Sheppard adjusts to NHL flock

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:16 AM ET

James Sheppard's adjustment to life in the National Hockey League has been similar to that of most rookies.

However, playing for the Minnesota Wild, the 19-year-old native of Halifax, N.S., has been on a bit of an island.

Sheppard is the only first-year player to have stuck with the team for the entire season.

"It was a lot different, coming from junior where we were all the same age and hung out together," he said at Rexall Place yesterday.

"Now most of the guys have kids and they have to go home to their wives and things. That's new to me, it's different.

"But now I'm used to it, and at the end of the day these guys are hockey players, so it doesn't change a whole lot - with the exception that they have other responsibilities."

Sheppard was selected in the first round - ninth overall - in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Last year he registered 96 points in 56 games with Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

SURPRISE

This season he has four goals and 15 assists in 75 games, including a helper in last night's 5-3 loss to the Oilers.

"It came as a surprise that I made the team," he said.

"I still find it amazing that I'm in the NHL. When (GM) Doug (Risebrough) told me I was going to stay here for good, a lot of things passed through my mind."

Being part of a veteran contingent has helped Shep-pard make the adjustment. However, unlike the Oilers, who have five rookies in the lineup, there weren't a lot of teammates going through the same experience.

Now, with the calling up of rookie forward Benoit Pouliot, 20, there is another fresh face in the Wild room.

"At the start it was mostly me just sightseeing looking at players and getting to know the NHL," Sheppard said.

"Now I'm expected to compete and do my job for my team.

"As the year has gone by it's gotten a little more realistic, so it's been good. But right now, I'm having a blast."


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