There's a reason Gwinnett rookie defenseman Drew Paris
prefers to lead by actions rather than words. A little pregame chalk talk earlier this season showed why.
Gladiators coach Jeff Pyle once in a while gives a very condensed scouting report on that night's opponent to one of his players. He then asks the player to pass along the word to teammates, figuring it might sink in coming from a peer.
So that's exactly what Paris did when he was tabbed for the task, walking into the room and then loudly announcing a couple of Xs and Os. The rest of the Gladiators might as well have been listening through Greek translation headphones for as much as they absorbed the message. They instead were stunned that Paris, the keep-your-head-down type, had popped up to toss in two or three cents of his own.
"That was kind of funny. I guess I'm quiet. I don't talk much," said Paris, 21. "The guys kind of laughed. It sounded like I was being a robot, saying what I was told to say. If it gives the boys some laughs, it was worth it."
Pyle, realizing that he somewhat hung his prospect out to dry, gave him the "my bad." But there was a bigger point to be made.
"He's been one of the bright spots of our season. He's just a pleasure to coach, keeps his mouth shut, doesn't question anything. A breath of fresh air from some of the kids you have at this level who are out of touch with how good they are or not." -- Jeff Pyle
"It was probably one of the first times he said anything to the guys. The guys went ballistic on him," Pyle said. "It was kind of a turning point for him. He knew he was accepted by the guys."
Apart from that minor slip, Pyle has put Paris in the right position all season long. It's been an easy call. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds and with a shot that's loaded on a hair trigger, Paris wears well the role of one of the ECHL's best point men.
The head of a power-play unit that leads the league (23.1 percent), Paris is first among defenseman in shots (194), fifth in points (43), tied for first in power-play goals (eight) and tied for fourth in power-play points (23).
Forget about giving teammates the book on opponents. Paris is the one threat whom opponents must study chapter and verse.
"He's been one of the bright spots of our season," said Pyle, whose team is heading for a playoff-less season. "He's just a pleasure to coach, keeps his mouth shut, doesn't question anything. A breath of fresh air from some of the kids you have at this level who are out of touch with how good they are or not."
Pyle knew precisely how good Paris was off a small sample size last season. He went pointless in two playoff games for Gwinnett, but that was good enough for the coach. When Pyle made his pitch for Paris to return as a free agent this season, he all but promised the player the keys to the power play.
"The second game (last year) he was running the power play. It was like he'd been there all year," Pyle said.
"It was nice to hear the coach has confidence in me. Obviously, when he says that, I don't take it for granted," Paris said. "I definitely put pressure on myself right off the bat. I said to myself, 'Let's not (mess) up.'"
The chances of that were miniscule. Paris has been prepping for his role for a decade. Growing up in Pointe-Claire, Que., Paris used to tee up metal pucks in his backyard and bomb them into a net.
"At pee-wees I found out I had a pretty good shot," he said. "That's how I figured I was going to get a lot of my points."
Paris hit 6-foot-3 by the time he was 16, so the framework of a physical presence was always in place. He complemented that by going to school on every shift, noticing which opponents sacrificed their bodies to make a block and who shied away. He learned how to create shooting lanes by altering the speed at which he moved laterally across the top of the point.
"I have some techniques I find work pretty well," he said. "One-timers are pretty easy to get through. If he (a defender) is more than five feet away from you, it's hard for him to stop (a shot) because he has no clue where you're shooting. If he's standing in front of you, you pass it off because you don't want to risk shooting it in his shin pads. I remember in my head what works."
Paris didn't get much of a chance to show he can translate from theory to actual practice last season. After finishing in the QMJHL, he joined Rochester of the AHL for five games, came to the Florida Everblades for four and then finished with the pair in Gwinnett. His effort this season has earned him just one AHL game, with Toronto.
"I can't dwell on that. I worked hard (last) summer. I had high expectations of myself," Paris said. "I didn't come in thinking I was going to be mediocre. You work hard, have a confident attitude, things can work out."
Pyle, who is stunned that Paris didn't get more of an AHL look this season, expects greater intrigue in his player from that league in 2010-11. The coach's negotiating leverage has been severely compromised by Paris' excellence. Pyle's biggest chip, the promise of power-play generalship, isn't going to carry near as much sway as it did last summer.
"I'm just going to hopefully move to the next level. I'm going to focus on that," Paris said. "The people in charge, they'll have a say on that. I'm hoping I've done enough."