Q&A with James Sheppard

By Matt MacInnis

The Minnesota Wild continued to show that they feel size is important to their team with their first round selection of James Sheppard in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. The 6’1, 205 lbs power forward spent last season with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, amassing 84 points in 66 points. Sheppard is a big, powerful player who uses his size extremely well to win the puck in one-on-one battles and to protect the puck when driving to the net.

Sheppard skates quite well for a young big man, although his acceleration needs to be improved to make him more explosive. He projects to be a scoring-line player at the NHL level and should help to open up space for other players on his line. Sheppard will almost certainly return to the QMJHL next season and may represent Canada at the World Juniors next Christmas.

Sheppard spoke with Hockey’s Future at the Draft.

HF: How have you found this whole draft experience?
JS: Well, I just started breathing again, I have a little bit of feeling in my hands now (smiling). Just sitting in the stands waiting to hear your name called was nerve-wracking but exciting. But I knew somewhere along the line I would get drafted, and now I know I’m going to Minnesota. I’m extremely happy to be here right now, to have this jersey on; I really can’t explain the feeling.

HF: How long before the draft started were you in the stands?
JS: Well, I was there with a few guys, there were a few guys I knew that were sitting around me, so we were kind of chatting around, keeping things loose, so I was in my seat, probably around quarter to three. Just resting and getting comfortable with my family, so I had lots of support.

HF: Do you have any close friends who are also likely to be picked today?
JS: Well, I’ve got a friend from the east coast, Ryan Hillier, who I hope, I know he’s going to go, but just where he is going to go is next.

HF: Is he here today?
JS: He’s here today, I saw him in the stands, gave him a little wave. There’s guys that haven’t been friends all my life just because I met them in the last year, but we’ve grown tight just from being in the same places. These guys are going to be my group of friends hopefully for a long time. They were around me all throughout the draft and more.

HF: When you did your interview with Minnesota, did you have any indication of if they really liked you and were going to pick you?
JS: Um, yeah, I talked to them in Toronto at the Combine. I talked to them a couple of days ago in Vancouver, so there was always that speculation that these guys have interest, the interest is there, but until this happens you’re not sure. There is speculation and it’s kind of thought provoking.

HF: How hard is that process, when you’re interviewing with different teams, and you’re trying to guess which teams are interested in you? Did you spend a lot of time playing games in your head or did you just sit back and let it all happen?
JS: Well you can do that and I think I started out dreaming to myself what’s going to happen. But I talked with my agent and he said if we find out anything do you want us to tell you and I said, you know what, I want this to be exciting, I don’t want to know about it before it happens. And now I’m here and I know it’s Minnesota.

HF: For Minnesota fans who have never seen you play, how would you describe yourself?
JS: I think I’m a power forward. I have big size and I like to use that to my advantage. I need to get a little bit quicker and work harder on that. But overall, whatever it takes to help this team, to score some goals and be able to make the team.

HF: And what is your biggest weakness?
JS: I think my foot speed is something I really have to work on. When I get going I’m pretty fast, but just from zero to top speed is what I need to work on. And now with the new NHL, it’s all about down low speed, clutch-and-grab really isn’t part of the game, so I have to work on that and hopefully I can make the jump as soon as I can.

HF: Do you expect to be back in juniors with Cape Breton next season?
JS: Yeah, it’s hard to say, depending on what happens with camps and things like that. But I think another year in junior can only be beneficial, mature a little more. I’m not going to rush it, whenever they think I’m ready, whenever they think I’m ready to help the team, things will fall into place.

HF: Who’s your favorite Wild player?
JS: Well, you know, I like (Marian) Gaborik. He’s feisty, he skates fast, he’s a goal scorer. I’m more of a big guy that plays straight ahead. Maybe if I play together I’ll have a chance to get an assist here on there. But other than that, it’s fun to watch these guys play and it’ll be great over the summer.

HF: Do you think you will play for Canada at the next World Juniors?
JS: Actually, just in the past couple days I got a call that I was invited to the summer camp in Calgary. So that’s the first step, I’m very happy for that to happen. It was one of my goals.

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