Q&A with Joey Haddad

By Holly Gunning

Fresh out of junior, Joey Haddad is still wearing a mouthguard with his QMJHL team colors. But he’s got a new one on order, one that will accompany the 20-year-old’s step up to pro hockey.

Assigned to the ECHL Wheeling Nailers, Haddad, who was signed as a free agent by the Pittsburgh Penguins last year, is still feeling his way through.

"He scores some goals, but we want to make sure he’s a little more responsible defensively and being aggressive, finishing some hits," Nailers coach Greg Puhalski said. "Right now he’s playing too much perimeter, so that’s something where if he wants to playing in the National League, he’s going to have to step up his physical play."

Playing right wing on a line with fellow Penguins prospect Casey Pierro-Zapotel and 24-year-old Blair Yaworski, Haddad scored his first pro goal in his first game. He took a pass out of the corner from Yaworski, and got a shot off quickly over the goalie’s blocker.

"That’s a guy who can score goals," Puhaski said of the marker. "Those are just natural. No one’s teaching him how to do that."

But what the 6’2 Nova Scotian needs to work on is getting into position to score more goals, Puhalski said.

"He’s got to get to the dirty areas, score some rebound goals. Not so much play on the fringes. We’d like to see him go to the net a little harder, look for rebounds when defensemen are shooting the puck."

Haddad scored his second goal in Wheeling’s third game, capitalizing on an easy giveaway in the slot. Haddad wasted no time in wristing it high. It seems that the scoring has come easy so far, but the rest of the game will be a little bit harder.

Hockey’s Future spoke to Haddad on Saturday, the morning after his first pro game.

HF: You scored a goal in your first pro game, how did that feel?
JH: It felt great. It’s always great to score, but to do it in my first pro game was pretty nice. We were down at the time and it helped the team out.

HF: Was the goal the type you’re known for?
JH: Um, I guess I score goals all different ways. But yeah, I have a pretty good shot, it’s one of my better assets as a hockey player. So every time I get the chance I shoot the puck.

HF: Did anything in the pro game surprise you? The pace?
JH: A little bit, yeah. You can only imagine so much until you get into a game. I think one of the bigger differences from here to junior is it’s a little faster. And you’re playing with men so everyone’s stronger, bigger. It wasn’t too much more than I thought because I played some preseason AHL games. I’ve been at a high pace for a while.

HF: What kind of role are you going to have with Wheeling? Same as you were used to?
JH: Yeah, I just play that power forward role. I have a big body, good shot. Working down log, driving to the net, shooting the puck every chance I get. Being reliable defensively.

HF: So they’re just saying play the same way you’ve been playing.
JH: Yeah. Just work as hard as I can, play my game and keep it simple.

HF: Your coach mentioned playing less on the perimeter.
JH: Yeah, with my big body, being a power forward type player, you want to get your nose dirty. You want to be in front of the net. You don’t want to be hanging around the outside. That’s not my game. As much as I can, I’ve got to be in the slot, in the corners.

HF: So how to you like being a rookie again?
JH: (laughs) It’s never nice to be a rookie. But it’s just another step in my career. All the guys are good in the room. They give you a hard time in a way, but they’re your teammates and they’re there for you. So it’s alright.

HF: But you’re carrying bags again, right?
JH: Yeah (laughs). Yeah.

HF: Were you disappointed that you got sent down or were you expecting it?
JH: A little disappointed. With the situation up there [in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton], there’s a lot of players. They’ve got some guys on tryouts and they signed some guys, so it’s tough right now, but definitely a goal of mine. I’m here, part of this team now, but I’m going to work hard and get the call-up.

HF: Pittsburgh should be able to keep a good eye on you since Wheeling is so close.
JH: Yeah. It’s definitely a good situation. It’s not like a lot of East Coast teams that are far away. They definitely keep an eye on you. We’ve got a great coaching staff, video, game reports and stuff like that. It’s almost like being there.

HF: Did Pittsburgh say what they want you to work on?
JH: Yeah, consistency. Just to have that urgency in my game, hungry on the puck, always ready to go, always on my toes. Game in and game out.

HF: Was there any thought to you turning pro last year when you signed?
JH: Yeah, I was 20 years old so I could have stayed up. When it came down to it, Pittsburgh thought it was best for my development to go back to junior. Play PK, PP, all situations and be a leader on the team.

HF: So there was a time period where you were in limbo and weren’t sure what they wanted you to do?
JH: Yeah, there was a long time period. I was in Pittsburgh, then to Wilkes-Barre for almost three weeks. I was just practicing, I didn’t have a contract at that time. I think a couple days before my birthday they said ‘we were just talking with your agent, we’re going to try to sign you.’ Then it got a little more clear on whether I would stay or go.

HF: Camp seems like it goes on forever, doesn’t it?
JH: Oh my god, yeah. It was so nice to play last night and just to realize you’re out of that camp atmosphere. It takes a long time to get the season going.

HF: What’s your goal for this year?
JH: Starting out I definitely wanted to earn a spot on the Wilkes-Barre Penguins. So my first order of business is to work hard, get my game going and get back up there.