Colton Gillies needed only a second to identify the Blue Jackets' first game against his former club, the Minnesota Wild.
"February 7," he said. "I looked it up right away."
It’s not the 22-year-old Gillies, who picked up on waivers by the Blue Jackets over the weekend, is looking for revenge against the team that drafted him 16th overall in 2007. He played 52 games for the Wild over the course of two separate seasons (2008-09 and 2010-11), but spent the majority of his time with the Houston Aeros, Minnesota’s top affiliate.
He is excited about the change of scenery because it’s a new opportunity to show that he can stick in the NHL, and prove he can consistently play the style of game which enabled him to be a high draft pick.
"He probably needs a fresh start and a change. He's a young guy who's only 22 years old and he was a first-round pick." - General Manager Scott Howson
“I was excited,” Gillies said. “There are a lot of young guys here, and hopefully I can just prove myself, you know?”
It’s a fresh start on several levels for Gillies in Columbus. He said he’s never played with any of his new teammates in junior or any other stop in his career. The only connection is a three-week stint with goaltender Steve Mason on Canada’s gold-medal winning World Junior Championship team in 2008.
He made an impact in his first game wearing the union blue sweater, setting up Derek MacKenzie’s game-winner just 32 seconds into the third period on Tuesday night. After stealing the puck at the blue line, he chipped it around the Edmonton Oilers’ defense and put a centering pass right on MacKenzie’s tape to slam it in for a 3-2 lead.
The Blue Jackets were intrigued by Gillies when his name appeared on the waiver wire, and with their pro scouting team in town over the weekend, GM Scott Howson said it was a chance to hear everyone’s opinion on acquiring the player. In the end, they decided as a group that adding Gillies was in the best interest of the organization.
“I think he’s definitely hungry for an opportunity,” Howson told BlueJackets.com. “He probably needs a fresh start and a change. He’s a young guy who’s only 22 years old and he was a first-round pick.
“He’s big and he’s a good skater and we think there’s some upside there. Sometimes a young player needs a change to realize his potential, and that’s what we hope to give him here.”
The potential in Gillies was evident during his years with the Wild, and though he was originally drafted by former GM Doug Risebrough, Minnesota’s new management team saw him as a part of their future. His second year with the Aeros gave him a lot of experience and confidence, Gillies said, as he scored 12 points in 24 playoff games and played a significant role on a team that was close to winning a championship.
“Everything that’s happened to me over the years, I wouldn’t take any of it back,” Gillies said. “Going to the Calder Cup finals last year and all my experiences have made me who I am. I’m thankful for that.
“I truly believe I can play here and fill a role. Last year, things went well for me especially in the playoffs and I just want to get back to that and having the puck, making plays, going to the net and making it hard on the other team.”
Gillies said he wants to bring energy to the Blue Jackets and stick to what has given him success to this point in his career: playing fast, using his 6-foot-4 frame to bring a physical edge and competing hard on every shift.
There is familiar ground for him in Columbus, with a group of young players looking to become regular NHLers and earning their keep at the game’s highest level.
“I believe in earning your spot and I don’t believe in having anything given to you,” Gillies said. “That’s just what I want to do here, and earn a role. At the beginning I was playing great and always had that hope of moving up in lines with injuries and stuff, but it’s just the way things went.
“(The Wild) never gave me a chance, but that’s life. You take it as it is.”
One thing is certain: the player who will now wear No. 9 for the Blue Jackets will be anxiously waiting for Feb. 7, 2012 to roll around. That happens to be his first game against the Wild since joining the Blue Jackets.
“I definitely checked the new schedule,” Gillies said with a smile.