Call Nick Drazenovic the poster boy for airline miles. Heck, call him the guy who’s never quite sure what city he’s in when he wakes up in the morning. Whatever, just call him.
That’s what the Columbus Blue Jackets have been doing this season, with regularity. Drazenovic, the former 6th-round pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2005, has been recalled to the parent Blue Jackets from the team’s AHL affiliate Springfield Falcons four times this shortened NHL season. Is it tough to keep track of his toiletry bag these days?
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“Yeah, it’s been a little bit of a rollercoaster,” Drazenovic said, laughing, “but the hockey lifestyle is kind of that way. Both teams are winning right now, so it’s a lot of fun. It doesn’t matter what dressing room you’re in, the morale’s really good.
“This is our job, this is what we get paid to do, and it’s fun,” he continued. “I get to travel around North America and play hockey, so you can’t complain. Actually, I think I’ve hit every airline now out of Hartfort (CT) and Columbus. It’s kind of funny, I think people are starting to recognize me at the airports.”
What Blue Jackets fans are recognizing is that young guys like Drazenovic, Sean Collins, and Dalton Prout have looked very much as if they belong when they’ve come up to fill the voids caused by a rash of injuries to the Blue Jackets this season. Yes, the two teams’ systems are similar – by design – and that helps the young players’ transitions. But there’s a distinct difference in speed and collective talent in the NHL, so it’s a real tribute to these prospects that they’ve made the transition often look seamless.
“I was just talking to Danny (Columbus assistant coach Dan Hinote) about that,” Drazenovic explained. “We implemented a couple of systems in Springfield that are the exact same as here. So it’s not adapting to the systems as much as it is the speed and the thought process at this level. You have guys zipping past you here, and it’s a little bit slower in the AHL. But the compete level is really high down there, too. Up here, no one is out of position. That makes it much easier to think the game. So, the game is easier in that respect, but because of the speed, that makes it harder. It’s a little more chaotic down there and a little more organized here, so there is a transition, but I’m getting used to it.”
As you can imagine, the native of British Columbia, who signed with Columbus in July of 2011, is enjoying the ride this season, literally and figuratively. In Springfield, he plays for a team that’s been one of the AHL’s elite all season, and in Columbus, he joins a Blue Jackets team that’s been on the NHL’s feel-good stories since late February.
“Yeah, exactly,” he said. “Both teams are winning right now, and the organization is moving forward. We’re making a playoff push here, and we’re battling for first place in Springfield, so kudos to everybody in the organization.”
For every player who’s been on that shuttle between the AHL and NHL, the goal is always to stick with the parent club. Drazenovic is no different. But, in the meantime, he’s gratified the Blue Jackets keep calling. And when he gets that call, as he has four times this season, his objective is always to take the same level-headed approach.
”I think that I just try to have a good mental approach to it,” he noted. “So when I get sent down, I bring what I can to the boys there, and when I get called up do what I can to help the guys here. I think that makes the transition a little bit easier for everybody. I feel like I’m trustworthy in that department, and hopefully it pays off. I’m hoping we make the playoffs here and win the league down there.”
The question is where he’ll be if and when either of those scenarios plays out. Immediately after playing just under 10 solid minutes in the Blue Jackets scintillating overtime win over Anaheim Sunday, Drazenovic was heading back to the airport to rejoin the Springfield Falcons.
His stay this time was brief, but before he boarded his latest aircraft on this rollercoaster journey, Nick Drazenovic left his Columbus teammates and their fans flying as high as they’ve flown this season. When they awoke on Monday morning, the Blue Jackets were holding a playoff spot in the NHL’s Western Conference.
And when Nick Drazenovic awoke, it likely took him a moment, or two, to figure out exactly where he was.