By Brian Weidler, "Game Time" Prospect Department
This interview with Jeff Woywitka was done on January 26, 2008, and published in the February 2, 2008 issue of "Game Time."
The Chris Pronger trade to Edmonton in August of 2005 was perhaps the low point of the Bill Laurie era in St. Louis, from a PR standpoint as well as from an on-ice standpoint. Itâ€™s been a long road back to respectability for the Blues since then, but one benefit of that trade has been the acquisition of steady defenseman Jeff Woywitka.
The 6'-02, 215-pound Alberta native is having his best year ever as a pro this season with 10-18-28 totals, 29 PIM, and a sparkling plus-18 mark in 49 games with the Rivermen. "Game Time" recently sat down with the young man they call "Cheeks" in Peoria to talk about this year, and about being a part of that trade.
Game Time: You're having a career year as a professional. You have ten goals this year, and had 11 total in the four seasons prior to this one; and your next point will be your new single-season high in the AHL. Is thisthe year that it's finally all come together for Jeff Woywitka?
Jeff Woywitka: With the team and the organization and the people we have down here in Peoria, it's been great. I've been getting some good playing time here, and taking Â advantage of it; my confidence is pretty high. I'm just looking to keep improving on my game, keep working hard every day in practice and keep playing good at both ends of the ice. And if I keep doing that, I feel pretty comfortable that I can get another shot up top.
GT: In addition to your offense, you've also been a solid contributor on defense. Your AHL total was a minus-16 before this year, and this year you're plus-16 so far. Is that a reflection of the team you're playing with this season, or does it represent a renewed commitment on your part to the defensive end of the ice?
JW: Obviously, you want to go out there and not get scored on. You always try to create chances offensively, too, and I think we've created a lot offensively, and I've been on the right side of that for sure. But plus-minus is something you don't look too hard at. It's always good to be on the plus side, that's for sure, but overall you just want to make sure you're strong in your own zone and keep the puck out of your net, and when the chance is there to create offense, you want to create offense.
GT: You've got excellent size for an NHL defenseman, but you haven't been known as a physical player up to this point in your career. Do you feel that developing that aspect of your game might give you an even better shot at sticking with the Blues in the days and months ahead?
JW: Well, that's one reason why I'm down here. I want to make sure I'm playing hard and playing physical, and winning the one-on-one battles down here is huge. Because when you get up to the next level, that's the main thing is making sure you're strong, getting the puck out, winning the one on one battles, being strong defensively, and just being strong overall. That's something I'm working on here, my strength and conditioning, and I think it's come a long way.
GT: You've been a part of two major trades in your young career, after having been a first-round draft choice. Does being traded twice like that, in a short time, affect your self-confidence at all?
JW: No, I don't think so. I take that as a positive. That's two pretty good players I got traded for in Comrie and Pronger. So when you look at those players and you're involved in those trades, you think that somebody must have wanted you. So that's what I'm looking at there, that somebody wanted me in that organization, and you want to show them why they traded for you, and show them why you were a part of that trade. I'm still working on that, and I want to show the Blues that I was a big part of that (Pronger) trade.
GT: Talk us through your reaction when you first heard that you were being traded to St. Louis as part of a deal involving one of the top defensemen in the game. Where were you when you got the news and what was the first thing that went through your mind after hearing about the players involved in the trade?
JW: I was at home actually, in Sherwood Park (Alberta), just sitting on my couch, and I got a phone call from Kevin Lowe. It was about 10:30 at night, and usually when that happens and the GM is on the line that late, there's something happening. I was shocked at first, but you want to go where you're going to get a chance to play, and that's the main thing. I liked it in Edmonton, but I love it here and in St. Louis, being with the organization, and I'm looking forward to getting another chance with them.
GT: Fair or not, as long as you're in St. Louis, you and Eric Brewer are always going to be "the guys who we traded Pronger for." Does that put any pressure on you, and how are you handling it?
JW: No, I don't think so. It's always in the back of your mind; I think about it a lot, but I don't let it bother me. I just take it as a positive, and I keep moving on day by day, working on my game and trying to get to that next level.
GT: Last question: What's the one thing you'd like to tell the folks in St. Louis about Jeff Woywitka?
JW: The fans are great there, and I hope I get another chance to play in front of them again in the near future. And when I get that chance, I'll be ready to go.
"If we do not prepare for ourselves the role of the hammer, there will be nothing left but that of the anvil."
-- Otto von Bismarck, 1851