When Antoine Vermette arrived in Columbus last March, two things were quickly revealed – the guy can play, and his character is as good as his game. Vermette fit in immediately with his new Blue Jacket teammates as they made the push to the post-season.
This season, the 27-year-old native of St. Agapit, Quebec is seeing things from another perspective.
"Right from the get go, you get here the first day at training camp and have a chance to go through the process with the team," says Vermette. "It's a different situation where you're coming in at crunch time right at the end of the season. That was a good experience but I'm glad we could all start together here this year.
"I like it here a lot."
That shows in his play. Picking up where he left off last spring, Vermette is enjoying a great start, with eight goals and a team-high 15 assists (tied with captain Rick Nash), his 23 points through 28 games ranking him second on the team. He's arguably the most well rounded player on the roster, given his ability to play the middle, score, defend, win faceoffs and play special teams.
"He's added a lot to our team," says General Manager Scott Howson, who had Vermette in his sights long before the trade deadline deal with the Ottawa Senators that brought the versatile forward to Ohio. "He plays a position that we really needed some help in and he's played it well.
"He plays important minutes for us."
But Howson's plans for Vermette extend beyond what he accomplishes in his 20 minutes of ice time each game. The GM has been trying to shape a winner and Vermette, who's already been to a Stanley Cup Final with the Senators, is expected to be a key piece of the puzzle.
In September, he signed on for five years and despite his relatively young age, he's embracing the role of leader in the young Jackets' room. Howson says he's still growing into the job but he's clearly earned the opportunity.
"It's one thing I've been used to doing at different levels in junior and minor league hockey," says Vermette. "It's exciting and challenging. I hope I can help some of the younger guys.
"Ottawa was a different situation. I was one of the younger guys there."
Vermette has soaked up information from his colleagues since entering the NHL in 2003-04 season. He says he learned something from every player, particularly Senators' captain Daniel Alfredsson. The key, Vermette believes, is to stay within your comfort zone and not act out of character.
Now he's in a position to pass down information. One of Vermette's best attributes is his ability to prepare.
"He takes it really seriously," says Vermette's road roommate Mathieu Garon. "It shows on the ice."
Garon should know. He first met the fellow Quebecer back home nine years ago and the two have worked out together in the summer ever since.
Garon says that Vermette is the ideal roommate, a quiet guy who prefers to stretch and sleep so he can be ready to play. The goaltender thinks that there's much to be learned from the way Vermette does things.
"He's got a role that he never had a chance to have in Ottawa," Garon says. "It's good to see."
Vermette's experience will be critical in the coming weeks as the Blue Jackets try put together a solid stretch of games. They have been very un-Columbus like of late on the defensive end of the ice.
As a player who takes his defensive duties seriously, Vermette isn't happy about it.
"It's frustrating," he says. "I'm sure it is for everyone. You want to correct that as quick as possible because in this league, if you don't allow too many goals, you put yourself in good spots, especially if you a have good power play.
"We should be a team who defends well. Hitch usually coaches teams like that. This year, we're giving up too many scoring chances and goals."
With his long-term deal in place, Vermette will obviously be part of the solution. He says he's grateful to the organization for the respect they have showed him and the belief they have in him. He wants to repay it.
|This season, Antoine and Karen Vermette are inviting local, 501 (c) 3 charitable organizations to use Vermette’s Vault, a 12 person suite at Nationwide Arena, for Blue Jackets games and Nationwide Arena events. To apply, CLICK HERE. |
In addition to his on-ice contributions, Vermette is getting involved in the Columbus community. He and wife Karen, who were married this past summer, purchased a suite in Nationwide Arena, known as Vermette's Vault, so kids could come watch games.
He's bought a house in town and will move in after some redos are complete. The city may be different from Ottawa, which was also close to where he grew up, but Vermette is enjoying Columbus.
"It has everything we need," he says. "And it looks good for raising a family."