Calvin Pickard occupies a unique space among the bottom third of our Top 25 Players Under 25. Other than perhaps Dennis Everberg, nobody else in the Top 10 managed to fly quite so far beneath the public's radar. Pickard was drafted 49th overall in the 2010 NHL draft, but even after he was signed to a three-year deal with the Avalanche, he returned to the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds to finish his junior season.
Once Pickard settled onto the roster with the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters for good, he played the majority of the team's games, paired with Sami Aittokallio. However, when injuries or circumstance necessitated a call-up for the Avalanche, it was always Aittokallio who got the nod until the 2014-15 season.
Though Avalanche fans were certainly aware of him, the string of starts that saw Pickard eventually take over as the Avalanche's backup goaltender for the latter half of 2014-15 surprised many in the hockey world. He went from occupying fourth place on the Avalanche's goaltending depth chart to starting every NHL game for almost a month straight, and not only did he handle the work, he performed admirably.
Who is Calvin Pickard?
The Winnipeg native is a solid, positionally sound goaltender who adapts well to the pace of the team he's facing. He doesn't shy away from flashing the leather and he plays with a calm, quiet poise. He rarely has to make acrobatic saves because he is confident in his stance and instincts. And it showed--though he looked rattled in his first NHL start, he grew quickly into the role and made some stellar saves for the Avalanche, arguably keeping them on the cusp of playoff contention for a while.
Avalanche Captain Gabriel Landeskog said of Pickard: “He’s playing really well. What can you say? He’s giving us a chance to win night after night and that’s all you can ask for.”
The story of Pickard's first NHL start is one of those little snippets that will linger in the minds of fans for a while yet. He was called to Ottawa as an emergency backup after starter Semyon Varlamov injured his groin. Pickard was supposed to back up Reto Berra, but instead found himself coming in as relief less than three minutes into the game when Berra suffered a head/neck injury and did not return. The 5-3 loss wasn't the start Pickard was looking for, but he only improved from there.
His humble personality, solid goaltending, and occasional highlight reel saves made Pickard an instant fan favourite, and it's easy to see why:
And who could forget this end-of-year highlight save, which got airtime on ESPN's SportsCenter and numerous Top 10 saves lists:
What does the future hold for Calvin Pickard?
The future for Calvin Pickard is bright. His 6-7-3 record as someone who started the year as a third- or fourth-string goaltender is an indication that the talent is there. His 2.35 GAA and .932 save percentage speak for themselves. He was capable of elevating his mental game to the NHL level on exceptionally short notice.
While a vocal fan contingent has called for Pickard to take up the NHL backup position in 2015-16, it is far more sensible (and likely) that he will start the year with the Avalanche's new AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage. Is it possible that he is ready for a full-time NHL role? Certainly so. But 'possible' doesn't mean 'certain', and Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic are smart enough to understand that Pickard will develop better in an AHL starting role. The more games he plays, the more experience he gets, and the better prepared he will be when he eventually transitions into an NHL role.
In spite of Pickard's excellent performance, the team has also made a significant investment in Swiss goaltender Reto Berra, and it is unlikely that Berra doesn't get put to use given his $1.45 million cap hit.
Regardless of his immediate situation, Pickard has endeared himself to the Avalanche's fanbase. His impressive run in November-December 2014 began with back-to-back shutouts and solidified his place as the Avalanche's premier goaltending prospect. If the team attempts to move Berra, Pickard could see himself as an NHL backup sooner rather than later. However, another year or two in the AHL could hone his skills even further, so that when he's back on the Avalanche roster, the fans can look forward to more moments like this: