It's never easy for an NHL player to get traded, especially the first time. But you have to believe that Antoine Vermette is feeling good about how things have shaken out for him. The versatile forward, who arrived on trade deadline day from Ottawa, has gone from a team toiling near the bottom of the Eastern Conference to one that's creating nightly magic against the league's elite.
Vermette's name has been mentioned around Columbus for a while now. And his new teammates have made his arrival smooth.
"It feels like I know the guys pretty good after just a couple days," says the newest Blue Jacket. "They've been very good to me and made me feel welcome from the start.
"It's a nice introduction, there's no doubt about that."
Nice indeed. Three wins over powerhouse lineups from Detroit, Boston and Pittsburgh; four points in those three games, including his first goal on a blast past Marc-Andre Fleury; and 20 wins in 30 face-off draws against the Bruins, which happens to be one win shy of Manny Malhotra's season record of 21, established just last month.
Jackets fans, when not wiping the froth from their mouths after all the recent excitement they're experiencing, are probably wondering one thing – "Mr. Vermette, where have you been our whole lives?"
"He's been solid," head coach Ken Hitchcock said at yesterday's game-day skate, prior to Vermette's first multi-point effort as a Jacket. "Where he's been really good for us is that we can start with the puck more. It's hard to be a good team if you can't start with the puck.
"He gives us that second center where we know we go out there and win face-offs and start with the puck."
In addition to puck possession, Vermette is giving Columbus plenty, proving his worth as a legit top six forward. His speed is apparent, as is his ability to play smart, two-way hockey.
The 26-year-old native of St. Agapit, Quebec, drafted 55th overall by the Senators in 2000, also has boatloads of skill. A prime example of that was Vermette's highlight reel goal against Tampa Bay a few years back when he took a puck off of the boards and with his stick between his legs, beat the Lightning goaltender, almost identical to the move Rick Nash pulled off against St. Louis last season.
Vermette was having a down year prior to the deal that brought him to Columbus, though in all fairness, most players in Ottawa were struggling this season. But he's shown he can score goals at every level. Vermette tallied 87 goals in his last two years of junior with the Victoriaville Tigres of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before notching 34 in his first season with the AHL's Binghamton Senators in the 2002-03 season. In his first three seasons with Ottawa, Vermette scored 21, 19 and 24 goals, including a career-high point total of 53 (24-29-53) last year.
Adding a player of Vermette’s ability to the second line, which for the moment is comprised of R.J Umberger and Jason Williams centered by the new guy, has paid immediate dividends.
"He's good on the face-offs and he uses his speed well," says Williams, adding that Vermette has come in and worked hard from the get go. "Our line, we complement each other well, with his speed and R.J.'s size and with myself trying to get open in the slot and use my shot as much as I can, we have three good things on the line that can give teams trouble.
"It's working pretty good."
But Vermette brings another welcome quality to the Columbus room – extensive post-season experience. He's already played 38 NHL playoff games, 20 coming in Ottawa's Stanley Cup run two years back.
"You obviously learn from just being there," says Vermette. "It's a situation where when you've been in the playoffs a few times, you feel comfortable. You don't get the nerves as much.
"One thing I learned is control the emotion. You don't want to get too high when things are going well and you don't want to get too low when things aren't going your way."
Vermette sees some of those necessary playoff qualities in the Jackets. He calls the team's play "impressive" and notes that despite not playing Columbus much in the past, he was well aware of the club's growing reputation.
"I knew when I came in what the guys were about," says Vermette. "I had a pretty good idea about the work ethic. You know when you play Columbus, it's going to be a hard game."
While Vermette's on-ice transition has appeared to be seamless, he's still getting comfortable with his new surroundings. He says he doesn't have any regular routine around the city yet. And then there's the matter of his road roommate, Andrew Murray.
"I have to calm him down," Vermette jokes about one of the most soft-spoken players in franchise history. "He's pretty loud."
For a guy who just left the only NHL team he ever knew, Vermette seems to be at ease in his new environment.
"It's a chance to battle for a playoff spot and join a bright future," he says. "It's a good fit."