Calvin Pickard starts again: hopeful trend for Edmonton Oilers goalie began 3 years ago — and now look

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This in from Mark Spector of Sportsnet, news that goalie Calvin Pickard will start for the Edmonton Oilers in Game Five against the Vancouver Canucks.

And from TSN’s Ryan Rishaug: “Pickard in starters net. Lines that are skating are the same. No Draisaitl or Kane. Henrique is out here but not taking line rushes.”

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My take

He’s not that big, he’s not that fast, he’s got a style of play straight out of the 1980s, but there’s no denying Edmonton Oilers goalie Calvin Pickard has turned around his career.

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When we take a look at the career of Pickard, now 33, the Game Four hero and Game Five starter, we notice three distinct trends, one of them devastating, two of them promising.

Promising Trend #1

Pickard came into the NHL as a promising prospect, a four-year starter out of the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Thunderbirds, with enough heft to his game that Colorado spent a second round pick on him in 2010, the same year Edmonton drafted Taylor Hall first overall.

In his first four pro seasons, Pickard looked every inch the future NHLer, at once grabbing the starting job at Colorado’s top farm team in Lake Erie and excelling there with save percentages of .918, .906, .917, and .917.

In those same seasons, he got two lengthy auditions with Colorado in the NHL, posting a .932 save percentage in 16 games 2014-15 and a .922 save percentage in 20 games in 2015-16.

The future belonged to Pickard in Colorado, right? No so fast.

Pickard

Devastating Trend

Picard crashed as a starter in 2016-17, posting an uninspiring .904 save percentage in 50 games. He got beat out by the far more sturdy Semyon Varlamov and moved to Toronto in October 2017 for a no-name prospect and a 6th round pick.

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That trade kicked off a Sequence of Pain in Pickard’s career that was to last four seasons. It saw him kicked around from Toronto, where he had the lowest save percentage on the team, to Philadelphia (fifth lowest out of eight goalies), to Arizona, (lowest) to Detroit (lowest) and back to the minor leagues. All that time his play was poor-to-atrocious.

He struggled even in the AHL where he had the lowest save percentage in Tuscon in 2018-19, the fourth lowest save percentage out of five goalies in Grand Rapids n 2019-20, and the lowest for Grand Rapids in 2020-21.

In those four seasons, 2017-21, his NHL and AHL save percentages were, consecutively, .857, .863, .892, .889, .903, .797, .874, .882, 875.

How he hung on in pro hockey at that point is a mystery. But Detroit GM Steve Yzerman saw something and offered Pickard a new contract.

Promising Trend #2

And then something wonderful happened. Pickard turned around his game. He won the starting job in 2021-22 in Grand Rapids, beating out two no-name prospects in the Detroit organization.

In 43 games in 2012-22 he posted a .918 save percentages, reaching the same solid level he’d regularly posted earlier in his career when he was a shinny prospect, not a tarnished vet.

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On the strength of that season, the Oilers signed Pickard to two-year deal at the NHL minimum, with an AHL salary of $300,000. In 2022-23, he was the top goalie in Bakersfield, with a .912 save percentage in 38 games.

This year he posted a .938 save percentage in four early AHL games, just as Jack Campbell’s game went sideways in Edmonton. Pickard got the call and got the job done in the NHL, going from emergency measure to reliable back-up, so reliable that few fans made a peep of complaint when Oilers GM Ken Holland made it clear ar the 2024 trading deadline that he was not looking for a goalie.

Evidently, a decision had been made that Pickard was good enough that if Stuart Skinner’s game went off-track in the playoffs for one reason or another, Pickard could be counted on to step in and play.

That plan was enacted before Game Four and it turned out well for the Oilers. Pickard did not get a lot of action as the Oilers played one of their best defensive games of the year, allowing just nine Grade A shots.

Now Pickard gets the start in Game Five.

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Steady as he goes

Pickard has an interesting style in net. He kicks out big rebounds. He’s all over the place. He challenges shooters. There’s a bit of the 1980s in this style, back when goalies were far more active in net.

Whatever his style, Pickard has defied the trend of Edmonton goalies going on long (5 or more game) hot and cold streaks this year. He’s tended to have two or three good games, then one or two weaker games.

trendsDutchyshen

P.S.

Here is how I remember Darren Dutchyshyn, the TSN anchor who worked at ITV in the 1990s, endearing himself to sports fans with his wit and humour.

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