In a lot of minds, he was anything but the big name in the biggest trade the Ottawa Senators made during the off-season.
But Alex Picard – the secondary pickup in the deal that brought Filip Kuba
to Ottawa and sent Andrej Meszaros to the Tampa Bay Lightning – has quickly proven he was anything but a throw-in for the Senators when general manager Bryan Murray finalized the exchange of blueliners at the end of August.
Already, Picard is seeing major power-play time for the Senators and logs close to 18 minutes of ice time each night. Clearly, the organization has big plans for the Gatineau native, both now and in the years to come, and wanted to acquire him for a reason.
“He may be the guy in the trade that – everybody didn’t forget about him – but I think everybody looked at Kuba as the main guy,” said Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg. “But I think Picard has done a great job and he’s going to get better.”
Picard is not only relishing the opportunity to play regular minutes for the Senators but to do it for a winning team. He suited up for 62 games in the 2006-07 season with the Philadelphia Flyers, who finished with the worst record in the National Hockey League. It was more of the same when the Flyers dealt Picard to the Lightning last February.
“If you look back at the year I had in Philly, all year we had the worst team in the league and we had a lot of young players,” he said. “Last year in Tampa, it was the same situation. I got there late in the year and they were the last (place) team in the league.
“So it’s not only my first opportunity to play (regularly in the top six) but it’s my first opportunity to play on a good team. I’m liking it very well here so far.”
He especially enjoyed it Saturday night, when Picard opened the scoring against the Detroit Red Wings on a power play – his first goal in a Senators uniform. He figures to keep getting more chances in man-advantage situations.
“It was a bit of a surprise,” Picard said about the opportunity to man the point on the power play. “But I think we’ve done well as a group. We scored a couple of goals. It’s only the first (three) games but we’ll see how it goes from here on.”
In Hartsburg’s mind, it should only keep getting better for a 23-year-old blueliner who has been everything the Senators had hoped for – and then some.
“He’s a guy that, to me, has really taken big steps for us,” said Hartsburg. “That trade, to me, has really helped our hockey team, adding two quality defencemen that we know can help us in all special situations. Power play, penalty killing … they’re both going to be key guys for us.
“I think (Picard) moves the puck real well. He’s not going to be a guy who rushes up and down the ice, but he’s going to make good, smart plays with it. He’s going to join the attack and he does have a real good shot. He gets it through and he’s got some velocity on it.”
Picard knows exactly what it’ll take to keep him on the right track.
“Just play consistent, make the simple plays and try not to complicate things,” he said. “Play a simple game, try to bring a little bit of offence and a little bit of physical play.”
He plans to make good use of the example provided by blue-line veterans Chris Phillips
, Anton Volchenkov, Jason Smith and Kuba.
“The top four defencemen here are top guys that I can learn from, just by watching them,” said Picard. “I’m going to be a sponge this year and soak up everything I can.”
That all of this is happening right across the river from his hometown … well, that’s just a bonus for Picard.
“I’m kind of walking in unknown territory so far,” he said about playing for the NHL team that’s just a short drive from Gatineau. “I don’t really know how this is going to play out but it feels nice. But I think it’s like any job. You just have to forget about it.
“It’s nice when it’s over and you go home and you have friends and family so close. But it’s not something I really thought about and even if I did, I didn’t know what to expect.”