Were it not for the presence of a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team in St. John’s in 2006, Alex Wall probably wouldn’t have made it to the Q as a fifth-round draft choice that year.
He would not have played with the St. John’s Fog Devils the following season, or made the trek to Montreal when the Fog Devils’ franchise moved there in 2008, or been part of a trade that sent him to the Moncton Wildcats, a President’s Cup championship and the a subsequent bid for a Memorial Cup last spring.
And, chances are, he wouldn’t be the marquee rearguard he is today for Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts, to whom he was dealt in the off-season.
“If we hadn’t taken him, nobody would have picked up him,” insists then Fog Devils coach Real Paiement, now the head coach of the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
“You could see teams would have missed out on a very good player later.”
“(Alex Wall) probably wouldn’t have been taken because the first thing they’d say is, ‘He’s too small,’” said former Fog Devils assistant coach Ed O’Brien, when asked about the 5-10, 184-pound Wall in an interview last year.
“But we got to see him and how hard he could work and we took him.”
In his first year of AAA midget with the St. John’s Maple Leafs, the Mount Pearl native stood a meagre 5-8 and tipped the scales at just 160 pounds.
“I knew I was considered a small defenceman,” says Wall, who stands a couple of inches taller and some 20 pounds heavier today at 20 years of age.
“But even though people said I was undersized, I knew what I lacked in size I made up for in skating and hockey sense.”
Wall, to his credit, feels as though he, “always had a shot.” The feeling was reinforced watching players like former teammate Patrick O’Keefe of the Fog Devils, an undersized defenceman.
“The way he succeeded gave me hope.”
Paiement says it was Wall’s skating and on-ice awareness that helped him earn a spot with the Foggies. As the youngster began to feel more and more comfortable in his rookie season in 2007-08, the Fog Devils began to understand they had discovered a diamond in the rough.
“We remember saying that it doesn’t look like it, but when he hits, he hits hard,” said Paiement. “I’m sure over the years he’s surprised a few a people with more size than him. Because he’s so technically good with his body position, he’s able to punish people.
“He’s not looking around for it, but he looks to position himself to get the puck and make a play.”
The Remparts are Wall’s fourth QMJHL team in four years, but that’s not to say the Fog Devils/Juniors and Wildcats were eager to get rid of him.
Wall says when he was dealt to a Moncton squad tooling up for the playoffs last year, Wildcats coach Danny Flynn told him he actually tried to acquire him in a 2008 deal that saw veteran Phil Mangan land in St. John’s (Flynn would settle for Fog Devils draft picks).
“Going to Moncton, looking at their lineup and the shot we had at the championship, I was pretty excited they wanted me for that,” says Wall.
“It’s nice knowing a team wants you as opposed to a team wanting to get rid of you.”
Wall’s services were in demand again this past summer and he landed with the Remparts in a draft-day trade.
“Patrick Roy called me before the trade and asked me if I would come play with him,” recalls Wall.
“It was a pretty obvious answer.”
Just as the Remparts are his fourth team, Roy became Wall’s fourth coach. While some might prefer the consistency of playing under one or two coaches through a short major junior career, Wall feels his bouncing around has been to the benefit of his game.
“There are some systems you fit in better with and others you don’t, but you have to adapt. Being able to adapt to new systems is what makes you a better player.
“I still skate with the puck and play the way I always have, but defensively I’m a lot smarter. I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a player.”
Wall, with a career plus-minus rating of plus-21 heading into this season, has always been a reliable pressence on the defensive end. That holds true again this year as he’s second in the league with a +34 rating.
But throughout his major junior career, he’s never put up big offensive numbers. His best season came last year when he registered six goals and 23 assists in 62 games split between Montreal and Moncton. Through 35 games this year, Wall already has three markers and 23 assists, good for fifth among all defenceman and putting him on pace for a 50-point season.
Wall was 25th on the Q-league’s Central Scouting List heading into the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, but was overlooked when draft day came around. While his major junior eligibility expires at season’s end, Wall still intends to explore the pro route if he can land an invite to a pro camp.
If that doesn’t pan out, he’ll avail of the Q’s education fund and attend one of the Atlantic University Sport schools.
“I’ll play some university hockey for four years and see what happens after that.”
For the time being, he’s focused on helping the Remparts win a league championship and get back to the Memorial Cup. The Remparts are the fifth-ranked club in the overall Canadian Hockey League rankings.