Calvin Pickard is ready to capitalize on the biggest opportunity of his career

Photo credit:© Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Cam Lewis
1 month ago
When Calvin Pickard took the net for the Edmonton Oilers in Game 4 against the Vancouver Canucks, he was making just his sixth playoff appearance in his professional career. Not just his NHL career, but his entire 12-year professional career.
Selected in the second round of the 2010 NHL Draft by the Colorado Avalanche, Pickard appeared in three playoff games for the AHL Toronto Marlies in 2017-18 and two for the Bakersfield Condors in 2022-23. That pivotal game against Vancouver was the 32-year-old’s first at the NHL level.
You’d have thought Pickard was a seasoned playoff veteran given how he performed under pressure on Tuesday. He turned aside 22 of 24 shots in a 3-2 win and helped the Oilers knot their series with the Canucks at two games each.
“It felt like another game,” Pickard said when asked if playing in the NHL playoffs met his expectations. “Every game in the NHL is high pressure, and I didn’t want to let the pressure of a playoff game override what I needed to do. I felt comfortable right from the get-go It’s just one game, so moving on to the next.”
It was an incredible accomplishment for Pickard, who admitted he wasn’t sure he would ever get a shot to play in the NHL playoffs.
“You never know,” Pickard said. “I’m lucky to have signed with Edmonton, who’s obviously a really good team. Last year, I never played, and then this year, I got a good opportunity. You always believe it, you’re hoping, but now that it’s finally here, it’s exciting.”
“It’s been a long time, obviously, I made my debut 10 years ago. And not getting playoff action much at either level, it’s an exciting opportunity for me.”
This opportunity — one in which Pickard is playing behind a team with championship aspirations — hasn’t been a common experience throughout his career.
Pickard posted a .918 save percentage in his first full professional season with Colorado’s AHL affiliate in 2012-13 and was called up to make his NHL debut in 2014-15 after continued success at the level. He was the third-string goalie behind Semyon Varlamov and Reto Berra for the Avs in 2014-15 and 2015-16 and put up a .927 save percentage across his first 36 NHL games.
The Avs missed the playoffs in both of those seasons, which was a considerable letdown after the team had gone 52-22-8 in Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy’s first season as Colorado’s head coach in 2013-14.
Roy and the Avs parted ways following the 2015-16 season and the team bottomed out in Jared Bednar’s first year behind the bench. Pickard was slated to be the backup but was thrust into the starting role after Varlamov suffered a season-ending injury. He appeared in a career-high 50 games, posted a .904 save percentage, and accounted for 15 of the team’s 22 wins.
The following summer, the Vegas Golden Knights selected Pickard in the Expansion Draft after the Avs left him exposed in favour of Varlamov. He was expected to form a tandem with veteran Marc-Andre Fleury and even had a fan contest to design his mask, but the Golden Knights claimed Malcolm Subban on waivers right before the beginning of the season.
Vegas wound up waiving Pickard to make room for Subban and he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs after clearing through. With Frederik Andersen and Curtis McElhinney as the team’s goalie duo, Pickard made just one start for the Leafs in 2017-18, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Avs.
His .918 save percentage in 33 games helped the AHL Marlies go 54-18-0-4, but Garret Sparks started 19 of Toronto’s 20 games during their Calder Cup Championship run. The following season, Sparks was named the Leafs’ backup goaltender out of training camp and Pickard again wound up on waivers.
After splitting the 2018-19 season between the middling Philadelphia Flyers and Arizona Coyotes, Pickard became an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career and signed a two-year contract with the rebuilding Detroit Red Wings. Pickard spent three years with the Red Wings and made 12 appearances with the big-league club as their third-string goalie.
The Oilers inked Pickard to a two-way contract a couple of years ago to be a veteran for the Bakersfield Condors, somebody who could split the net with prospect Olivier Rodrigue and help the team be competitive.
He performed well at the AHL level and earned an opportunity in the NHL when Edmonton decided it was time to pull the plug on Jack Campbell. Pickard came up and solidified himself as a capable backup goaltender behind Stuart Skinner. He put up a .909 save percentage and the team won 12 of his 20 starts.
It’s been a long, winding road for Pickard, a journey that’s seen him thrown into unfavourable situations and cast aside in favour of other names. Nobody knows when their chance is going to come — or if it ever will — but Pickard seems ready to step up and capture the moment.
This has the potential to become an incredible story, and Pickard’s teammates are well aware of that.
“What an awesome guy, what an awesome story,” Leon Draisaitl said following Edmonton’s win in Game 4. “All year, he’s given us a chance to win and every time he’s in there, it seems like he’s standing on his head. I’m super proud of him. Not an easy thing to do. Very, very happy for him.”
“He’s just been unbelievable for us this year the way he’s stepped in,” Mattias Ekholm said. “First of all, off the ice, he’s just a tremendous guy. He just lifts the room up. He’s funny, he’s really funny, but also I love his mindset coming in here. He’s never started a playoff game and comes in and then just you can tell from when I got here at 5:30, he was in the zone. The way he carried himself out on the ice, just a killer mindset. He just went out and delivered for us. He’s a huge, huge part of this one.”
Though head coach Kris Knoblauch wouldn’t confirm whether Pickard would start again come Game 5 in Vancouver, he expressed confidence in a goaltender who has played a big role for the team this season.
“He looked like a guy that had played 100 playoff games,” Knoblauch said on Tuesday.
“Since I’ve been here starting in mid-November, I’ve been impressed with how well he’s played… Continually, his starts have been solid. No matter how long he sat, a week, two weeks, we have a lot of confidence in him. He came up big.”

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