Upon introducing himself to Capitals defensive prospects Colby Williams and Connor Hobbs, Capitals coach and fellow Regina Pats alum Barry Trotz extended his hand and said …
“He asked me if I knew the secret handshake,” said Williams, part puzzled and part amused by the question. “I guess that must have fallen through the cracks over the years, so I don’t know it. And he wouldn’t show me.”
Hobbs was just as perplexed, wondering if there is such a thing as a secret Regina Pats handshake.
“I didn’t have a clue and I kind of felt bad,” Hobbs said. “Maybe we’ll have to make a new one.”
Near the end of the 2015 NHL draft, the Capitals did something they had never done before, taking Regina defense partners Hobbs and Williams in the fifth and sixth rounds of the draft. With Pats alums Garrett Mitchell (sixth round, 2009 draft) and Chandler Stephenson (3rd round, 2012) already in the Caps’ farm system the Caps are starting their own pipeline from Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan and the former home of Trotz and Capitals assistant general manager and scouting director Ross Mahoney, who also played for the Pats before attending the University of Regina.
“That’s where home was for Coach Trotz for a bit and that’s where home is for me and Colby,” Hobbs said. “It’s the oldest junior team in Canada. Everywhere you look it’s Pats, Pats, Pats.”
Now, the same can be said of the Capitals’ development camp locker room. And that’s a good thing, according to John Paddock, a former draft pick of the Caps (37th overall in 1974) who has spent the past 30 years coaching or managing six different AHL teams and three different NHL teams and is now the had coach and senior vice president of the Pats.
“I didn’t talk to Ross or Barry, but the Capitals picked up two really good defensemen,” Paddock said from Saskatchewan. “I think they’re going to be happy they took those two guys.”
Hobbs, 18, is a hard-hitting, hard-shooting 6-foot-2, 191-pounder from Saskatoon who was taken by the Caps in the fifth round of the draft, 143rd overall. He began last season with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western League, but was seventh on the club’s defensive depth chart and was traded to the Pats on Jan. 4, his 18th birthday. He said his season took off after that, picking up one goal and 15 assists in 33 games while playing alongside Williams.
“If I didn’t get traded I don’t think I would have gotten drafted,” Hobbs said. “I don’t think I could have gone to a better spot than with John Paddock. It’s so perfect for me.”
Hobbs and his father were in the stands at BB&TCenter in Sunrise, Fla., when the Caps called his name, making him their second of three defensemen drafted that day, along with second-rounder Jonas Seigenthaler. When the Caps selected Williams, his 20-year-old defense partner, in the sixth round with the 173rd pick overall, Hobbs was elated.
“I was like, ‘What the heck?’” he said. “I thought it was so cool.”
Williams, who is more of a natural skater and puck mover than Hobbs, had been passed over in two previous NHL drafts and was in the midst of a 7K Spartan race on an Alberta ski slope when the Capitals made him their final pick of the draft.
Two hours later, when he re-established cell service, Williams said he retrieved a text from his agent congratulating him on being drafted, along with a phone message from Hobbs.
“I didn’t really believe it until my agent texted me and said, ‘Congratulations, you’re a Washington Capital,’ Williams said. “The feeling that came over my body was unbelievable.”
A 6-foot, 195 pounder from Regina, Williams said a lack of consistency had kept him from being drafted as an 18- and 19-year-old, but when Paddock took over for former Pats head coach Malcolm Cameron, Williams said his game turned around.
“I kind of had a rough two years,” said Williams, who recorded a career-high 11 goals, 30 assists and 95 penalty minutes in 64 games with the Pats.
“I had a different coach than I’m used to. He was hard on the guys about playing tough. I’m kind of an opposite player than that. It’s not that I’m not tough, but I play differently than how he wanted me to play. With John, he allowed me to play how I wanted to play and that helped me a lot.”
Paddock used Williams and Hobbs as his top pairing and said he was impressed with the way Williams took Hobbs under his wing.
“I think he epitomizes the kind of defenseman that is emerging more in the league,” Paddock said. “He’s a really good skater and a really smart player. He went from a plus-23 to a plus-45 while playing with a younger partner. I think that speaks volumes about the kind of season he had. He’s a bit of a late bloomer but based on last year I think he has a chance to play in the NHL.”
While Hobbs is ticketed for a return to Regina next season, the Capitals have the option of sending Williams back to Regina for one more season or signing him to his first pro contract and assigning him to AHL Hershey next season.
“I don’t think there’s a wrong answer to that question,” Paddock said. “Either way, it’s a win. If he’s going to play 12 to 20 minutes a night in Hershey that’s where he should be. If not, they know he’ll be with us and he’ll play 20 to 28 minutes a night. I think it will be beneficial either way.”