Since Matt Calvert was drafted by the Blue Jackets in the fifth round (No. 127 overall) in the 2008 NHL Draft, he has experienced a ride that he wasn’t sure he ever would.
Calvert definitely didn't take the conventional path to the NHL; he was an 18-year-old rookie with his hometown Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL), starting his junior career at least two years after other draft hopefuls did. Considered too small by some and too unknown by others, Calvert did his best to block out the noise and keep chasing his dream.
He spoke with just one scout prior to the draft and only met with only seven teams (most prospects meet with about 15-20), so if it wasn't going to be his year, it wouldn't have been much of a surprise.
After the NHL Combine, Calvert found his name ranked among other draft prospects and his perspective changed. Maybe the dream wasn't that far off, he thought, and his gut feeling turned out to be right.
“I didn’t really expect to be drafted," Calvert told BlueJackets.com. "It was my first year in junior hockey, and it was kind of a whirlwind of a year. But when you start getting ranked on the draft prospects lists, you start getting excited about it. You go to the Combine with a few teams interested in you, and I thought Columbus was the one I thought I was going to.”
Columbus wasn’t just the team that he thought he would end up being selected by, but it was a team that he wanted to be a part of and was excited about because of their interest in him.
The match between he and the Blue Jackets just felt right from the start, Calvert said.
“I was off the radar because I was an 18-year-old rookie in the (WHL),” he said. “I knew Columbus was a good interview and it went well for me, so I was kind of hoping I would go there. There were a few other teams on the radar, but it was definitely an exciting day to be drafted (by the Blue Jackets).”
Blue Jackets assistant GM Chris MacFarland laughed when reflecting on a memorable moment during the team’s interview with Calvert at the Combine - and said it's a fitting comparison between the 18-year-old version of Calvert and the one Blue Jackets fans know today.
Calvert had to take time off from his part-time job (that he worked while playing in the WHL) to travel to Toronto for the Combine.
“I remember when we interviewed him at the Combine, he talked about how he worked at a gas station in Brandon, Manitoba,” MacFarland told BlueJackets.com. “That struck a cord with our guys; he was such a down-to-earth kid. He had to get time off from his part-time job to come to the Combine. When you remember that and see where he is now, he’s the same person.”
MacFarland said that Calvert was a player that they had wanted for a while, and when he was still on the board in the fifth round, it was a no-brainer to select him.
“Our western scouts, the guys that saw (him), saw the same thing you see in him now,” MacFarland said. “He’s tenacious, hard-working, he’ll fight, and he’ll score some goals. It’s that compete and that consistent energizer bunny quality - he backs down from no one and plays a fearless game.”
Calvert knew that, if he was selected in the draft, he would be a late-round draft pick, but it still wore on him as each round went by and his name wasn't called. But as soon as he took his mind off the draft and stopped worrying with every passing pick, his life changed forever.
He remembers exactly how it played out when he was selected: he was watching at home in Brandon with friends and family, and the Blue Jackets kept the suspense intact: they didn't notify Calvert ahead of time, so his big moment at No. 127 overall was, for the most part, a total surprise.
“The third (round) comes by, the fourth comes by, and I still wasn’t drafted so I was getting a little antsy,” Calvert said. “I went outside and shot a few hoops, came back in, and all the sudden they’re putting my name on the board before they announced anything. There was celebration, I got a phone call, and right from there it was a great day. It was a pretty exciting day for myself and definitely a memory I’ll have forever.”