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Fitting in Nicely

by David DiCenzo / Columbus Blue Jackets

Jason Williams has seen the NHL experience from many perspectives. He had quite the entrance, hoisting the Stanley Cup as a rookie with the Detroit Red Wings back in 2002. In 2006, he hooked up with another Original Six team, the Chicago Blackhawks, and spent a couple of years trying to make things work with what was then a struggling franchise in the Windy City. This season, Williams signed with Atlanta and played half the year as a Thrasher, but found that the fit there was not a good one.

Now he's a Blue Jacket. And Williams likes that fact.

"I'm happy to be in a spot right now where I'm getting a chance to play," says the London, Ontario native, who has made an immediate impact with four points in his first five games in Columbus, since the recent deal that sent prospect Clay Wilson and a draft pick to Atlanta.

"To be playing for a playoff spot makes that much more of a difference," he added. "It's a good young team. If I can come in and be positive with this team and help them get into the playoffs, it'll be huge for this organization."

And huge for Williams, too. A player not exactly blessed with tremendous size, Williams has had to work hard for everything he's had in his professional career.

You could argue that he came out of nowhere, really. The center put up some solid numbers in his junior days with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League but despite scoring 62 total goals in his last two seasons, Williams name was never called out during the NHL draft.

He played the majority of the 2000-01 campaign in the American Hockey League with Cincinnati and got called up to the Red Wings, with whom he had signed, for five games that year. Williams scored eight goals in 25 games with Detroit the following season but got an incredible opportunity in the playoffs, seeing the ice in nine games as Detroit made its Cup run.

The Red Wings overlooked Williams' size (now listed at 5'11" and 185 pounds) because he made an impression at training camp, even filling in on the blueline when some of Detroit's defensemen went down.

"At that time, if you weren't over six feet tall, or unless you put up over 100 points, you weren't going to get drafted," says Williams.

"Everybody was thinking 'why would you pick Detroit to go to? You're never going to make that team.' I didn't think I was going to make the team.

"I think they liked that I was versatile right off the hop."

Williams went from being just another undrafted player to playing alongside a list of sure-fire Hall of Famers like Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brett Hull, Chris Chelios and his former linemate, captain Steve Yzerman.

Yzerman was particularly influential on Williams. The Detroit legend got to the point where he was playing on just one leg and Williams couldn't help but be impressed by Yzerman's work ethic and leadership.

"My first few years, I was just a sponge, trying to learn as much as possible," he says. "They're winners for a reason – because they do things the right way.

"Being there those first few years was a big learning process for me."

Williams says that he's already witnessing some of the same qualities in the Blue Jackets' organization. For one, he was treated in a first-class manor from the second he arrived in Columbus, making the transition easy. In Ken Hitchcock, Williams sees a respected coach who demands a lot of hard work from his players. And even the younger guys in the Columbus room remind Williams of what life was like in his early days with the Red Wings, as the more inexperienced players try to soak up what they can from the veterans.

But there's another similarity – a soft-spoken captain who takes control when his team needs it most.

"One of the big things that I noticed is Rick Nash," says Williams. "As young as he is, he's going to be a great leader. He doesn't say a whole lot but he leads by example. And he works hard. When you need something to happen, you look to him and he does that. Those are the qualities you need from your captain and your leaders.

"Even playing against him, I thought that he was pretty good and was only going to get better."

Nash certainly likes the idea of having a smart veteran like Williams on the team.

"He's been great," says the captain. "He's huge on the power play, but he's also a good two-way forward. He's proved that over the years.

"He's also been on championship teams. He knows what it takes and it's great to have that here."

After bouncing around the league the past couple years with teams at different stages – and overcoming some injuries, like the concussion he suffered back in 2006 – Williams wouldn't mind a bit of stability.

He looks like he's found that in Ohio.

"From what I see," says Williams, "it's an organization that's going in the right direction."

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