Pickard given first official NHL start of 2017-18 season against old team
Calvin Pickard held one of the hardest jobs in the NHL last season.
After two solid seasons of appearances at the NHL level for the Colorado Avalanche, he was promoted to backup in what was supposed to be an optimistic turn of events at the start of his 2016-17 campaign.
Instead, he took over as full-time starter less than halfway through the season, shouldering a shockingly large percentage of the workload down the back stretch. He finished his first full season in the NHL with 50 games, most of which were played consecutively when the Avalanche shut down veteran starter Semyon Varlamov for the season.
To compound on that, he played behind the worst team the NHL has seen in decades. The Avalanche went from an optimistic start to their year – picking up a new head coach in Jared Bednar, adding Pickard full-time, and getting the chance to play promising rookie Mikko Rantanen – to a season that didn’t even crack 50 points by its end. They were the worst team in the NHL by over 20 points, scoring a miserable 166 goals over the 82-game campaign.
When the year was over, Pickard had finished his first NHL season with a .904 save percentage in all situations (best on the club of the four who appeared in net).
As a thank-you, he was exposed to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, who selected him – then waived him, subsequently dealing him to the Toronto Maple Leafs for assignment to the AHL’s Marlies.
Now, over two months later, he’ll get his season NHL debut against an all-too familiar franchise.
It was announced on Friday morning that the Leafs had recalled Pickard from the AHL, giving him the start Curtis McElhinney had been scheduled for before he suffered a mysterious lower-body injury.
It’s a big enough deal to work his way back into the NHL, after such a quick demotion following his difficult year as starter. T0 make things even better, though, he’s doing it against the Avalanche – who host the Maple Leafs in their second night of a back-to-back to follow the Christmas break.
So far this year, Pickard is doing well in the AHL, boasting a .919 save percentage through 15 games and counting.
It may, at first, seem a bit surprising that he’s getting the recall and the subsequent start, given who he’s playing with on the Marlies. The team’s starter, Garret Sparks, has been putting up historic numbers for the AHL club this year, with a .936 save percentage and two shutouts in just 17 games so far.
Considering the history between Pickard and his old club, though, it only makes sense to see him get the nod instead.
Picks catching up with old friends pic.twitter.com/36rppQcLxo
— J.J. Jerez (@JJoftheYear) December 29, 2017
No word yet on how severe McElhinney’s injury is. It wasn’t mentioned at the game in Arizona on Thursday night, and Freddie Andersen played that entire contest – so the injury either occurred off the ice or during morning skate.
If he is out for a long period of time, the Leafs could see Sparks finally get his long-awaited recall, giving him some starts alongside Andersen to see what the team has in him at the NHL level.
For now, though, who doesn’t feel good about seeing Pickard meeting up with his old teammates in a game that will mean so much to him already?