The U.S.-born right wing was a fourth-round draft pick by the New York Rangers in 2004 and had a terrific junior career with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League. Callahan was a superb offensive player with the Storm, posting seasons of 36 goals as an 18-year-old, 28 goals at age 19 and 52 goals as a 20-year-old.
Callahan continued to look like a gifted scorer in his one full season in the American Hockey League, with 35 goals in 60 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack before being called up to the Rangers for good during the 2007-08 season.
Yet when Callahan reached the sport's highest level, he wasn't getting by on his goal-scoring ability. He became known for his willingness to throw his 5-foot-11, 190-pound body at opponents with reckless abandon. If there was a shot that needed blocking, Callahan was happy to throw whatever body part was available in front of it, at even-strength of as one of the game's better penalty-killing forwards.
"I think sometimes people think he's just a shot-blocker and a guy who can bang along the boards and forecheck and finish checks. I think Cally has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder that everybody thinks he's a one-dimensional guy. He isn't. As he keeps growing as a player, he's certainly showing that."
-- John Tortorella
That's what happens to many players who excelled on their way to the NHL -- they nestle into a role of a third-line energy player, someone who can do all the little things to win the coach's respect.
But Callahan is putting a twist on that story this season, showing he's capable of being a 30-goal scorer. He has 23 goals in 55 games, including six in his last four games. He's been scoring at a 30-goal pace since last season, when he had 23 goals in 60 games -- he missed 22 games due to injuries suffered blocking shots by Boston's Zdeno Chara and Pittsburgh's Kris Letang.
If Callahan stays on this current track, he'll finish with a career-high 34 goals.
"I think sometimes people think he's just a shot-blocker and a guy who can bang along the boards and forecheck and finish checks," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "I think Cally has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder that everybody thinks he's a one-dimensional guy. He isn't. As he keeps growing as a player, he's certainly showing that."
It would be extremely out of character for the Rangers' captain to come out and say that yes, he would like to be recognized as someone who can score goals, not just a player who has been among the NHL leaders in hits and blocked shots among forwards. But he did address the notion of having a chip on his shoulder after the Rangers' 3-0 win against the Bruins on Tuesday at TD Garden.
"There's no chip on my shoulder at all," Callahan said. "I go out there and play my game. Other teams or reporters can see what they want. It really doesn't make a difference to me. The only thing that matters is what my teammates think of me and my coaching staff.
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Callahan's first-period power-play goal was representative of who he is as a player. He stood in front of the Bruins' net, battled with Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg to gain position at the top of the crease and tapped home a pass from Michael Del Zotto to open the scoring.
Bruins forward Daniel Paille knows what Callahan is capable of. They were teammates for two seasons in Guelph, when Callahan's reputation was a little different than what it is now.
"In junior he was more thought of as a skill player," Paille told NHL.com. "He was that type of a goal scorer. He's still a goal scorer here, but he scored 50 goals one year (in junior). His mentality was the same thing. He was blocking shots and getting pucks in corners. He penalty-killed all the time in junior. I don't think he's changed anything in his game.
"With the confidence he's been building over the years, you can tell it was just a matter of time."
Defenseman Dan Girardi also was a teammate of Callahan's in junior, and the two ascended through the Rangers' organization together. Much like Paille, Girardi said he knew it was only a matter of time before Callahan's offensive gifts came to the forefront.
"When you score tons of goals in junior -- and I know it's not the same -- but he scored 50 goals in junior," Girardi told NHL.com. "If you're able to do that, you're a goal scorer. He scored 35 in Hartford, and that's the league right below the NHL. Guys that came up with him through Hartford and junior like myself, I always knew he was a goal-scorer. I knew he played a gritty game, a hard game, he's on the forecheck all the time and he's blocking shots."
What about the notion that Callahan wouldn't mind a little respect for his skill and not just his grit?
"I can't speak for him, but to be known as an all-round player -- a guy who can block shots, hits, is good defensively and can still score, 20, 30 goals a year, those players are really rare," Girardi said. "That's why we named him captain to our team this year. He's a leader and does everything well. I always knew he could score goals. They're coming in bunches now and I'm glad to see that."
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