lack some of the size and quickness that is needed, so I have to make sure I’m in the right place at the right time.
HF: As a smaller player, what types of things do you do to make sure that the bigger players know you’re not intimidated?
DH: I don’t let it get to me. I’m gonna take my hits, so I’m gonna have to get up, shake them off, and bounce right back. If I don’t, I won’t be here long.
HF: I’ll let you go. Nice meeting you, and good luck in the future.
DH: Thanks very much.