A third round draft choice of the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft (85th overall), defenseman Alexandre Picard entered the first full season of his professional career with the organization’s minor league affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms, in October.
The defending Calder Cup champions look forward to what Picard can bring to the table this year, and actually got a sneak peek at the smooth-skating blueliner last season during their run for the title.
Following the conclusion of his season with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL, Picard was called up and began practicing with the Phantoms in mid-May. With injuries plaguing the Philadelphia blue line as the team entered the final round of the playoffs, the 19-year-old Gatineau, Quebec native signed an amateur tryout contract on the afternoon of June 4, and was inserted into the lineup that night to face the Chicago Wolves in Game 2 of the Calder Cup Finals.
Already leading the championship series 1-0, the Phantoms were facing a very hungry and talented Chicago Wolves team on enemy ice.
Was Picard nervous?
“Oh, obviously, yeah,” he said with a laugh. “They had just told me the day before, too. We had a couple d-men out. I never thought I’d get the chance to play, but I was glad. They were really highly-touted games because it was the Finals. I just got thrown in there and I think I held my own and played pretty good.”
The game, which the Phantoms ended up winning in double overtime, thrust Picard into the world of professional hockey. Picard saw plenty of action in the marathon contest, as head coach John Stevens did not hesitate to skate him in the waning minutes of regulation and during the overtime.
Picard’s is yet to disappoint the Phantoms. Possessing a hard shot from the point, he provides an offensive punch from the blue line, and his skating ability allows him to effective in the defensive zone as well.
Admittedly, though, the 6’2, 220-pound backliner says he’s working on his physical game, as he has got the size to finish his checks with authority, however, he is often tentative in doing so.
Of his strengths, Picard tabs his transition game as probably his biggest asset.
“I always keep my head up and I’m very calm on the ice and I don’t get nervous often. I think I can play both ends.”
Picard honed his skills during a successful junior career, one that spanned four years and resulted in two trips to the President’s Cup Finals. All told, the offensive-minded defenseman totaled 122 points (31goals, 91 assists) in 225 games.
Picard spent the bulk of his years in the QMJHL with the Halifax Mooseheads, while playing one year with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. He experienced the most success in Halifax, particularly last season when his offensive prowess got him named Team MVP, scoring 38 points in 68 regular season games. He added 6 points (1 goal, 5 assists) in 13 playoff games, but saw his junior career come to an end in the finals with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Sidney Crosby-led Rimouski Oceanic.
Picard’s success in juniors should translate into success in the professional ranks, but he knows it will take time to acclimate himself to the AHL.
“I think obviously the speed, and, at the same time, I know I’m not the only one, but adjusting to the new rules and all that stuff at a new level [is tough]. But, it’s going pretty good so far.”
Helping him out with the transition is Picard’s usual defense partner, AHL veteran John Slaney. Both players are a threat on offense and reliable on defense, and Picard feels he is lucky to be learning from one of the best in the business so early in his career.
“It’s perfect,” he said of his pairing with Slaney. “You can’t ask for a better partner. I mean, just to look at him and the way he plays. He’s so calm and patient with the puck.”
While Picard is still learning how to play at a higher level, the rookie defenseman is doing just fine in his first year. His all-around game should improve over the course of the season as he is gaining valuable experience playing on both the Phantoms power play and penalty killing units.
In addition, with the team being depleted on the blue line again thanks to a few early season injuries to key defenseman Freddy Meyer and Randy Jones, Picard finds himself with more playing time than he bargained for, but that’s okay with him.
“I didn’t expect to be getting this much ice time,” he said. “We’ve had some guys out – some pretty good guys – but I can’t complain about it.”
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