Nathan Saunders has been the Moncton Wildcats top defenseman all season. The 6’3, 215lb Anaheim draft pick has been the most consistent and physically imposing member of the blueline, logging major minutes and playing in all situations. Saunders has also taken it upon himself to stick up for teammates, compiling 106 penalty minutes while remaining tied for the team lead in plus/minus with a +14 rating.
During the summer, Saunders had the opportunity to attend Team Canada’s World Junior Summer Development Camp as well as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim’s Rookie Camp. These opportunities helped Saunders step into the swing of the QMJHL season immediately when it began. The Wildcats currently lead the QMJHL with a record of 19-5-2-0. Saunders has been the anchor of a young and relatively inexperienced blueline that features a number of rookies, and has played well despite the lack of big names.
Hockey’s Future was able to catch up with the rugged defenseman after a hard-fought 3-2 Wildcats win over rival Halifax Mooseheads. Saunders was +1 in the game and collected seven PIM, including getting into a fight with Moosehead tough guy Kevin Cormier (PHO), a native of Moncton. Saunders talked about his own play, his team, his experiences this summer and his thoughts on next season.
HF: How do you feel about your own play this season?
NS: I don’t know, I’m not playing my best hockey but I’m not playing my worst hockey and it’s starting to get better as the season progresses so I’m happy about that.
HF: What do you attribute the Wildcats success to?
NS: We just got a really close knit group this year. We had a pretty demanding training camp and lots of time to get together, it’s kind of like a family so it’s a pretty close group and it’s going great in the dressing room.
HF: Have you guys talked at all about the potential of making the Memorial Cup?
NS: Yeah it’s always the goal at the first of year that’s always the aim, it’s not to make the playoffs or make it past the first round, it’s always about the Memorial Cup. So, of course that’s our aim right now, we’re just trying to work towards it.
HF: What changes have you guys made to make you stronger this year?
NS: We’re playing well defensively in our own end. Our forwards are coming back and helping out our defense. We got kinda a young defense core, but everyone’s talking and doing their job in the defensive end.
HF: What was it like to get an invite to Canada’s World Junior Summer Development camp?
NS: Well it was definitely a compliment. It’s not a part of my game, the finesse kind of international hockey, but it’s always a bit flattering to get an invite to get a chance to play with the kind of players that are out there.
Bruce Graham: Hey! Bike’s right here!
NS: (grinning as he shuts the door to the fitness room) Thanks!
HF: How do you think you did there?
NS: I definitely didn’t play my best hockey. There’s isn’t much ice on PEI in the summer so I didn’t get the chance to where I wanted to be before I went but that’s alright, I just put that behind me and try to as best I can now to get noticed.
HF: What was the experience like at the Anaheim Development camp?
NS: It was definitely a good experience, a lot of talented players there. I got to right from the World juniors; I had like five days between when I went to the Anaheim camp so I really got my skating and everything down in Calgary at the junior camp so I thought I did pretty well in Anaheim.
HF: What did the Anaheim staff suggest you work on?
NS: Just foot speed; try to get the hitting up a bit. I’m not exactly a big hitter but I try to play a physical game. So, I’d like to pick up the hitting a little bit to put it all together.
HF: How would you describe your own style of play?
NS: Probably just gritty. Try to convert passes, play well in my own end, nothing special.
HF: What part of your game do you think you need to improve?
NS: Probably skating. I think in order to make it to the next level you gotta have a lot quicker feet. I try to improve my foot speed after practice in drills with the coaches.
HF: What type of defensive partner do you think best complements your style of play?
NS: Probably an offensive defenseman. I don’t really jump up in the rush that much, I do a little more this year. In previous years I’d played with Sanford. I thought we were a good pairing because he was really offensive and I was really defensive. I think just a guy who plays a bit of offense and has a lot of communication on the ice.
HF: You’ve played a lot with Oscar Bartulis this year. How do you think him playing with you has helped him to the North American game?
NS: I think, give most of the credit to him. He’s working hard and playing well. Just the communication on the ice is probably helping him. Trying to work on talking and stuff so that he can get his right calls down like over and reverse and stuff. So it’s probably just helping most communication wise and talking after the games and such.
HF: With the rotating captaincy, you were the team captain in October. Did that change your approach to the game?
NS: Uh, not really. I think the whole point of it is the captain does his job every month, but I think that all the guys are doing really well with the leadership role. I think it’s one guy that shares with the whole team or the other. So I think with the rotating captain it just gives everyone the chance to get the extra little confidence in yourself to step up and do a good job.
HF: Is it going to be you and Bernier every month are there other players.
NS: No it’s whoever earned it that month, there could be other guys. (Ryan) Salvis is playing real well, doing well in the leadership role. There’s a lot of young guys who are stepping up so it could be anyone.
HF: Where do you think you’ll be playing next season?
NS: I try not to think about that. I’m hoping I can make the step up to the AHL but it mostly depends I think on the NHL.
HF: You could play as an overager next year?
NS: Yeah, I could play as an overage here. It would be exciting to play here too I mean. We’re supposed to, there is a good chance to get the Memorial Cup. So it would definitely be good and exciting to play here but also to make it to the next level. So the sooner I can do that the better.
HF: You were named to the QMJHL team in the Russia Challenge. What are your expectations for the two games with (Steve) Bernier on the team?
NS: Just real excited to get another chance to try to show what I can do on the ice to the junior coaches and try to give a good impression. I think there’s going to be a lot more finesse and stuff in that kind of game, but I think I’ll just try to play my game, be physical and not make any mistakes defensively.
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.