Over the past few months, I have dedicated myself to getting to know the prospects in the Vancouver Canucks’ system. Sure, anyone can get their "google scouting on" and watch game tape, and highlights in an attempt to become familiar with the player. But I’ve been interested moreso in getting to know the people, off of the ice and outside of the hockey rink. What makes them tick? What kind of personality are they hiding under those jerseys, and equipment?
After having sat down – in virtual chairs, the most comfortable of the bunch – with prospects Frankie Corrado, Billy Sweatt, and Eddie Lack in the recent past, I had the opportunity to chat with Joseph LaBate. The big center came in at number 8 on our very own ‘Top 20 Prospects’ list, after having been drafted 101st overall by the Canucks back in 2011.
Click Past the Jump for the Chat.
What impressed me most about this young man was his ability to reflect upon himself, and his game, critically. It’s an important asset that some athletes simply don’t possess. There’s no doubt in my mind that it will pay dividends for him in the future.
Dimitri Filipovic: In recent years, the hockey program at Wisconsin has had an exceptionally impressive track record of producing NHL talent. What do you think it is about that program that lends itself so well to translating to the next level?
Joseph LaBate: I think it starts with the coaching staff. Mike Eaves is a tremendous coach, and is very passionate about the game. He truly cares about his players. He wants the best out of everyone and won’t accept anything less.
Our strength and conditioning coach, Jim Snider, is arguably one of the best strength coaches around. Pro guys return to Madison in the summer to train with Coach Snider all the time. It just goes to show how much trust they have in him. Another thing that makes Wisconsin such a great program is its resources, and training facilities. It’s amazing having the rink on campus and being able to skate whenever you so choose.
DF: Take me through what was going on in your head as you found out that the Vancouver Canucks had selected you 101st overal in 2011. Did you have any expectations of where you’d be going heading into the draft?
JL: The draft took place in my hometown, and I was just so excited to hear my name called. Having my family and friends there to share the experience with me was something that I’ll never forget. Going into the draft I just simply hoped to be picked by a great organization, and thankfully, that was the case.
DF: In the past few seasons, the Canucks have focused on adding size in the draft in an attempt to establish a more physical brand of hockey. Have they told you that they’d like you work on anything in particular while you’re at Wisconsin?
JL: I have been told to work on my overall strength. I’m a 6’4” forward, weighing in around 205 pounds. There’s plenty of weight that I can put on in the future.
DF: There’s players out there that seek out physical contact, and then there’s players that tend to shy away from it. Which category would you put yourself into at this point?
JL: I would say that I am somewhere in the middle at this point of my career. But I am honestly putting a large emphasis on becoming a more physical player.
DF: I know that you have compared yourself to David Backes in the past, in saying that he’s the type of player that you’d like to one day become. Why is that exactly?
JL: I like David Backes because he is a great leader, and a very physical, tough forward with skill. He’s a great player and has worked for everything that he has accomplished. He’s also from Minnesota, which is cool because he has gone through a lot of the things that I am currently going through in my career.
I am working on the physical aspect of the game, and watching Backes play, you can tell that he plays with a physical edge on the ice. That’s something that I’m trying to incorporate into my game. I skated with Ryan Malone this past summer, and I have started watching more of his stuff as well.
DF: You were at your second prospects camp this summer. Which guys in particular did you get along with best, and hang out with the most?
JL: I spent most of the time with Frankie Corrado. My roommate was Niklas Jensen, so Niklas and I spent a lot of time together as well. Just a bunch of good guys.
DF: How did you like your (limited) stay in Vancouver? Anything in particular that stood out to you in the city?
JL: I loved visiting Vancouver. It’s such a beautiful city. I really liked seeing the high-rise apartments, and knowing that the Olympics were there just two years ago is amazing. I enjoyed seeing all of the buildings that were built for the Olympics, and I also loved the mountains.
DF: Have you had the chance to chat with any current Canucks since you were drafted? Anyone impart any words of wisdom on you?
JL: I have, yes. I talked to Keith Ballard while I was skating with him this past summer, and he just told me to enjoy the road and keep working hard. He was a fun guy to skate with, and I really enjoyed it.
DF: Obviously it’s incredibly early, and anything can happen in the next few years, but as of right now, what are your plans in terms of how long you’re expecting to stay at Wisconsin? Do you think you’ll be riding it out for the full four years?
JL: I am at a great school in Wisconsin, and am honestly in no rush to leave. I am working every day to become a better hockey player, and am enjoying playing college hockey, training, and attending school at Madison. We’ll see.
DF: Be honest – do you ever search yourself up on the internet, to see what people on Twitter and the message boards are saying about you?
JL: If I do an interview such as this one, I will read the finished product afterwards to see how it turned out.
DF: You were born in Minnesota, and played high school hockey there. Is it safe to assume that you were a Minnesota Wild fan growing up? On a scale of 1-10, where would you place the hatred level for the Vancouver Canucks down there? By all accounts, they view the Canucks as their biggest rival (a feeling which is nowhere near mutual, I may add).
JL: I remember when I was around 10 years old, and the Wild would play the Canucks, the commentators would talk up the rivalry. It always made the game more fun to watch. Todd Bertuzzi was on the Canucks, and I remember marveling at how strong and physical he was. I also enjoyed watching Markus Naslund play, in those older jerseys.
When Vancouver was drafting in 2011, the entire crowd at Xcel Energy Center booed them. So I’d put the hatred level somewhere around an 11. Very strong.
DF: At Canucks Army, we had you as the 8th best prospect in the Canucks’ system. When you wind up causing havoc in the NCAA next season, and have a stellar season, be sure to point out that it can be attributed partly to the motivation you received from our list. I’d love to see "not too bad for the 8th best prospect" as a postgame comment one day. Can you make that happen?
JL: [Laughs] We’ll see.
DF: Joseph, I appreciate you taking the time to chat. Everyone, follow @JosephLaBate on Twitter. Let’s give him the ‘Canucks Army bump’.