Offensive defenseman Paul Albers is learning to pick his spots properly at the professional level, but NHL teams know it’s easier to teach someone to make safer plays than to give them offensive instincts. And those he has in spades.
Undrafted in 2004, he signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Wild in July following a strong year with the WHL champion Vancouver Giants. He scored 62 points in 70 games, was named Western Conference Defenseman of the Year and was the WHL Plus/Minus Leader with a +38 rating. In the postseason he was named to the Memorial Cup First All-Star Team.
The Melville, Saskatchewan native has been assigned to the ECHL Texas Wildcatters along with fellow Minnesota prospects Miroslav Kopriva, Mike Madill, Riley Emmerson and Mark Rooneem. Paired with third-year pro Luis Tremblay, Albers has five points in seven games with the Wildcatters.
The newly-turned 21-year-old rookie is quick to flash a smile, despite a gap where he lost a front tooth a couple years ago thanks to a stick to the face.
Hockey’s Future spoke to Albers following the Wildcatters’ 6-3 loss to the Gwinnett Gladiators on Nov. 4.
HF: How do you feel out there so far this season?
PA: I feel fine, it’s definitely a different league, coming from junior with a lot of young guys. These guys are a lot older than me now. You’ve got guys who are 28, 29. It’s a faster game and you’ve got to be prepared every night. I think I’ve had a good start now, but I still think I could do better and have a lot of things to improve on, obviously.
HF: Is the league what you expected?
PA: Some things are different. The bus we drive is different, though the travel’s the same, but the hockey part is what I expected. That’s the important thing.
HF: What are your living arrangements? Are you with one or two teammates?
PA: I’m with two teammates. I was with one and then I moved with two guys right now. It’s really nice, we’re set up in nice apartments. I’m used to cooking on my own so I make my own meals. I’m with Jason Beeman and Kevin Asselin, who are both rookies.
HF: Last year you played with Cody Franson (NAS), and now you’re with Luis Tremblay. How is it different playing with him?
PA: Luis has been my regular partner, but it moves around during the game. It’s different. Franson was more of an offensive player. Tremblay plays a lot of defense. Me and Cody, we used to kind of screw around with the puck and try to make plays. With Luis, we try to keep it simple, and just get the puck out and play good defensively.
HF: If you’re trying to be more cautious right now, how are you still scoring so much?
PA: Most of my points this year are on the power play. I’m confident to make decisions on the power play, more so than 5-on-5. Jumping into the play, getting out of position, I don’t want to do that too much yet.
HF: How is it being a rookie again?
PA: It’s not as bad because it’s pro hockey. Everyone’s here to play – not to harass the young guy, tell him to pack the bus and stuff like that. Everyone jokes around about it more than being serious, but it’s still part of the game.
HF: Is Texas much like Saskatchewan?
PA: You know, it kind of is. I think it’s the same type of people, just a little warmer. I enjoy it there a lot. The people are so nice. It’s a great place to play away from home and you can’t complain about the weather either. You’ve got the farmers, you’ve got the hunters, fishers, you’ve got the oil workers and in Saskatchewan we have the miners. It’s totally the same type of people – apart from like Houston or Dallas it’s all small towns. Beaumont reminds me a little bit of Regina. It’s a small city, but big enough.
HF: You signed with Minnesota this summer, how exactly did that come about? Did you have a lot of offers and choose them?
PA: Yeah, my agent started talking to a bunch of teams when the time was right. I got a couple offers and Minnesota just offered me a contract I couldn’t refuse so I jumped on that right away and I couldn’t be happier.
HF: How did training camp go for you?
PA: Again it was a step up. It was my first NHL camp and I didn’t know what to expect being a young guy coming up to a league where everyone’s older, stronger and more mature. I did good, but I wanted to do better.
HF: Did any veterans in particular help you?
PA: All the guys were easy to talk to. In practice when we played together each guy would help out. That was the big thing – when you’re going through your first camp and playing with these guys you watch on TV and you have a lot of respect for – they did help out a lot.
HF: You were undrafted, was that a big disappointment at the time?
PA: It’s every young kid’s goal to get drafted. It was a big disappointment to me, but the year I had, my draft year, that’s what expected because I didn’t play good enough to get drafted. I kind of regrouped, tried to get better. I got lucky and got put with a really good coach and really good hockey team and I improved a lot.
HF: A lot of offensive defensemen played forward for many years, is that true for you too?
PA: No, actually it’s a funny story. When I was really young, I was a forward, but I started playing defense because I wouldn’t have been good enough to make the team as a forward. I wanted to play with my friends, so I said ‘Well, I’ll try out on defense’ and made the team. I’ve been a defenseman ever since.
When I was young, I guessed a lot and took too many chances. I learned from that. I made a lot of mistakes. Now I have an idea of what works and what doesn’t.
HF: What would you say to an undrafted guy, words of encouragement, since you’ve made good on not being selected yourself?
PA: My biggest thing was I love to play the game, I love to have fun. Whether or not I thought I was going to get a contract, I continued to play, continued to have fun, and I got better. There’s never an end to anything if you just keep working and keep trying.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.