J.D. Watt is quite simply a player you love to hate. A feisty member of the Vancouver Giants, Watt was drafted in the fourth round by the Calgary Flames and exemplifies the team’s hard-working, gritty style. In 58 regular season, Watt scored eight goals and had 37 points along with a team-leading 199 penalty minutes for the Giants. In the playoffs, he scored four goals and totaled seven points in 18 games, along with 42 penalty minutes, good for second on the team. In five games of play at the MasterCard Memorial Cup, he has a single assist as well as a tournament-leading 19 penalty minutes.
Vancouver coach Don Hay calls Watt “a hard-nosed guy; he’s got good toughness to him. He goes hard to the net and hard down the wall. He has the ability to finish checks and really crashes the net. He definitely has the ability to get under people’s skin.”
Hockey’s Future caught up with Watt earlier in the week at the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
HF: You play a pretty antagonizing role on the ice. What do you do in particular to throw guys off their game?
JW: The biggest thing for me is, well people tell me to keep your mouth shut and don’t talk, but talking is a big part of the game. The little comments after the whistle, just get guys off their game. And then if you catch the ref not looking, and hit a guy and maybe give him an extra shot when the ref’s not looking. It just makes people mad, it irritates them and it gets them off their game. Once they start thinking about me, I’ve done my job and I can get back onto the game.
HF: You mentioned a little bit of trash talk. Anything you’d like to pass along as some good stuff you’ve heard out there?
JW: (laughing) The best one against me was probably earlier this season when we were playing the Prince Albert Raiders and was trying to get (Kyle) Chipchura (MTL) off of his game. It was in a timeout or something, and he says “Hey Watt, bring your lunchbox next game and I’ll sign it for you.” So, that’s just part of the game and I smiled and laughed it off, you know, good on him for saying that one.
HF: Right now, you lead the tournament in penalty minutes. Do you think the refs are calling it a little tighter then out west?
JW: We’ve spent so much time preparing for this tournament and what the rules were going to be like, because we don’t have the same rules, but, to be honest with you, it hasn’t been all that different. The hooking and stuff, we’ve seen I think maybe three or four calls that are different than what we played with this year. Other then that, they just called it a little more strict on different things like hitting. I felt that they don’t let much go. If the hands get up a little, they’re calling it. If someone turns, they’re calling it a hitting from behind. We saw one on (Vancouver forward Kyle) Lamb where it wasn’t a hard hitting from behind hit. They’re just calling it a little tighter. All the new rules do is just make you focus on moving your feet, but if you stop your feet and start hooking, you’re going to get called and I think the ref’s done a good job so far.
HF: Do you think that has made your job a little bit harder?
JW: No, not at all. I like to think that it helps me a bit. I feel in the offensive end, I’ve got a little bit more room. Coming off the wall, you can’t have guys holding you. Once they take their arm off their stick, it’s a penalty. So, I’ve got a little bit more room there. I’ve been known to hook a little bit, but I can’t do that at all, otherwise I’ll get a penalty. It’s probably going to help me as a player to learn how to move my feet and not hook at all and it’s a good experience.
HF: Are there a few things you feel you need to work on as you develop?
JW: The thing that has always been the biggest thing for me has always been just quick feet. I work on that every summer. Every constructive criticism I get, it’s always been try to get faster, work on your leg strength, quicker starts, things like that. So that’s my biggest focus and one thing Darryl Sutter had passed onto me this year is every time that puck comes up your wall, as a player make sure you get it out. So that really hit home and I’ve been trying to do that.
HF: What do you do in particular to work on your leg strength?
JW: It’s mostly track and field stuff, like I do lots of leg squats and stuff. The biggest thing for leg explosiveness is going up stairs, running hills. Sprints is the biggest thing. You sprint as fast as you can, do ten a day and you work on those explosive muscles in your legs and it helps. Believe it or not, I’ve timed myself and it’s definitely helped. So if you focus on it and just do all those little things, running up stairs with guys on your back is always going to make your legs stronger and make you quicker on the ice.
HF: You mentioned Sutter, were you happy you got drafted by Calgary because you seem to fit into their system a bit better then maybe another team?
JW: (laughing) Yeah, I don’t know. I think I’m Sutter’s type of player and that helps me with my confidence. I was talking to one guy this summer and he said “You’re a farm boy from Alberta and you’re a hockey player, you’re definitely going to get drafted by Calgary.” It’s good that I got drafted by Calgary, he likes the hard nosed type guys, you can tell by the guys on his team, guys like Darren McCarty and just gritty gritty players. Jarome Iginla is their leader and he might be a scorer but at the same time he does everything. That’s what I want to try to do and hopefully they’ll notice that and it will help me out in my career.
HF: Is there any player you try to mold your game after?
JW: Mold my game after? Geez, I don’t know. I don’t want to say Sean Avery, not anymore. (laughing) Lots of people told me that I think I’m a little bit more of a scorer then I actually am. I like Jarome Iginla, he’s always been my favorite player because he can score and scrap and do all that stuff. I probably don’t have the scoring ability right now, but I’m working on it. Just playing as physical as I can and hopefully some goals will go in for me.
HF: Now that Calgary is out, who are you hoping for in the playoffs?
JW: Ha! With the Battle of Alberta, I could not hope for Edmonton. I’m probably cheering for Carolina and I think Edmonton’s up 3-0 (in the series) so it looks like they’re going to be in it probably. They’ve got a great team with (Chris) Pronger back there, so I think they’re probably going to win, but I’m probably cheering for Carolina.
HF: Has Calgary been talking to you quite a bit through the season?
JW: Just checking up. They haven’t had many talks. Like I said, the one time, Darryl Sutter passed that message on to get the puck out every time it comes up my wall. Todd Button’s been there talking to me and he mentioned one time “make sure you move your feet and quit hooking because you’re going to get called for it,” and that was in the regular season in the Western League so it’s definitely going to show up here. I know they’re here watching, I haven’t talked to them yet, but I’m sure I will afterwards.
HF: Can you just talk a bit about the effect that Don Hay has had on your career?
JW: He’s a great coach. I know we haven’t gotten along at the best of times but the main thing is we both have the same goal and even though I get a little frustrated sometimes, he’s trying to make me a better player and I know that. I think I’ve developed as a player because of him. He’s made me more of a student of the game. [Compared to] before I came here. I’m definitely learning about positioning and different things like that. When I was 16, playing in the Alberta Junior League, there was no systems and on the forecheck it was just go get the puck. But with Don Hay, if [the puck] is right here, we want you over here and it’s specific and you know what to do every chance you get and if you mess up you hear about it. That’s huge for me, because that’s how it is in the NHL and that’s where I strive to be.
HF: I read that you’re the unofficial leader in practice scuffles. Can you comment on that a bit?
JW: (laughing) Well, it all goes back to that gritty game and nobody likes that, especially in practice. You don’t want to have a guy that’s kind of hacking you and hitting you. There’s no hard feelings, we’re all friends on the team. Getting a couple go-arounds in practice, it’s no big deal, just getting ready for the game.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.