When the Norfolk Admirals won the Calder Cup last Saturday, it was a tremendous boost to the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.
“These guys did this at the highest level of competition outside the NHL,” said Lightning assistant general manager Julien BriseBois. “The fact that these guys were able to execute and win at this pace, against this type of competition, shows that these guys are knocking on the door. If you look at past teams that have won this, anywhere from 7-10 players usually make it to the NHL and I think we’ll be in that range, at least.”
If BriseBois is correct in his prediction that 7-10 Admirals will go on to have NHL careers, center Alexandre Picard would probably have to be at the forefront of the crowd of Norfolk skaters who’d be poised to jump into the NHL next season.
Picard, a 26-year-old agitating center, led the Calder Cup Playoffs with 16 points (9g, 7a) during this playoff year, giving him the Jack A. Butterfield Award as the playoffs’ Most Valuable Player and completely resuscitating a once-promising career that has been curtailed by a series of nagging injuries over the last five years.
“I thought as a whole, during the ups and downs of these whole playoffs, Picard had the most impact on the games,” said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. “He scored the big goals and took the concentration of the other teams away with his agitating style. He’s a well-deserving MVP.”
But as deserving as Picard was of his award, he did kind of come out of left field to emerge as the Admirals’ best playoff performer.
After all, his nine playoff goals came after a regular season where he scored just six times, while being limited to only 42 games due to constant injuries that have plagued him throughout his seven-year pro career.
In fact, Picard, a former 2004 first-round draft pick of Columbus who has yet to live up to his potential, has missed at least 15 games to injury in each of his last five professional seasons, during which he has bounced from the Blue Jackets organization, to the Phoenix Coyotes organization and on into the Lightning organization.
Alexandre Picard accepts the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as Calder Cup Playoffs MVP. Alex led all skaters w/ 16 (9g, 7a) postseason points. (Photo by Graig Abel)
“Picard is a little bit of an older guy now,” added Cooper. “But we know he’s a gamer. It was tough for him when he was out during the regular season, but when the playoffs came, we needed a gamer and he was at the front of the line.”
Picard being at the “front of the line” went beyond his offensive numbers that included three two-goal games and a pair of game-winning goals, though.
The 6-foot, 205-pound native of Les Saules, Quebec also led all postseason skaters with 48 penalty minutes, which, believe it or not, are probably fewer than the amount of penalties he drew by constantly throwing hits, getting in opposing goalies’ kitchens and trashtalking opponents into being distracted from playing solid hockey.
For Lightning fans, Picard’s style would be most reminiscent of Sean Bergenheim, with the main differences being that Picard is a center and Bergenheim is a wing, Picard is a little bit bigger and hits harder, and Bergenheim has a little more pure foot speed.
And the similarities between Picard and Bergenheim could be a positive indicator for the Lightning franchise, as Bergenheim, a former first-round draft pick of the New York Islanders in 2002, didn’t truly blossom as an NHL player until he came to Tampa Bay as a 26-year-old in 2010.
Picard, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, would enter next season at the same chronological stage in his career that Bergenheim was at when he came to Tampa Bay, making it seem that he could be primed to win a full-time role with the Lightning like Bergenheim did two years ago.
“Picard is an absolute menace down low,” said Cooper after one of Picard’s better postseason performances in the first round against the Manchester Monarchs. “You can throw the word ‘greasy’ around, too. He can be a major thorn in teams’ sides and I know he’s on his game when he’s under the skin of the opposition. He seemingly has an innate ability to do that on a nightly basis.”
And based on being the best player in the world’s second-best hockey league for the most important two-month period of the season, it would certainly seem that Picard could use his unique skillset to benefit the Lightning on a “nightly basis” next season.