If there's a player available for the 2008 Entry Draft about whom you could say the jury is still out, it's Danick Paquette
, the 6-foot, 210-pound right wing from the Lewiston MAINEiacs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Paquette seems to have that old cartoon fixture of the devil on one shoulder and an angel on another. On the ice, he scores goals – he was second on his team with 29 goals this past season – and gets in fights – he was second in the QMJHL this season with 213 penalty minutes. But he spent his own money to throw a Christmas party for the Boys and Girls Club and he likes playing in the only QMJHL city that doesn't permit people his age to drink alcohol.
Paquette makes it a point to be the last player to leave the ice at every practice.
Everyone agrees Paquette brings passion and leadership qualities, depth of character and pounding hits. Then they begin to disagree: Is he fast enough to play at the NHL level? Can he learn to eliminate dumb penalties? Is he tough enough for an enforcer role?
"I'm a guy that there aren't a lot of people who can play my style," Paquette said at last month’s NHL Scouting Combine. "I work hard every time on the ice and I work very hard off the ice. I have a lot of passion for hockey and it's my dream to play in the NHL. I will devote everything to making it to the NHL and staying there."
He might have been the only player at the Combine to list Todd Bertuzzi
as his idol.
"I saw him play in Vancouver when I was a kid and that became my team," Paquette said. "I like the Montreal Canadiens
, too. I love what Bertuzzi does – he hits everybody and scores some goals. Sometimes you have to fight to change a game. He fought. I fight. We're almost the same kind of player. I love him."
The kids of the Boys and Girls Club in Lewiston, Maine, also love Paquette. He held a party there on Dec. 10, and you can see the camaraderie and affection in the pictures available on the MAINEiacs' Web site
"Not everyone has had what I had in my life," Paquette said. "My parents were there for me all the time and I learned that to give something sometimes is the decent thing to do. What I did was just a little bit, but it was a way of showing appreciation and giving back to this community.
"I received 150 letters that said thank you and that was the best (Christmas) gift of my life. My father, Lucien, and my mother, Nathalie, operate a sporting-goods store in Montreal and they get involved in charities, too.
"I started playing hockey when I was 3-years-old in my Montreal neighborhood, Hochelaga. I practiced a lot because we had a rink behind our house that my dad made. I worked a lot on my shot and my skating and I think the rink helped me a lot. I played Bantam AA for Etoile d'Est and Midget AAA for the Montreal Predators."
Paquette was taken 11th overall in the 2006 QMJHL draft by Lewiston, and contributed four goals and 14 assists to the MAINEiacs' 2007 QMJHL championship team. This season, he finished with 29 goals and 13 assists.
"I thought I had a pretty good rookie season,” said Paquette. “We won the President's Cup, and because it's my first championship I'll never forget it. My numbers were much better this year because I played on the first line for most of the season and that helped me a lot."
Paquette was unrepentant about his 213 penalty minutes while playing on a team that had gotten a lot younger after the championship season.
"I think it's part of my job," he said. "Sometimes I have to protect myself or my teammates. Sometimes it's to change a game situation."
Then Paquette might have made the most mature statement of any player at the Combine.
"I like playing in Lewiston because we are too young to go to the clubs, so that makes all the players focus on hockey," Paquette said, noting the U.S. minimum drinking age is 21. "If we were in Canada, the drinking age is 18 (in Quebec), and I think it would be a distraction for some people."