It was February 25, 2011. The Columbus Blue Jackets had fallen behind the Phoenix Coyotes by a pair of goals at Nationwide Arena. But led by rookie Matt Calvert, Columbus came roaring back and won it 5-3. Calvert picked up a hat trick to key that win, in only the 20th game of his young NHL career. It was the biggest highlight in a rookie season that was filled with bright spots.
You could say the Manitoba native blazed onto the scene in that 2010-11 season for the Jackets. He scored 11 goals in 42 games, adding nine assists and finishing plus-three. By all accounts, he was on his way.
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Funny thing about the NHL, though. It has a way of forcing you to prove the solid numbers and productive play were no mirage. It’s a league that demands consistency and has a habit of casting those who don’t show it into the shadows, or beyond. Matt Calvert knows that only too well. He wasn’t able to match his rookie level of play in year two with Columbus and consequently played most of the year in Springfield of the AHL. He was up with the big team for only 13 games last year and scored zero goals.
But the 23-year-old speedster is back with the Blue Jackets this season, and he knows his ticket to stay requires a level of play that starts high and stays high, nothing less.
“You know I think the biggest thing is obviously being consistent and learning how to play hard every night,” said Calvert. “It’s also systematically doing the little things to gain the trust of the coaches. You know for myself, I just have to work hard every night and bring my energy, and success will happen from there. For me, work ethic is number one. It’s probably my best asset, so as long as I’m working I think I’m giving myself a chance to be consistent.
“I have to think the game, too,” he added. “Sometimes you get working hard and you get wound up and you get out of your system and get out of position. So, for me, I’ve got to think the game out there, work hard, use my speed, and usually the consistency comes to me after that.”
When Calvert does find himself out of position, he has that extra gear to get back where he needs to be. If work ethic is his best asset, his speed is a close second and gaining fast. The 2008 fifth-round pick of the Blue Jackets can wreak havoc on opposing D with his jump. Like his consistency, however, speed is something Calvert is working to refine.
“Sometimes I have to tone it down, make sure I’m using it in the right way,” he said of his speed. “I’m in a different role so far on the fourth line, and it’s fun. I’ve played quite a bit with Boller (Jared Boll) and Mac (Derek MacKenzie) so far this season. I’ve played with them before, too, and they’re awesome. A big part of my game is to forecheck, and when I get in there’s always a quick second forward and we seem to get the puck back a lot, so it’s been fun.”
With that turbo-charged jump, Calvert is easy to spot on the ice in this season’s early stages. He’s playing with energy, speed, and hard work, shift after shift, night after night. It’s year three for him, and it’s another chance to prove that night against Phoenix two years ago was all reality, no mirage.