The staggering amount of injuries that befell the Blue Jackets this year made it a season like no other. Almost no one was immune from missing games for one ailment or another.
Blue Jackets left wing Matt Calvert was not exempt from the injury bug. Early in the season, he saw time on the Injured Reserve roster with a banged-up wrist. He then suffered what turned out to be a concussion after hitting his head on the ice, once again joining the Injured Reserve on Feb. 27. Tuesday evening, he made his return to the lineup.
Now in his fifth year as a pro, the 25 year old native of Brandon, Manitoba, has played in 112 of 164 games over the past two seasons, including all six playoff games last April against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Tuesday, he was on the ice for 11:57 after missing 15 games, with 1:06 on the penalty kill. He was credited with two shots and two hits for the night.
"I felt pretty good," he said after Tuesday’s game (3-2 OT win over New Jersey). "Sometimes, you feel like you’re catching up with the play. I had a PK early on and that usually gets me into the game. After the first period I felt pretty good and I thought it was a solid effort."
Selected in the fifth round (127 overall) of the 2008 NHL draft, Calvert is a ball of energy that uses his speed to get behind the opponents defense and is rather tenacious on the penalty kill. He used those attributes to great effect on April 19, 2014 in Pittsburgh, by scoring a short-handed goal in the second period and then scoring the game-winning goal in double overtime. This gave Columbus their first playoff victory.
"You look at a guy like Calvert," said left wing Nick Foligno, "he’s had a rough year but he brings so much energy to our team. Just his presence in the locker room, he’s a guy that works extremely hard, is a tenacious player and really gets the guys going because of it. He’s played some big minutes for us and done some great things."
In 2013-14, Calvert recorded 9-15-24 in 56 games, and added 2-2-4 in six playoff games. This season he notched 10-9-19 in the 50 games that he’s played.
"Personally, I think I’m right on pace to play a similar amount (of games) as last year," Calvert said. "It’s pretty much the first two years of my career that I’ve missed a substantial amount of games. But it’s a learning experience, for sure. You never want to get used to something like this and you’re always looking for answers.
"This year I battled a beat-up wrist for a while. It was just kind of a freak accident after going into the boards. It’s nothing you can change in the offseason. And then with the head (concussion), it was another freak accident as I hit my head on the ice. It’s tough, but you’ve got to be ready to play when you are healthy. Right now, it’s fun to come back into this room with the boys winning. It’s a lot of fun to be out there with them."
This is the final year of Calvert’s current contract, paying him $1.125M. He’ll be a restricted free agent this summer. With contract talks likely waiting for the season to finish, Calvert is not worried about what might happen. He’s concentrating on returning from the concussion and playing the best hockey he can. And if that helps the team to win the majority of their six remaining games, it means finishing on a high note.
"I know what I can do and they (Blue Jackets) know what I can do," he said. "When I’m in the lineup, I know exactly what I’m going to bring. Coming back, I’m not going to try and do too much. You have to try and play within yourself.
"In a contract year, you hope to play a full 82-game season, put up big numbers and play your role. I think when I’ve been in, I’ve done that. You can only do so much. You can only look forward. So, I’ll put my best foot forward and the rest will take care of itself."
Has missing this many games in a contract year hurt Calvert’s chances of signing a contract extension? Based on the way he plays and the energy he brings to the team, it would seem to indicate that a deal will get done before his contract expires. The team is in the driver’s seat, but Calvert is a known quantity. This should bode well for both the team and Calvert as they look to strike a deal.
The Blue Jackets return to action Thursday against the New York Islanders at 7 p.m., with the FOX Sports Ohio pregame show beginning at 6:30 p.m.