Allan Power is the Director of Hockey Operations for the QMJHL Moncton Wildcats. The Wildcats, who will host the 2006 Memorial Cup, finished in sixth place in the league standings this season. The team boasts an impressive wealth of drafted prospects including Steve Bernier (SJ), Adam Pineault (CLB), Corey Crawford (CHI), Bruce Graham (NYR), Martins Karsums (BOS), Nathan Saunders (ANA), and Stephane Goulet (EDM). The team also possesses 2005-eligible Latvian defenseman Oskars Bartulis who is expected to go in the third or fourth round of the draft, whenever it occurs. Goaltender Jean-Christophe Blanchard and Brad Marchand are strong 2006-eligible players. The team also owns the CHL rights to Chris Bourque (WAS).
Following the first game of their first-round playoff series against the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Power spoke with HF’s Matt MacInnis about player movement for the Wildcats and the career potential of some of the team’s current players.
HF: There were a lot of rumors at the trade deadline about Sidney Crosby. At any point were there any serious talks with Rimouski about Crosby?
AP: None whatsoever concerning Sidney Crosby. There was talks with Rimouski, with none whatsoever about Sidney Crosby.
HF: At the deadline the Nathan Welton trade was the highest profile deal the team made. Moncton gave up a lot of future assets for one player; will the Cats receive another player at the draft as a part of that deal?
AP: No, what was noted publicly is exactly what it is. We feel that yeah, we gave up a lot, but we have enough assets that we can get a first round back. He adds a lot but we feel like we can manage it without costing us an overabundance for Nathan Welton.
HF: Was that a trade when you were looking ahead at next year just as much as this season?
AP: Absolutely, that was the difficult part of the whole trade, to try to get somebody not only to help up this year, but also next year. A year ago we were after Nathan Welton and he wasn’t available. Persistence, we were persistent after Adam Pineault and we were persistent after Nathan Welton. We just kept plugging away, we knew what we had and we knew what we had to give up to get him and we proceeded to get the deal done.
HF: Last season was the organization caught by surprise when Konstantin Zakharov made the jump to the AHL?
AP: Not really. We had enough lead time on it. They signed him in the allotted time and it allowed us enough time to go to work and get another European in Oskars Bartulis. You know, surprise to a certain degree yes, but we knew it, the agent handled it pretty well and we knew in enough time to get another player.
HF: How did it come about that you got Bartulis?
AP: Well basically he’s the same agent as Adam Pineault and we were pursuing several names and several people. He was a centerman; he didn’t play much defense until recently. We thought we were getting a centerman and we ended up with a defenseman, which was a good hole to fill. And he’s doing very, very, well for a guy who didn’t play, who might have played defense for a couple of months before showing up to training camp here.
HF: Have you bothered doing any European scouting this season?
AP: We always do European scouting. Like what happened last year you never know what could pop up on you. Peter Nevin and his staff they’re at it all the time, both all over North America and Europe so we have our ear to the ground and we’re working at it. If anything happens in any shape or form we’ll be prepared to deal with it accordingly.
HF: Other than Sidney Crosby, who do you think is the best 2005-eligible player from the Q?
AP: I like Latendresse; he’s a big strong kid. Bourret is a good player, but I think Latendresse has that pro physique I think they look for. But Bourret is a good player too. I like them both, but I like Latendresse for that pro physique and he’s a big time player, so he’d be my pick.
HF: Saunders, Bernier, and Graham will all be 20 next season. Who do you think, at this point, will be back?
AP: That’s a million dollar question. A lot will depend on the NHL lockout. The word we’re getting now is through lockout or, lack of a better term I guess, scab players, I think you’re going to see an NHL product whether there is a CBA or not. And if there’s not a CBA, a lot of those players will probably sign. So it remains to be seen what the state of the NHL game is at as to is it is a CBA which is negotiated with the NHL. I think the NHL teams are going to be scrambling to get the guys back from Europe, to get guys back, and signing new guys, it might not be a priority which could be good for us. Everything is up in the air until the NHL and NHLPA get together, or don’t get together.
HF: You’ve seen Bernier develop, what do you think his career potential is as a professional?
AP: He’s size, strength, he’s got skill and can shoot the puck. But he’s, for the pro game, he can be very physical, he can punish a guy along the boards, handles the puck well along the boards, and he’s not afraid to, with a different team, and probably even with a pro team, to sneak in front of the net more and be more effective like a Tim Kerr type of player. You know, it remains to be seen, they always question his skating. His physical presence is a natural for the pro game, he’s got the hands to score goals and the physical part of it is not a question. I would think the pro game is made for Steve Bernier, and if we’re going to lose one, I think it’ll probably be him.
HF: What about Saunders?
AP: Again it’s a question mark. It think if we look at Nathan Saunders and try to compare him a little bit to Colin White, who was in the league as a 19-year-old and signed as a 20, I kind of see them in the same light. Colin played I think three years in the American Hockey League as part of his development. It depends on how they see him and how far he is along, and what kind of money they are going to deal with to see these guys. I would say Nathan and Bruce could be 50-50 coming back, but that remains to be seen.
HF: Do you think Crawford will be able to excel in the pro leagues like he did in the Q this season?
AP: I don’t think there is any question there, he has everything that it takes. In fact, probably, in an ideal world, without the lockout, he would have been in the American Hockey League this year. The situation dictates that he’s back here. He was ready, skill wise, to move up to the next level and needed that challenge, but the way cards turned out, in our favor, he’s back with us.
HF: Chicago also has a lot of goalies in their system.
AP: They have a lot of goalies, and I think they’ll make room for him. I think, I know they were willing to sign him going into the season even with a lot of goaltenders. But with the lockout, that kind of got scuttled. Even at that, had they signed him, we still had a good chance at getting him back here.
HF: When Karsums went down with his ankle injury he was expected back in weeks. It turned into months. What happened?
AP: Well I think it’s an ankle injury. Sometimes a break or fracture is better to rehab than an actual sprain. It’s very difficult to rehab that, and it’s been a long and involved process. We’ve had him to New York, we’ve had him to Boston, and all the results from our doctors, and we had him to a foot and ankle specialist in Halifax, and it just basically is he plays through the pain, strap him up, if we think he can play. We’ve done everything medically that we possibly can, and at this point its just a matter of him feeling comfortable and it could be as early as tomorrow, but we won’t know until the medical people give us their report after tonight’s game and after work-out tomorrow.
HF: How important was it to get Adam Pineault to Moncton after he decided originally to go to college?
AP: How important? I think that changed — part of that, him and Corey coming back, getting Pineault — kind of changed our perspective on the season. All of a sudden, instead of just trying to be middle or last third of the pack in the league it allowed us to compete in the top third. If you look at the overall standings, forget the three teams, Rouyn-Noranda finished the schedule with less points than we did, we were fifth overall in the league. To me that’s pretty good after going to the league finals and supposed to lose, not supposed to make the playoffs even. Getting Adam Pineault was crucial to our thinking, Corey Crawford changed our thinking for sure. Landing him was a pleasant surprise. We worked hard at it, he’s here, and he’ll be back next year.
HF: Is there any chance Chris Bourque will play for the Wildcats?
AP: There’s always a chance, especially with Chris. His grandfather living here in Moncton, his father has a good friend in Moncton that he played midget hockey with, and they were each other’s best man at each others wedding. So there’s always a possibility, you know, we’ll never close that door. Chris, I think he’s more attuned to the pro game and major junior game than he would be college hockey, and I think the kid knows that. It just remains to be seen how he aligns his objectives and if we’re a part of that plan.
HF: There’s been some talk recently of the CHL restricting the number of Americans in the league. What do you think of this idea, especially consider the Cats have two Americans right now?
AP: I can’t see that. I understand that the Canadian Hockey League, no, not that Canadian Hockey League, but the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association wants to promote our own kids, which is a proper thing. We’ve got two limits on the Europeans. I just don’t see it happening. I don’t think how you can draw the distinction and limit an American kid. It’s an open product, it’s not a cultural thing, I just don’t see that. I think it’s just a wish that amateur hockey in Canada would like to see, which is normal, but I think that the business of Canadian junior hockey, and major junior hockey, is a little like the NHL. We want the best players available, so I can’t see that door closing, although you never know.
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