Jonathan Audy-Marchessault has heard the word "no" a lot during his hockey career, which made "yes" sound even better when his phone rang yesterday.
With the American Hockey League still on its All-Star break, Audy-Marchessault wasn't at the rink when he got the news of his recall to Columbus. The bags couldn't be packed fast enough, though, and he joined teammate Tim Erixon on a travel odyssey that saw the pair arrive in Columbus shortly after 9:30 p.m. last night.
The guy affectionately known as "JAM" was somehow an undrafted free agent who signed a one-year, AHL-only deal with the Connecticut Whale after racking up 95 points 68 games with the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) in 2010-11. After a 64-point season (24 goals, 40 assists) with the Whale a year ago, he was not signed to a contract by the New York Rangers and became an unrestricted free agent this past summer.
The Blue Jackets swooped in on July 1 and signed him to a three year, entry-level deal and all he's done since is become the AHL's third-leading scorer and be named a starter for the Eastern Conference at the AHL All-Star Classic.
Not too bad, eh?
"I was really happy to get the chance to play my first game in the NHL tonight," Audy-Marchessault said after today's morning skate. "I'm excited, and obviously it's every hockey player's dream to play in the NHL. You have to keep focused and we have a job to do here. I think I'll be able to do it tonight."
With his impressive point totals, it's a safe bet the Blue Jackets are hoping Audy-Marchessault can provide an offensive spark to a club that has struggled to score goals since the season began. The Falcons are one of the AHL's highest-scoring clubs, but have lost top scorers Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert, David Savard -- and now Erixon and Audy-Marchessault -- to recalls from the Blue Jackets.
Audy-Marchessault said there's nothing complex about his game; he wants to make the right plays with the puck, get to the scoring areas and use his skill to make things happen.
"I can bring some offense," he said. "I try to create offense with my teammates and try to make it a better team if possible. I'm a guy that can do offense and defense, I can play both ways. I have pretty good speed and I think I have good vision, so I think I can contribute well to this team.
"I have to keep my game simple. Obviously it's a pretty fast game (at the NHL level), so I have to adapt pretty good but usually I adapt when I change leagues. Last year when I came to the AHL for my first year, I did pretty good so I try to keep it and simple and look towards the game tonight."
His affinity for making plays dates back to his youth growing up in Cap-Rouge, Que., at a time when the Quebec Nordiques were a talent-laden club in the early 1990s. Audy-Marchessault, now 22, was a toddler when the Nordiques packed up and moved to Colorado, but he vividly remembers watching a certain No. 19 pile up the points in that classic, light blue sweater adorned with the fleur-de-lis.
Older brother Jamie was a big Nordiques and Joe Sakic fan, and that passion was passed down to Jonathan, who also idolized Sakic growing up.
"I loved Joe Sakic," he said. "My big brother was a big fan of Sakic so he gave that to me and the style of play on the ice. He was a gentleman, too. (His favorite team to watch) was the Nordiques of Quebec but they moved out when I was four years old, so I didn't really have much of a favorite team. I was following a lot of the Canadian teams when I was young."
Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards knows he isn't inserting a Joe Sakic into his lineup tonight, but he's interested and excited to see how Audy-Marchessault fares in his NHL debut.
Richards was encouraged by reports from Springfield's coaching staff who raved about Audy-Marchessault's improved consistency, and is going to pair him with a familiar line mate in Ryan Johansen when the puck drops tonight. The two played a lot together during their time with the Falcons, and Richards said their chemistry was a factor in his decision.
"He has that offensive ability," Richards said of Audy-Marchessault. "It will be a great challenge for those two guys in their first games here as Blue Jackets, and facing a really tough opponent. We'll all get tested tonight."