Monday, February 21, 2011

Darth, Meet Matt

Dear Mr. Vader -

Love your stuff.  Especially that 'I am your father Luke'.  Great plot twist.  I especially like the way you have been able to reincarnate yourself as a hockey coach.  But Trotz?  I'd have thought Lord Commander Barick, or something like that would have been more your style.  Must have been the PR people. 

But hey, I wanted to update you on the little rebellion thing we have going on here.  You see, we have grown weary of the autocratic rule of those who have banners hanging from their rafters, and we have decided that we should rule our own destiny.  To that end, we have assembled a group of warriors who are undeterred by adversity, and they will triumph over your cloned 'offensive defensemen'.  And fresh from the planet Springfield, we have a young warrior named Calvert.  And the force is strong with that one.

Well, realistically, it is the attitude that is strong with that one.  And with the artistic, and equally frustrating 'Juice' being held out due to a lower body injury (he did not practice today; and is out tomorrow according to Puck Rakers) it looks as if our young Matt will move up to the second line.  There he will bring speed, determination and a healthy dose of skill to a line that will now be much more of a north-south line. 

My first experience with Matt Calvert was the opening day of practice for the 2009-10 season.  I cut out of work because I wanted to see our young draft pick Nikita Filatov, and witness the near miraculous skill he was reputed to have.  Hitch was still coach, but I was not really expecting to see him play defense.  I wanted to see Filatov move with the puck.  They finally started 5 on 5 drills, and I was focused on Filatov.  Watching the play, I saw a rather small player gather the puck, bring it up the ice, and blow by Nikita at full speed.  He barely had time to move a muscle.  The small player went down, put the puck on net, got into the scrum around the rebound, and then he scored.  Who is this guy??  A quick reference to the practice roster reveals, Matt Calvert.  That whole practice he basically skated rings around Filatov, and a few other players too.  Matt had a really good training camp that year, but opted to return to Juniors, because his team was hosting the championship that year. 

So this year I went to the opening day of training camp expecting to see the same dynamic Matt Calvert.  And didn't.  Actually, Filatov had a much better training camp, and really looked like he belonged on the team this year.  Matt did not have a good training camp and was sent down to Springfield at the end of training camp.  Where he basically kept his head down and proceeded to learn to be a pro.  And when the team needed a spark, the call came, and he has produced.  In 18 games played, he has 5 goals and 3 assists for 8 points, a plus/minus rating of 1, and 6 PIM.  With Juice on the bench with an injury, he may see some power play time, which won't hurt his chances to score.
Matt Calvert and RJ Umberger at practice

All young players who come up from the AHL for the first time tend to play very well for 3-5 games, and then tend to plateau or regress.  Its all a normal part of the maturation process.  At 18 games, Matt Calvert is showing that he belongs in the NHL, and is not looking uncomfortable in the cauldron of playoff intensity hockey.  Better yet, I think RJ Umberger is comfortable with Matt Calvert, and the way he plays.  At his current pace, Calvert could end the season with double digit goals, even though play is intensifying down the stretch.

To put a historical perspective on that, Calvert has a good chance (at his current pace) of putting up numbers very similar to to Jason Williams, who was a critical addition in the stretch drive to the playoffs in 2008-09 (39 GP, 12G, 17A, 29P, 5 +/-).  If Matt Calvert is this year's Jason Williams, then that is a really good thing for the CBJ.

So Mr. Vader.  Meet young Matt Calvert.  We are looking for a good fight from your storm troopers tomorrow.  But the force is strong with this one.  And there is a lot of toughness in the rebellion these days.  These are not the hockey players you are looking for.

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