BUFFALO (LGS) — Daniel Paille would be lying if he said his goal was to start the 2006-07 hockey season in Rochester instead of Buffalo. Oh, not that there is anything wrong with the Flour City, it's just that after proving himself as a steady two-way forward in the American Hockey League, he was ready for the next step in his pro career.
After appearing in 14 games for the Sabres in 2005-06, Paille's goal was to make their roster out of training camp. It was a dream that he almost realized, as he was the last player cut from the opening-night roster.
A player in his position could have looked at the demotion in one of two ways: pout and let the disappointment affect his play, or go out and work his tail off to get back to "The Show." Needless to say, Paille chose the latter.
"I was a little disappointed about being sent down, but the next day, I realized that I had to get back to business," he said.
While part of the demotion was a numbers crunch, Buffalo also wanted him to work on putting more pucks in the net. It is a challenge that he has faced head on.
"I know I have to work a bit more on my scoring touch," said Paille, who scored his first NHL goal and added an assist versus the Kings in January. "I spend a lot of time after practice trying to recreate game situations and work on my shot. I work down low trying to lift the puck up into the top of the net, and I work on my shot from the slot while my feet are moving."
Despite his extra efforts, to this point of the season Paille has struggled to score. "It seems like I'm getting a lot of chances," said the Welland, Ontario native. "I feel like I'm getting three to four shots a night, but I'm not getting the results. I think that the shorthanded goal (last Friday night) took some pressure off of me and could be the turnaround."
"It's certainly not due to lack of chances," echoed Amerks' head coach Randy Cunneyworth. "He's creating a lot of chances with his speed and he's so hard to move off the puck."
A pro player in junior
Paille came into his own during his four-year career with the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League from 2000 to 2004, scoring 116 goals and adding 131 assists for 247 points. It was apparent that Paille was a special player.
"He was a pro player even in Junior," says former OHL rival and current Amerk teammate Anthony Stewart. "Not only did he have good size and a great work ethic, but he was great on the penalty kill, and he could put the puck in net."
"I had the benefit of playing right away in Guelph," said Paille. "My coach had a lot of confidence in me and it helped my game tremendously."
With the point totals he was putting up, the Sabres selected Paille in the first round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, which was a thrill to the youngster. "I was very excited at how high I went," said the left winger.
Paille also had the honor of not only representing his native Canada in the 2003-04 World Junior Championships, but he did so wearing the captain's "C" on his sweater.
"It's a great honor for him, definitely," said Stewart on Paille's captaincy during the WJC's. "It says a lot about his leadership ability."
As his career in the OHL was winding down, Daniel realized that his hockey career was just beginning and he had a chance to play in the NHL.
"I guess I was most certain of a pro career the day I signed (a contract with Buffalo)," laughed Paille. "I guess it was near the end of my second year in the ‘O' going into my third. Things seemed to keep coming at me. I was getting attention for international play and I was excited about that."
After finishing his career in Guelph, Paille was sent to Rochester for seasoning with his first year coming during the NHL lockout in 2004-05. He played on a team that was loaded offensively with current Sabres Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Derek Roy. When asked about his first impressions on the pro game, Daniel was quick to respond. "The game speed was a lot different," he said.
There was also a subtle difference that the casual fan might not realize.
"The passes are a lot better in the pros," said the soft-spoken third-year pro. "You see a lot more tape-to-tape passes in the AHL and NHL."
'A great teammate'
Throughout his time in Rochester, Paille has shown the leadership that made him a team captain in the past and might again in the future. His is a voice that players listen to, and more importantly, respect.
"He doesn't really say a lot in the room, but when he does everyone listens," says Stewart about Paille's leadership ability. "He's a great leader, and on a young team he is the oldest of the young guys. He knows a lot about the city (of Rochester), where to live, even where to get your Internet and cable from."
"He's a great teammate," says roommate Michael Ryan. "He gets along with everyone. It doesn't matter if you are a rookie or a seven-year veteran, he makes everyone feel comfortable with the stuff he does off the ice. It speaks volumes of what type of kid he is."
Coach Cunneyworth also notices what Paille brings to the dressing room.
"He's a guy who leads by example. He's quiet in the room, and he's a great guy to turn to when you need some advice. He's a guy who will go out of his way to help his teammates. It says a lot about his leadership."
Despite the extra effort he's put into scoring without seeing immediate results, Paille is still doing things to help the Amerks win. He has pitched in with six assists and has played solid on special teams. "I find that 5 on 4, defensively you focus more on the puck and your play."
"He's a guy who will do the job killing penalties," Cunneyworth said. "He's a threat while we are short, he's set up his teammates for some shorthanded goals."
However, Cunneyworth explains that he is not careless when killing penalties. "He knows when to go (and create an offensive opportunity) and when not to."
Paizy, as he's known in the dressing room, takes pride in his role and looks up to players who have similar mindsets.
"I guess I look up to players like Mike Fisher," Paille said after Sunday night's game against Chicago. "He's an underrated player who is great on the penalty kill and works his butt off. I can't say it any better than that."
Creating his chance
After seeing time in Buffalo's game against the New York Rangers on November 5, the hot rumor was that Paille would be recalled in time for Friday night's game against Florida. However, on that night he found himself in Rochester's lineup. Paille wasn't disappointed.
"Buffalo was completely honest with me. They told me they weren't sure how things were going to work out, and I came here ready to play for Rochester. I can't really be upset with that. They were truthful," he said.
So what does Paille feel he needs to do to get to the big time to stay? It goes back to what he works on in practice — shooting the puck.
"I've got to become more confident in my shot. In the past I've always looked to pass to the other guy. I have to take the opportunities that come my way, and maybe create some rebounds and create scoring chances."
Paille says that there is also one other thing that he needs to do to stick in the NHL.
"Keep on working hard. The NHL is the best league in the world, and every game gives me a reason to work hard. You'll lose your spot real quick if you're lazy," he said.
Ryan doesn't see that being a problem. "He definitely keeps developing every day. His attitude towards the game has come a long way, whether it's his discipline towards nutrition, or even working out. It's the stuff that coming out of junior you don't really think of."
With the amount of work that Paille puts in on a daily basis, and his dedication to becoming a better all-around player, it is apparent that it is only a matter of time before this young man shuffles off to Buffalo for good.