Bruce Graham has been in the spotlight for a long time in Moncton, but hopes to be taking his act to the big city in the future. The 6’6, 235 lbs 19-year-old was taking 51st overall by the New York Rangers in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Currently playing for the Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL), Graham was born in Salisbury, NB and played his Midget “AAA” hockey in Moncton before being selected by the Wildcats in the third round of the 2001 QMJHL Midget Draft.
Graham was having his best career major junior season this season when he went down with a broken bone in his foot in early January. Before getting injured, he had 22 goals and 17 assists for a total of 39 points along with 44 penalty minutes. With just five power play goals this season, Graham has offensively produced while at even strength. The tall centerman has also been strong in the faceoff circle with a winning percentage of 51.5 percent.
The freak injury came at a bad time for Graham and the Wildcats. Graham had recently been playing a physical game and was generating offense off of it, and the break puts Graham out of the line-up for the majority of the rest of the Wildcats season as they fight to keep their hold on first place in the QMJHL’s Maritime Division.
“(It was) just a routine play,” he said. “A guy tripped me, I didn’t see it coming. Normally I just fall down but I fell back on my leg.”
Graham added that he expects to be out for about another five to six weeks. He attributes his tremendous season to the all-around strength of the Wildcat team, who led the QMJHL for much of the season before struggling through the start of January.
“We’ve been playing well as a team this year. We have a lot of set-up men and all that, I’m just the one putting the puck in the net. That’s my role.”
Graham is probably too modest, as he has created many of his own scoring chances this year. The Wildcats, while having three other very strong forwards, have more goal scorers than playmakers on the team.
Despite being 6’6, most feel Graham does not use his size to his advantage enough. He does not consistently play a physical game and often fails to initiate contact against much smaller opponents. Graham has good puck-handling skills and a hard and accurate wrist shot with a quick release. He has scored numerous goals this season from the slot. Most tall players struggle with skating, and while Graham is not a speed demon, he is an average skater, and moves well for his size. Like many players his size, Graham’s skating stride sometimes is described as choppy or ugly, but it gets him where he needs to go effectively.
Graham also has demonstrated tremendous restraint. When you’re as large as Graham as, you become a target of the opposition. Graham is rarely baited into taking bad retaliatory penalties and even less frequently drops the gloves. He is far more valuable to the team on the ice than in the penalty box.
Like most junior players, Graham is constantly working on his defensive play. “You’re always trying to improve your overall game and all that. I think working on my defense, working on defensive positioning is a big thing.”
Graham attended the 2004 draft in Raleigh, NC, and was overwhelmed by the experience. “It was something else you know. Looking out and seeing all the owners and the GM’s, it was something special.”
He says he did not have any expectations going into the draft, and felt that just being selected would have been a major accomplishment for him.
“I didn’t have any expectations whatsoever. If I got drafted it was a big bonus for me. You know, to go second round is something special.”
Graham had no idea who was going to select him, he admits. He had met with a number of NHL teams before the draft, but received no indication of how interested any of the teams were.
“I talked to a bunch of teams but no more interest was from [the Rangers]. I don’t think either side will show too much commitment before the draft. I had a good interview with them and I was happy to go there.”
The Rangers appear to be in a real youth movement. A team that has a recent history of acquiring a lot of high-priced players in free agency and trades, they traded away many of their players at the trade deadline last season, and have implemented a new system of play for their affiliates, indicating to most in the business that they were planning on building from within. This apparent change in direction is promising to Graham.
“Well I think it’s a good place to be drafted, it’s a big city. They want to change their approach to the way they’re going so I’m just looking at it as a good situation to be in and pretty excited for it.”
Graham says he met many of the Rangers top prospects during the summer, but rarely sees any of them play because he and defenseman Jonathan Paiement of the Lewiston MAINEiacs are the only Ranger property playing in the QMJHL.
“I met most of them at a bunch of camps. There’s only one guy who plays for Lewiston that’s out of the Q so I don’t really get to see them much, but I read about them.”
Graham is expected back in the Wildcats line-up sometime around the start to middle of March, which should be just in time for the QMJHL playoffs. He will almost certainly return to the Wildcats next season, a team that is nearly a lock to be hosting the Memorial Cup Tournament.
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