GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Detroit Red Wings are one of the best teams when it comes to drafting and developing players, both up front and on the blueline. Xavier Ouellet is part of that strong group of defensive prospects Detroit currently has.
The Bayonne, France, native made his NHL debut on Oct. 21, 2013, in a 1-0 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks. He played in four more games last season, including a playoff game against the Boston Bruins. This season, he has played in 21 games and scored his first NHL goal in a 5-4 shootout win against New Jersey.
Ouellet was sent back to Grand Rapids, as the Red Wings decided to go with the right-handed defenseman in Alexey Marchenko. But there’s no doubt Ouellet will eventually be a main staple on the Red Wings blueline.
The Hockey Writers sat down with Ouellet following the Griffins’ 7-1 win against the Oklahoma City Barons on Wednesday, a game in which Ouellet notched an assist.
The Hockey Writers: You spent some time with Detroit last year and this year as well. Are you used to going back and forth by now?
Xavier Ouellet: I’ve gotten used to it. I’ve gotten used to jumping in the car and driving I-96 back and forth, back and forth. I think it’s been a lot of fun to go up there, a little less fun coming back down, but at the same time, it’s fun.
THW: How have you enjoyed your time in Detroit this season?
XO: I enjoy it a lot. I think it was good. I think I did a pretty good job of getting into the groove — get to know the guys a little more, so it was a lot of fun for sure.
THW: What was it like to get your first NHL goal?
XO: It felt good. It felt good to get this one out of the way. It was a big goal in the game too, so it felt really good.
THW: You’re constantly changing defensive partners when you are going up and down. Is that difficult for you as a defenseman?
XO: I’m getting to know all of these guys. I think the main part is to talk a lot, which I do, most of the partners I’ve had talk a lot. So, it makes it way easier to communicate and execute on the ice.
THW: And the fact that you played with a lot of those guys who are now in Detroit in Grand Rapids, does that make it a little easier as well?
XO: For sure, I know pretty much everyone up there now. When I get there, it’s not as uncomfortable as it was as first.
THW: You guys have won nine games in a row down here in Grand Rapids. What do you think has been the key for you guys during the streak?
XO: I think everybody bought into the concept of the system here, and that helps. I think all of the young guys matured throughout the season. They show up everyday now, and I think that’s what we need.
THW: Are these wins more satisfying because of the struggles that happened early in the season where you struggled to put a full 60 minutes together?
XO: For sure, for sure. We’ve always played to win. I think at first, we were a little immature, some of the young guys weren’t ready, I would say. But I think we all have grown as a team, we show up every night now, and we still have some stuff to work on, but people every show up every practice ready to work, so I think that’s a big difference.
THW: Do you think hockey is gaining popularity out in France?
XO: Hockey is not their main sport — obviously, they have soccer, they have rugby over there. I guess it depends what part of France.
THW: What got you into hockey in the first place?
XO: My dad was playing. He played professional hockey in Europe.
THW: Have you had a chance to go back to France during the summer?
XO: I haven’t — It’s been 11 years now. So, we’ll see, if I can find some time and find the money to get there, I might make the trip.
THW: What’s your favorite hockey memory?
XO: Obviously, my first NHL game was a big one. The World Juniors was a great experience. The Under-18, when we won the gold medal was a big one, too. My playoffs in Juniors, all of them were good experiences.
THW: Are you superstitious at all?
XO: I have a routine — I always do the same thing. I think it’s a way to get ready, I don’t see it as a superstition. But, I get ready the same way every night, and it’s been working.
THW: What specifically do you do every time?
XO: My warm up, I do pretty much at the same time. It gets me ready, tie my skates at the same time as usual, stuff like that. I think if you ask the guys, they all can tell you what I’m going to do at one time. Does it make me superstitious? Maybe, but it gets me ready.
THW: Who did you idolize growing up as player?
XO: It was Nicklas Lidstrom. In my mind, he was the best — always been the best. I liked the way he was really smart, in the right place all the right time. He didn’t seem he was working like crazy, he was just so fluid out there — doing everything right. I think that’s what I wish I could be.
THW: Have you had a chance to meet him?
XO: My first (training) camp here was his last year. I played against him at camp.
THW: How was playing against him?
XO: It was fun. It was fun, it was really impressive. It was my first pro camp. It was really impressive to see all of these guys, (Niklas Kronwall) Kronner, (Henrik) Zetterberg, (Pavel) Datsyuk, (Jonathan) Ericsson, Lidstrom, all of these guys. It was really impressive, and I for sure enjoyed it.
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Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.