Tuesday was, at the start, a fairly normal day in the life of Mike Paliotta.
He woke up, got on the ice for a bit and after his workout, returned to see two missed calls and a text message from Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman.
“I figured something was going on,” Paliotta said.
Instinct was accurate in this case, and it didn’t take long for everything to take off and for Paliotta’s phone to blow up again. Right around dinner time, news broke that the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks had pulled off a seven-player, eight-piece trade that sent shock waves throughout the hockey world.
The center piece of the deal was 22-year-old power forward Brandon Saad, one of the Blackhawks’ best players in their run to a third Stanley Cup in six years.
But another piece in the trade that’s gone somewhat unheralded is the acquisition of Paliotta, a 22-year-old, right-handed shooting defenseman that’s had Jarmo Kekalainen’s eye for quite some time.
Paliotta played three seasons at the University of Vermont before turning pro, and spent parts of two seasons in the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP). He’s known as a steady defenseman who skates well, and showed offensive upside the last few seasons at Vermont.
In fact, when Kekalainen called Paliotta on Tuesday night, he told him that he had attempted (unsuccessfully) to acquire him on multiple occasions during the season. And for a team looking to get stronger on the blueline, there’s an opportunity for players like Paliotta to prove that those improvements can be made internally.
“(Kekalainen) made it clear that there are spots to be won and opportunity here for defensemen,” Paliotta said. “As a (defenseman) coming into the league, I spent a little bit of time with Chicago at the end of their season this year, and I learned what it’s like to be an NHL player and I learned from some great guys there.
“That experience is really valuable and I’m hoping to carry that into camp. I’m going to continue to work really hard this summer, and my goal is to play in the NHL next year, bottom line.”
These may not be the most ideal circumstances under which to make a solid first impression, but Paliotta is trying to make the most out of his first week with the Blue Jackets. He caught a plane first thing Tuesday morning and got into Columbus just before lunch, giving him a couple of hours to shake hands, get acquainted and hop on the ice for development camp.
“It’s a lot of new faces, but that’s what makes it really exciting,” Paliotta said. “It honestly kind of feels like I just got drafted again and this is my first development camp, but it’s actually my fifth. I got out there on the ice today with the guys and the guys have been really friendly, introducing themselves and showing me where things are.
“I guess it’s been kind of a whirlwind, shocking, but at the same time really exciting. I’m just happy to be out here now and get a feel for how things go out here.”
Yes, training camp is a little more than two months away and there’s plenty of work to be done, but Paliotta couldn’t help but be encouraged and motivated by what he heard from Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets.
“He just told me that they were really excited that they were to be able to get me,” Paliotta said. “(He said) there’s great opportunity here, and all the things you want to hear as a young player coming into the league.”