Thanksgiving Day 2013 began like any other off-day for Corey Tropp, but one phone call significantly altered the dynamic of it.
On the other line was Pat LaFontaine, president of hockey operations in Buffalo, letting him know he had been claimed off waivers by the Blue Jackets. His former team, the Sabres, had stumbled out to a dreadful start and wanted to get Tropp to its AHL affiliate in Rochester.
Doing so required him to clear waivers, and seeking to bolster their forward depth with a player they liked, the Blue Jackets put in a claim.
The successful waiver claim meant Tropp’s uneventful day off was over; he packed whatever he could into his car and made the five-hour drive to Columbus to start a new chapter of his life and hockey career - and it was an opportunity he quickly came to embrace.
After Monday night’s 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks, the 24-year-old Tropp had played his 29th game with the Blue Jackets. In those 29 games, he’s registered nine points and is a solid +11, but he insists that the numbers are just a bonus.
“Whenever you change teams – and this was the first time for me – it can be a little uncertain,” Tropp told BlueJackets.com. “I was in Buffalo my entire career and had been part of that organization for five or six years. And when you do that, you get to know people and become close with some of the guys…but this change has been really good for me.
“I’ll be honest, I was nervous at first just wondering how the guys here were going to be, and about coming to a new city, but everything has exceeded my expectations. The guys in this room are awesome, and Columbus is fantastic. It’s a beautiful city and it’s been a lot of fun.”
The “walking on eggshells” feeling did not last long for Tropp, who fit in right away with the Blue Jackets. Long a target of GM Jarmo Kekalainen dating back to his draft year in 2007, the hard-working, energetic style Tropp brought from day one in Columbus helped make for a seamless transition.
Also in his favor was the improving play of the Blue Jackets over the next few weeks; Tropp came into a locker room that was gaining confidence and played solid hockey despite losing Sergei Bobrovsky to a groin injury on Dec. 3. The environment was positive, the room was upbeat and Tropp feels like he arrived at the perfect time.
“When you come into a new team and that team is having success, obviously the atmosphere coming to the rink is going to be positive when things are going well,” Tropp said. “And on the other hand, a losing situation can make things tough…guys aren’t as happy coming to the rink and it can be a challenge, you know? But coming here, I can’t say enough about my teammates here, the staff, everyone…they’ve treated me with nothing but respect since I got here and I feel really fortunate to be here in Columbus.”
More than anything, Tropp said, he appreciated the Blue Jackets’ willingness to give him a chance despite his game not being where he wanted it to be. He missed almost an entire season in 2012-13 (playing just six games with AHL Rochester) due to a knee injury and he started this season with a broken jaw suffered in a preseason game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He’s found a home on the Jackets’ suddenly-hot fourth line with Mark Letestu and Derek MacKenzie, a unit that’s balanced the lineup and sparked the team at key times. His game isn’t quite where he thinks it can be, but steady as she goes, Tropp feels more and more like the player he knows he can be - and the player the Blue Jackets felt they were getting when they acquired him.
“Two years ago, before I got injured, I was starting to carve out a similar role in Buffalo,” Tropp said. “I’ve always been confident in myself that if I got a fair opportunity, that I could get back to that point and also go beyond it. I think there are still some areas for growth in my game – one thing is I want to get stronger on pucks – and when you’re recovering from a knee injury you lose some of your summer training.
“The first conversation I had with (the Blue Jackets) was about coming in and getting back on track, getting my game back to where it was before the couple injuries I had. Everyone in the organization, from the management to coaches to my teammates and the staff…they’ve treated me so well and this has been a great experience. It’s hard for me to put into words how much it’s meant to me to play here with this group.”