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Calvin Pickard went from overlooked to becoming an unsung hero in Oilers’ Stanley Cup quest

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Photo credit:James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Sean Panganiban
21 days ago
The goaltending saga for the Edmonton Oilers this season has been full of twists and turns. To start the year, then-head coach Jay Woodcroft leaned on Jack Campbell early after a decent preseason, but the decision backfired. Following a 1-4-1 record and posting a dismal 4.50 goals-against-average (GAA) and a .873 save percentage (SV%), Campbell was sent down to the AHL on Nov. 8. At the time, Stuart Skinner wasn’t performing like he currently is, but the Oilers had more faith in the Calder Trophy nominee from last season to keep him up rather than Campbell.
Enter Calvin Pickard. Having played in 38 games with the Bakersfield Condors last season, he came into the 2023-24 campaign viewed as the organization’s third-string netminder, at best. With Campbell’s demotion, he was recalled and was considered a stopgap until the Oilers could find a more suitable backup goalie or perhaps a 1B to Skinner’s 1A.
The Moncton, NB native didn’t get his first win until Dec. 10, when he stopped 25 shots en route to a 4-1 Oilers win over the New Jersey Devils, and that victory marked his first NHL win since Jan. 28, 2022. All things considered, he’s been steady in the crease since then.
As we know, the Oilers recovered from their disastrous start, and while Skinner’s game improved, going 9-0-0 in January, Pickard quietly added to their 11-game win streak by securing two victories as well. However, despite the Oilers’ upswing, there was a ton of outside noise. Edmonton was linked to many goaltenders to upgrade their net, with names circulating like Jake Allen, Jordan Binnington, Elvis Merzlikins, and even Juuse Saros, to name a few.
Now, imagine how unsettling that could be for a goaltender, or anyone for that matter. You’re brought in to do a job, but there’s so much being said in the news about how your boss is looking for someone to replace you. Talk about being under some serious pressure, in a crazy hockey hotbed like Edmonton, no less.
Still, Pickard pushed through and persevered. He went about his business like a true professional and overall has compiled a 10-4 record, with a 2.25 GAA. His .919 SV% ranks 11th in the NHL among goaltenders who have played as much as him. Additionally, according to MoneyPuck, he ranks 21st in the league among netminders (minimum 10 games played) in goals saved above expected per 60 minutes. Not bad for a backup on league minimum salary, wouldn’t you say?
Moreover, here’s an interesting fun fact: Starting from the last goal he gave up near the end of the first period against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 7th, through the game where he blanked the Pittsburgh Penguins, and up to the first goal he gave up against the Montreal Canadiens in the third period on March 19th, Pickard hadn’t let in a goal in nearly seven periods.
In his last game against the Canadiens, he stopped 23 of 25 shots and made several Grade-A saves. His biggest save of the night came when it was all tied up with only 6:30 minutes remaining in the game when Josh Anderson unleashed a hard shot, alone in front. Pickard responded with a big glove save, keeping the game tied 2-2.
Overall, Pickard is having a solid career resurgence in the NHL at 31 years old. Given the direction his career was heading, it appeared he would likely spend the rest of his playing days as an AHL journeyman, having played in 88 minor league games, compared to just 24 NHL games over the last four years.

Confidence Is Key for Pickard

Nevertheless, he’s quietly leaving his mark as a solid backup netminder on an Oilers team with Stanley Cup aspirations. By all accounts, he’s well-liked in the locker room and does the extra things to help the team when he’s not playing, like staying for extra time after practices. That said, his teammates have confidence in him, as well as his head coach. After the game against the Canadiens, Kris Knoblauch said, “He’s been so solid and played very well for us, so, [we have] a lot of confidence when he’s in the net for us.”
The confidence in the combination of Pickard and Skinner in net was also evident from management. GM Ken Holland stated days before the trade deadline that he was not in the market to bring another netminder into the fold. On top of that, most importantly, Pickard has confidence in himself, as he stated in an interview with the Athletic:
“I went through some ups and downs. There were times when I was definitely fighting it in the minors and in the NHL. But I know I can play. With a clear mind, I know I can be successful at the NHL level. I just had to believe it.”
All in all, Pickard hasn’t given anyone a reason to doubt his reliability now and for the upcoming postseason if Skinner needs relief, and the resilience he’s shown this season amidst all the outside chatter shows his ability to thrive under pressure. It remains to be seen if he’ll be in the Oilers plans beyond this season, as his contract, which pays him $762,500 at the NHL level, expires after this season. Regardless, he deserves kudos, as he’s likely due for a potential raise after the storybook campaign he’s had.
With that being said, Oilers fans, how are you feeling about the Pickard and Skinner combo heading into the postseason?

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