The Nashville Predators have, over the past month, shown that there may finally be a brighter future in store for fans of the team. Developing players such as David Legwand, Adam Hall, and Scott Hartnell have rewarded the patience of coaches and management by stepping to the forefront in a recent stretch that has seen the team lose just twice in 10 games.
The roots of this success most likely took hold in Milwaukee, where Nashville’s farm club, the Admirals, have been one of the AHL’s top teams throughout the first half of the 02-03 season. While AHL all-star Darren Haydar is the Nashville prospect that has been getting the most attention this season, the Milwaukee newcomer whose arrival in Nashville may be most anticipated is that of defenseman Dan Hamhuis.
Hamhuis, the Predators’ first pick in the 2001 NHL Draft, has begun his pro career following a stellar 2001-02 season with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars. In his final season with Prince George, Dan was named the CHL’s Defenseman of the Year, while also winning the WHL’s version of that award, as well as being named that league’s Player of the Year. It’s no wonder, then, that expectations have been high for the young defenseman to eventually take a place on the Predators’ blueline.
For his part, Hamhuis has so far taken his development in stride. He has totaled 12 points (2G, 10A) in 32 games, to go along with a fairly robust 60 minutes in penalties. Dan has bulked up some since last season, with his weight being listed at 208 lbs., which should help him in battling the bigger and stronger forwards in the AHL. A 3-game suspension he received in November is further evidence that Hamhuis is a player who won’t be pushed around.
I spoke with Dan prior to a recent Milwaukee game, with the transcript of that conversation being posted below.
HF: This is your first year of pro hockey. What differences have you noticed between juniors and the pro game?
DH: It is a lot quicker, and the guys are a lot stronger. It’s a big adjustment for me, especially dealing with the forwards in the front of the net, and in the corners. The overall game is just a step above.
HF: Are there any parts of your game that you need to change, maybe some things that worked in junior that won’t be successful in the AHL?
DH: Positioning is really important. In junior, you can be a little out of position, but you can make up for it because you have the time. Here, you don’t have the time. If you’re out of position, guys will burn you. The guys are just that much quicker here.
HF: You’re known more for your offensive game, but is defense more of your focus right now?
DH: Yeah, I think defense is most important, and offense comes later. That’s one thing I’m trying to concentrate on is playing solid defense, just getting used to the pace of the game. When that comes around, I definitely want to look at developing the offensive side of my game.
HF: Have you been paired with mostly veterans since joining Milwaukee?
DH: Yeah, we have quite a few veteran “D”, and I’ve played with a few guys, but right now I’m playing with Robert Schnabel. I’ve player with (Pascal) Trepanier and Mark Eaton, as well. I’ve been all over, but the coach is putting me with the veteran guys.
HF: Has there been any indication from Nashville if they’re going to bring you up during the season?
DH: When I left training camp, they were hoping to see me back up around Christmas time. A lot of it depends on how I’m doing, and how they’re doing as far as the injury situation. I don’t think they know, and I certainly don’t know.
HF: Let’s go back to last year for a minute. It obviously was a great year for you, as you were the winner of the WHL Player of the Year Award. Any thoughts on that season?
DH: It was a lot of fun. We had a good team in Prince George, and I had a good coach. It was just a lot of fun to play- it was my 4th year in the WHL, I was captain of the team, and I really needed to step up. I ended up having a really good season.
HF: What parts of your game need to improve for you to take the next step to the NHL?
DH: I don’t know if there is anything specific. Obviously, strength is a key, and speed. But, I think just taking the time in the AHL to get used to the speed of the game, and get used to the bigger players. I think it’s just going to take time for me to develop, and when the time comes, I’ll be ready.
HF: I know in the NHL this season, they’ve tried to open up the game a bit by reducing obstruction. Have they done the same thing in the AHL?
DH: At the beginning of the year, they were really strict on it. The last couple of games, you could kind of see them going away from it a bit. I know they’re trying to crack down on it as much as in the NHL.
HF: You grew up in B.C., so I’m guessing you were a Vancouver fan.
DH: Being a B.C. guy, I was always a big fan of the Canucks, and still am.
HF: Any player in particular that was your favorite, or maybe someone you’ve patterned your game after?
DH: Nobody in particular. I’ve kind of grown to like Trevor Linden, he’s a quality guy on the ice, and an excellent guy off the ice, as well.
HF: Have you had a chance to meet him at all? I know he’s out in Vancouver again.
DH: Yeah, actually I worked out with him this summer for the first time. I was really excited to talk with him, and meet with him.
HF: As far as this season has gone, not just for you, but the rest of the team, what has helped the Admirals to experience success?
DH: I think we’re a really hard-working team, and we play well together. We’ve got an excellent coach, and we play our systems well. When we do all those things, we’re successful. I think in the last few games we’ve gotten away from that; we’re not playing the full 60 minutes, and we’re struggling a bit.
HF: What are your goals for the rest of the 2002-03 season?
DH: Nothing specific with numbers. Just to get a really good understanding of what it is like to play pro hockey.
HF: Dan, thanks, I appreciate your time.
DH: Your welcome. Thank you.