By Adam Vingan
There is no debate regarding whether the Washington Capitals have been buyers or sellers since the 2011 NHL Draft. Within the last three weeks, the Washington Capitals have made several moves and completely overhauled their roster in the process. Between June 24 and July 6, the Caps brought in Troy Brouwer, Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward, Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Vokoun, while losing Boyd Gordon, Semyon Varlamov, Marco Sturm, Matt Bradley and Jason Arnott.
The latest transaction made by General Manager George McPhee occurred July 8, when he traded forward Eric Fehr to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a 2012 fourth-round draft pick and prospect Danick Paquette. Unlike the aforementioned additions, Paquette is far from guaranteed a roster spot on the Caps, let alone their farm teams. That is why just three days after being traded to Washington, Paquette arrived at Kettler Capitals Iceplex Monday to take part in Prospect Development Camp.
“It was a strange a little bit, but when I heard it, I was pretty happy to be traded to Washington,” Paquette said Monday. “I didn’t know what to expect about the team, but when I talked to everybody and my family, everyone was happy, so I’m pretty happy.”
Arriving in Washington for camp was just part of a “crazy” weekend for the 20-year-old (he turns 21 July 17) Montreal, Quebec, native. After learning about the trade Friday, he arrived in Washington late Sunday afternoon to join his fellow prospects.
“I got a call from Kevin [Cheveldayoff, Winnipeg GM] and he told me I got traded,” Paquette said. “I asked him where and he said Washington. [McPhee] just called me and gave me all the information and asked me if I could get down and I said, ‘Yes, I want to come here and see everybody and meet the people.'”
While every prospect involved in Development Camp has something to prove, Paquette is at a disadvantage as he is literally brand new. A third-round selection of the Atlanta Thrashers (64th overall) in the 2008 NHL Draft, Paquette scored 13 goals and added seven assists in 59 games for the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators last season. Yet, Paquette made a name for himself during his time with in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Paquette amassed 94 goals and 81 assists in 251 career games with Lewiston and Quebec, but was known for his fists as much as his scoring touch. During his second season with Lewiston (2007-08), Paquette scored 29 goals, but also accumulated 213 PIM. Paquette outdid himself in 2008-09, finishing with 25 goals and 25 assists in 61 games (including eight power play goals and six shorthanded goals), but earned 230 PIM, including a five-game suspension during the playoffs.
“I’m an agitator,” Paquette said. “Sean Avery, a little bit. I can score some goals. I can fight. I can hit everybody. I can do everything I can do on the ice to help my team [and] be a good teammate.”
In his last season in the QMJHL, Paquette finally struck a balance between being aggressive and out of control. He cut down his PIM significantly (230 to 136) and scored a career-best 36 goals and 29 assists in 64 regular season games with 12 coming on the power play and six being game-winning goals. But his reputation as an agitator returned last season with Gwinnett, where he finished seventh in the ECHL with 179 PIM, which also happens to be the highest of any prospect taking part in this year’s camp.
Paquette took to the ice for the first time with Group B Monday afternoon and looked eager to make a good first impression. He possesses deceptive speed and a powerful slap shot, but looked most comfortable along the boards and in front of the net. Paquette seemed right at home when participating in drills that involved scrums along the boards and he came away with the puck on more than one occasion. Paquette, according to Hockey’s Future, “is a perfect example of a player that teams love to have on their own side, but hate to play against.” He is far from one-dimensional and will annoy teams not only with his pest-like behavior, but his knack for finding the back of the net.
Last weekend may have been a whirlwind experience for Paquette, but it pales in comparison to his entire season. Paquette was part of a Thrashers organization that was in limbo throughout most of the season as rumors regarding relocation ran rampant. Paquette did his best to focus on the season at hand, but could not help but wonder about his future.
“You don’t know what’s going on with your career and even where the team’s going,” Paquette said. “You can’t do anything because it’s not in your hands, but in your head, it’s just ‘What’s going on with me?’ It’s crazy.”
But now that he is a member of a Washington franchise that is beginning to establish itself as a perennial Stanley Cup contender, Paquette is excited about the opportunity to play, no matter where he goes.
“It’s a big franchise,” Paquette said. “Everyone knows Ovechkin, so everyone in the world knows the Capitals. It’s a great organization and they take care of the rookies and every guy that gets called up here. Everyone loves it here. It’s a great city, it’s a great time, so I’m pretty happy. With everything that’s going on in Washington, I will not say that they are better than before, but they have more, really good players and everyone wants to come here. For sure, I want to be a part of the Capitals, but if I don’t make it, I want to be a part of the Hershey Bears and a big aspect of this team and hopefully I can come back for the Capitals one day.”