By Dave Vest, www.phoenixcoyotes.com
It’s no secret that several young players from the Coyotes’ affiliate in the American Hockey League will be given a long look and serious chance to make the 2010-11 NHL club at training camp in September.
That’s great news for forwards such as Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker and Viktor Tikhonov because all are recent first-round draft picks hoping to make it to the NHL for good.
It’s also great news for Alexandre Picard who, like Turris, Boedker and Tikhonov, is a first-round draft pick with something to prove. Picard, 24, signed a one-year contract with the Coyotes on Monday.
The 2004 NHL Entry Draft will be remembered by most for its first two picks: Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, respectively. Picard will remember it because he was chosen eighth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets. He then spent five frustrating years with the Blue Jackets. In each of those seasons he split time between Columbus and its AHL affiliate in Syracuse. In 67 games with the Blue Jackets, he notched two assists in a limited role. Sensing that wasn’t going to change, Picard said he asked to be traded near the end of last season and the Blue Jackets complied by sending him to the Coyotes in exchange for AHL forward Chad Kolarik just before the trade deadline on March 3.
“I was with Columbus for five years and I had some time tough times over there,” Picard said. “I never had the chance to show what I can do. I’ve spoken with (Coyotes General Manager) Don Maloney and (Assistant General Manager) Brad Treliving and they’ve told me they are going to give me a chance to show what I can do at training camp. I am looking forward to it.”
Picard suffered a serious knee injury at the end of the 2005-06 season. The injury was especially troubling because it happened after the NHL season, in the first of three AHL games the Blue Jackets wanted Picard to play in before taking a break for the summer. According to Picard, a player recently recalled from the East Coast Hockey League delivered a cheap shot to him that resulted in a lengthy rehabilitation.
“I’m 110 percent right now but that was probably my worst summer,” Picard said. “It was a really dirty shot and my knee just blew up. I wasn’t too happy about that. But I learned a lot about hockey that summer and I learned about my passion to play hockey. Since then it’s been good.”
After the trade with Columbus, the Coyotes immediately assigned Picard to their AHL affiliate in San Antonio. Playing mostly with Turris and Brett MacLean, Picard showed the scoring touch that helped him get drafted so high. He notched nine goals and six assists in 16 games.
“It was a fresh start for me and I was so excited,” Picard said. “I had asked for a trade from Columbus to try something else and they did what I asked them to do. I found it very easy to fit in with my new team. Playing with Turris and MacLean made it very easy, you know?”
After the AHL season, Picard and other San Antonio players joined the Coyotes for the playoff series against Detroit as part of the “Black Aces” squad. The players in that squad never played in a game, but they practiced in Glendale/Detroit and learned what an intense, seven-game NHL playoff series was all about.
Picard is hoping his name will be on the Coyotes roster again in October. With Daniel Winnik no longer with the team, there is an opening on the depth chart for a third/fourth-line energy player.
“Alex will compete for a position on the roster during training camp," Treliving said. "In his time with us in San Antonio at the end of last season he showed an ability to play a hard, competitive, weighty game and he will need to bring that type of effort to training camp in September.”
Picard is eager to show his stuff.
“I’m excited that I’m going to be part of this training camp and I’m going to give my best,” Picard said. “I know a lot of people who will be there don’t know me so I’m going to show them what I can do. I’m pretty confident I can bring a lot of energy and a lot of grit, too. I love to hit people and play hard and go to the net.”
He added, “I have nothing against Columbus. I really like everybody over there. It’s just that I didn’t have my chance there… I was taken in the first round and I was playing on the fourth line for five minutes a night. That’s not a fair chance. I just want a fair chance to prove what I can do.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Picard isn’t the only player with ties to the Coyotes who was taken in the first round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Goalie Al Montoya was picked sixth overall (by the New York Rangers), forward Lauri Korpikoski was picked 19th (by the New York Rangers) and forward Wojtek Wolski was picked 21st (by the Colorado Avalanche).