Xavier Ouellet is embracing every moment of the 2016 AHL All-Star Classic in Syracuse, New York.
The Detroit Red Wings prospect and Grand Rapids Griffins defenseman was selected as an All-Star in 2015 but had to miss the game due to injury. That made the honor and chance to play in 2016 “even more special.”
“It’s a great honor to be selected to be here,” Ouellet said. “I was really happy to get that second chance to be here.”
And it has been a special season for the left-handed defenseman. He entered the AHL All-Star break with 15 points (two goal, 13 assists) in 35 games to go along with a +6 rating this season.
The points have been an added bonus for Ouellet, who thinks defense first and is reliable in his own zone.
“It’s nice to get the points, but my first job is to be good in my own end,” he said. “Then I can build my game from there.”
Ouellet has also been part of one of the AHL’s biggest rollercoasters this season in Grand Rapids.
The Griffins entered the season as a trendy Calder Cup pick, but dropped like an anchor out of the gate.
A month into the season, Grand Rapids had the worst record in the 30-team league. Then they strung together a franchise-record 15-game win streak, which was tied for the third-longest in AHL history.
“We had some adjustments to do with the coach changing and stuff like that,” Ouellet said. “I think we’re still learning to find our game. But we found the way to put ourselves in the race.”
Ouellet said the coaching change wasn’t bad, it just took the team a little time to adjust. Todd Nelson has a different personality and different approach than Jeff Blashill, who now coaches the Red Wings.
“They’ve both had success and they both know what they’re doing,” Ouellet said. “I think as a team we just had to learn what to do with (Nelson).”
Ouellet also has his own career goals in mind. Last season, he appeared in 21 NHL games with Detroit, and he played well. He is likely one injury away from an NHL call-up, and he said he is ready for an opportunity when it happens.
Playing in the NHL was the culmination of Ouellet’s dreams when he started playing hockey as a kid. His dad, Robert, played professionally in Europe and represented France at the 1998 Winter Olympics.
The younger Ouellet — who was born in France but grew up in Quebec – said he didn’t intentionally follow in Dad’s footsteps.
“It’s something that I developed a love for by myself,” he said. “Of course, he was part of me playing and starting, but I never felt any pressure or anything like that from him.”
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