When Chet Pickard
was selected No. 18 by the Nashville Predators
in the 2008 Entry Draft, one of his former and probably future teammates was especially delighted.
Pickard was greeted with a big hug from childhood friend Colin Wilson
, who had been drafted by Nashville 11 spots prior to Pickard. Wilson the two were inseparable during their childhood together in Winnipeg, and was excited that he and Pickard would be playing for the same franchise again.
"When I heard his name get called, I ran out there and I made sure I could give him a hug," Wilson told The National Post. "I don't know if people out there in Ottawa thought I was pretty sentimental … but this is great. The fact that I am here with him makes it that much better."
Pickard and Wilson played together for the AA Twins and the AAA Monarchs in Winnipeg, but both were cut from a traveling club when they were 14.
They haven't played together for the last three seasons. Wilson, who was born in Greenwich, Conn., played for the United States National Development Team before embarking on a college career at Boston University last season, while Pickard has played for the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League for the past three seasons.
Pickard said the team he wound up playing for when he was 14 wasn't very good, but that's when the Americans found him.
"When I was 14, in my WHL draft year, we went to this tournament and our team really wasn't that good," Pickard said. "We ended up winning the tournament and it was pretty special. That's where I first got noticed by the team I'm playing on now."
"He is very confident. He is very strong in his crease and he isn't predictable. His net coverage is very good and he reads the play well. I think he presents himself very well in the net and he has very good goalie instincts. He is very consistent, which is a big positive for him. He is able to put any bad goals behind him; he doesn't let anything bother him yet he is very competitive. The first time I saw Pickard, I saw Olaf Kolzig -- I saw him big time in there."
-- NHL Central Scouting's Al Jensen
Pickard mostly sat behind Carey Price
during his first two seasons with the Americans, but still was able to mature despite playing just 55 games. But with Price playing for the Montreal Canadiens
last season, Pickard got his opportunity to play and made the most of it. He led the WHL with 46 wins and was fourth with a .918 save percentage, and he allowed just four goals on 23 shootout attempts.
Like Price the year before, Pickard won the Del Wilson Trophy as the WHL's best goaltender and helped Tri-City to the WHL regular-season title.
He was even better in the playoffs, going 11-5 with a 1.78 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage as the Americans advanced to the WHL finals. He capped his season by being named the best goalie in the Canadian Hockey League.
Pickard most likely will play a fourth season in Tri-City, where he would return as the starter, but he could be in Nashville sooner than expected. The Predators traded Chris Mason
for a fourth-round draft pick and handed the starting job to Dan Ellis
, who has one full NHL season under his belt. Pekka Rinne
, who is slated to be Ellis' backup, has played just 92 minutes in three NHL games.
At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Pickard reminds NHL Central Scouting's Al Jensen of another big goalie who stayed calm and had more than his share of success.
"He is very confident," Jensen said. "He is very strong in his crease and he isn't predictable. His net coverage is very good and he reads the play well. I think he presents himself very well in the net and he has very good goalie instincts. He is very consistent, which is a big positive for him. He is able to put any bad goals behind him; he doesn't let anything bother him yet he is very competitive. The first time I saw Pickard, I saw Olaf Kolzig
-- I saw him big time in there."
The Kolzig comparison is a good one. The long-time NHL netminder is a co-owner of the Americans and was the goaltending coach during the 2004-05 work stoppage. Pickard wears Kolzig's No. 37 as a tribute.
Pickard says he won't be disappointed if he has to spend more time in juniors or a year or two in the minors.
"I'm a patient guy," he told the Winnipeg Sun, "I'm not going to be disappointed if I don't make the team this year or next year, but it's something that I'm working hard at and something I want to happen. Obviously when you go to camp you want to make the team so that's my goal and I feel that I can do that. But if it doesn't happen right away, I'll get my notepad out and take in as much information as I can and see how everything works out."