In the second half of our interview with Derek Wills, the voice of the
Hamilton Bulldogs, the focus shifts primarily to the players. Who are some of the
key players for the Bulldogs this year? What are his thoughts on the
newcomers such as Brendan Gallagher? Also, which youngsters have shown
themselves to be good leaders in the locker room? Read on for those
answers and more.
HabsWorld: It’s somewhat surprising to see Louis Leblanc, one of the higher returning
scorers from last year, playing on what appears to be a checking line. Is the
duo of Boyce and Leblanc going to be used primarily in a shutdown role or do you
think they’ll have their opportunities to play a more offensive style?
[Note: These questions were submitted prior to Louis Leblanc’s injury in
The good news is that Leblanc is expected to start skating again in the coming
Derek Wills: "Before getting injured on October 20th, Louis Leblanc was playing on what the
coaches called the third line with Darryl Boyce and Mike Blunden. With that
said, all three of the guys on the line have NHL experience. In my opinion, the
top three lines on the team are very well balanced, as a matter of fact, I refer
to them as lines 1-A, 1-B and 1-C. One of the things that I love about Leblanc
is that is effective as a top-six forward and as a bottom-six forward. That
versatility will serve him well during what I’m confident will be a long NHL
HW: Who is the most NHL-ready blueliner of the five rookie defencemen starting
the season in Hamilton?
DW: "That’s a tough question to answer. Different players bring different
attributes to the ice. Offensively, I have been impressed with Nathan Beaulieu.
Beaulieu is a skilled defenceman who skates well enough to join, and sometimes
even lead the rush. He’s also a very smart player who has, for the most part,
done a good job reading the play and has been well positioned. As quarterback of
the team’s power play, Beaulieu has shown that he has the ability to create room
for his teammates with his ability as a playmaker. Despite the fact that he’s
yet to register his first professional point, I have little doubt that it’s only
a matter of time before he starts producing at a high level."
[Note: Beaulieu has since collected his first point, an assist against
Rochester on November 3rd.]
HW: Do you think the Bulldogs will sign a veteran defenceman to ease the
transition to the pro ranks for the rookies? Should they be looking to sign one?
DW: "When the season began, I thought that the team needed another veteran
defenceman. Now, I’m not so sure. If it was the right player, and by that I mean
a proven, top-two veteran, I would be all for it…but I don’t think that the team
should sign a veteran defenceman for the sake of signing a veteran defenceman.
Even though five of the ‘Dogs seven defencemen are rookies, they really haven’t
played like rookies in most games. Veterans Frederic St-Denis and Brendon Nash
have NHL experience and I wouldn’t be surprised if all five of the rookie
defencemen made it and I’d be shocked three or four of them didn’t. This is the
best group of prospects that the team has had on defence in my 12 seasons."
HW: Aaron Palushaj and Frederic St-Denis are players who, once the lockout is
settled, will have to clear waivers to return to Hamilton. Do you feel either of
them are NHL ready and could stick with the big club?
DW: "Aaron Palushaj and Frederic St-Denis can both play in the NHL, but that
doesn’t mean that they’ll start the season with the Montreal Canadiens if /when
the lockout ends. It’s really a numbers game, the Habs can only keep so many
players, so there are going to be some guys who will have to continue developing
with the ‘Dogs in the AHL despite the fact that they’ve proven that they can
play in the NHL."
HW: Looking at the depth chart, it looks as if Alexander Avtsin is on the outside
looking in. Would it be better for his development to play big minutes in
Wheeling or to play a 13th man role and stay with the Bulldogs?
DW: "I believe that Alexander Avtsin needs to play in order to get better. Right
now, Avtsin is practicing with the team and doing extra work with the coaches,
waiting for an opportunity to play. When he gets that chance, it’s going to be
up to him to prove that he belongs in the line-up. He certainly has the skills
to do so."
HW: One of the Habs’ more intriguing prospects joining the Bulldogs this year is
Brendan Gallagher. Could you comment on his style of play and progress so far?
Despite his size, do you believe he can be a scorer in the NHL and could he be a
candidate to make the Canadiens out of training camp (as he was last year) when
the lockout is settled?
DW: "I’ve been very impressed with Brendan Gallagher. I don’t think that his stats
really tell the
story. Gallagher has consistently created opportunities for himself and his teammates. Gallagher leads all Hamilton skaters and is
first in the AHL in
rookie shots with 36. What’s most
encouraging is that Gallagher seems to be getting better and better by the game.
After his performance during training camp and the preseason with Montreal in
2011-2012 and with his high-level of play so far this season, I wouldn’t be
surprised if the Canadiens gave him a long look should the NHL lockout come to
HW: So far, the team has not yet named a captain but instead are using three
alternates. Beyond Blunden, Boyce, and St-Denis, who else do you think will step
up and fill the void left by the veterans who are no longer with the team?
DW: "It’s not easy to replace great leaders like Alex Henry and Brian Willsie.
With that said, the ‘Dogs have a lot of leaders in their dressing room. There
are different types of leaders. There are quiet, lead-by-example guys like
Frederic St-Denis and more vocal leaders like Darryl Boyce and Mike Blunden.
Kyle Hagel and Zack Stortini have emerged as great veteran leaders. Louis
Leblanc and Blake Geoffrion have also proven to be good young leaders."
HW: If the lockout gets resolved, how do you think the Bulldogs will be affected
relative to the rest of the division/league?
DW: "If the NHL lockout ends this season, I believe that the Hamilton Bulldogs
will become an even stronger AHL team. If the Montreal Canadiens are healthy, I
don’t think the ‘Dogs line-up would change much, if at all. If the Habs aren’t
healthy, all bets are off."
HW: Of all the players on the active roster, who do you think will ultimately
have the greatest impact on the Bulldogs’ success this season?
DW: "In a regular American Hockey League season, it’s tough to win without very
good goaltending. With the National Hockey League lockout and the plethora of
NHL-calibre players in the AHL this season, goaltending is going to be even more
important. With that said, I believe that the Hamilton Bulldogs have one of the
best goaltenders in the league in Cedrick Desjardins. If Desjardins plays as
well as he has in past season, he will give the ‘Dogs a chance to win almost
HW: What, in your opinion, is the Bulldogs’ biggest strength?
DW: "I believe that the Hamilton Bulldogs’ biggest strength is raw talent. I’ve
been with the team for 12 seasons and the ‘Dogs have been one of the top teams
in the league during that time, both in terms of winning at the AHL level and
developing talent for the NHL. I’ve seen a lot of good players and a lot of good
teams during my time in Hamilton. With that said, this may be the best group of
prospects that the Bulldogs have ever had. I’m confident that the organization
has put the right people in place to develop that raw talent to help the
Hamilton Bulldogs win now and the Montreal Canadiens win later."
On behalf of everyone here at HabsWorld, I’d like to thank Derek for taking
the time to answer these questions and provide us with some valuable insights
about the Hamilton Bulldogs.