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Savard's commitment led to opportunity

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

They always say that no two journeys are the same, and sticking around is far more difficult than getting there.

David Savard is a pretty good example of both.

Just two years ago, this was a player whose NHL future was perhaps a bit uncertain. He had struggled during stints with the big club, showed some flashes in the AHL, and had yet to prove that he could handle the demands of the pro game.

Sensing that a make-or-break moment was on the horizon, Blue Jackets management signed Savard to a one-year, two-way deal on July 15, 2013 – one that came with a stern directive: it was time to buckle down and prove that he could be an everyday NHL defenseman.

Savard wasn't ready to give it up. He fought off thoughts about potentially exploring options in Europe and focused solely on being an NHL player with the Blue Jackets. He took management and the coaches' words to heart and ran with them; he got leaner and stronger, and put in countless hours after practice working on skills and skating.

He didn't want to be an occasional call-up from the AHL, nor did the Blue Jackets want that for him -- but he needed to show them. Savard's role and level of responsibility grew in 2013-14 and he was a good player in the playoffs, and last season, he took another step. Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards trusted him as a top-pair, crucial situations defenseman, and his 22:56 average TOI in 2014-15 was the second-highest on the team.

On Tuesday, he put pen to paper on a five-year extension that ties him to the Blue Jackets through 2021.

“You’re getting sent down when other players are called up…that definitely wasn’t easy,” Savard told BlueJackets.com. “It was a wake up call. You have to put yourself out there and make sure you’re doing your best. That was my promise, was to give it my all and make the most of it.

“I think if you look back two years ago, no way would I think I’d have this opportunity. I put a lot of hard work into it. I had to regroup and make sure I showed up in really good shape, and the coaching staff really gave me my chance on the ice.”

Life on and off the ice is pretty good for Savard right now. He and his girlfriend, Valerie, welcomed baby daughter Emma Jade just one month ago and both parents have grown to love the city of Columbus, a town that reminds them of their native province of Quebec.

When the Blue Jackets called to see if Savard’s camp had interest in talking about a contract extension, it was a fairly easy decision. The player and his family wanted to stay in Columbus, and the situation on the ice and in the dressing room played a significant role, as well.

“I love this city, and I love playing here,” Savard said. “Seeing all the guys signing here long-term and with the group we already have, you can tell we all want to be part of this. That was a big part in getting this deal done.

“It’s five more years and six total, so you have to think about where you see yourself in that window of time, and I wanted to stay here. I want to be a Blue Jacket. I’m not the only one; we all believe we have the ability to do something special.”

The Blue Jackets are banking on Savard, who still only 24 years old, finding another level.

He stepped into a prime power play role after the trade of James Wisniewski last spring, putting up 36 points including 11 goals – tops among all Blue Jackets defensemen. In fact, Savard’s 11 goals in 2014-15 were second-most by a defenseman in team history (Bryan Berard scored 12 in 2005-06) and his 36 points were fourth-most by a defenseman in team history.

GM Jarmo Kekalainen is quite pleased with Savard’s progress – especially considering where he stood on the club’s depth chart two years ago – but he doesn’t want Savard (or anyone, for that matter) thinking he’s arrived.

“It took a while for him to get a grasp of what he needed to, but he made the commitment,” Kekalainen told BlueJackets.com. “Full credit goes to him. He put in a lot of hard work and it paid off for him, and that’s why I’m happy for him. He earned this contract, 100 percent.

“The one thing we expect from our good young players is that they keep growing. This is not the end station for him, it’s only the beginning. This is just the start, and he’s got lots of potential and his hard work has to continue. He has to assume a much bigger role on our team, and we think he’s capable of doing that.”

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