Injuries forced the Columbus Blue Jackets to place both Cam Atkinson (lower body) and Matt Calvert (upper body) on injured reserve. With two spots open, Columbus looked no further than Springfield to fill its depth chart and on Wednesday night recalled Tim Erixon and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault from the AHL.
Getting called up together should come as no surprise as both Erixon and Audy-Marchessault were acquired this summer after developing chemistry with the Connecticut Whale last season.
Both prospects were selected for the Eastern Conference’s starting lineup in the AHL All-Star Classic at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence on January 28th. Despite a 7-6 defeat, Audy-Marchessault, who competed in his second consecutive AHL All-Star game, was able to find the back of the net on one of his three shots on goal, while Erixon finished the high scoring game with an even plus/minus.
Erixon’s summer was not the most relaxing offseason he has had in his career.
As the New York Rangers fell just short of its first Stanley Cup appearance since 1994, General Manager James Dolan made it clear that he was looking to complete New York’s high octane offense by acquiring Rick Nash from Columbus. Erixon’s name was commonly brought up during negotiations.
“It’s part of the business,” Erixon said of the trade talks that went on this summer. “I knew [the trade] was an option. Obviously there were a lot of rumors going around.”
The rumors proved to be true and on July 24th Erixon, along with Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, was sent to Columbus in return for Nash. The move came months after Erixon made his NHL debut with the Rangers, the same team with which his father, Jan, spent his entire NHL career.
In Columbus, the 21-year-old is now with his third franchise since being drafted by the Calgary Flames in 2009. He joined a system that prides itself on having an abundance of young defensive talent, having just selected top defensive prospect Ryan Murray with the second pick of the 2012 NHL Draft.
“We have a pretty good defensive corps actually,” Erixon said. “I just keep working on getting better every day.”
“I just wanted to keep playing my game,” the former first round pick said. “I’ve worked closely on my defensive positioning this year. Other than that I’ll do whatever the coaches want me to do.”
Erixon has not let his coaches down and through 40 games leads the Falcons’ impressive defensive corps with 29 points (24 assists and five goals).
As the lockout came to an end, Savard and Moore headed to Columbus and Erixon saw an increase in playing time, notably on the penalty kill.
“I’m probably going to get some more minutes,” he said. “Some more time on the penalty kill and I’m comfortable with that. I’ve always played on the PK. I did it a little bit less at the beginning of the season.”
Although playing on the penalty kill his entire career, Erixon’s offensive upside has him primed to be a dangerous player working the point on the power play.
“I’ve always been a power play guy,” the two-time medalist in the IIHF U20 World Junior Championships said. “It’s the most fun thing to do out there.”
With 19 NHL games to his name, Erixon is no stranger to the transition in game speed that takes place between the AHL and NHL.
“The players are more skilled,” he said. “Guys are better at taking the opportunities when they get them.”
Erixon will need to make a splash in his second opportunity to play with hockey’s top talent as he began seeing over 18 minutes of ice time with the Blue Jackets in Thursday night’s contest against the Blues, earning a minus-one rating and four penalty minutes in his first NHL game of the season.
Audy-Marchessault also debuted in that tough division battle against St. Louis, less than two years removed from his final season in the QMJHL.
Despite posting 239 points in 254 games with the QMJHL's Québec Remparts, at 5'9 Audy-Marchessault was deemed too small and went undrafted. After being picked up by Connecticut following his final junior season, he established himself as a quick-skating playmaker and scored 45 points in 43 games. With a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, Audy-Marchessault has been a top line player on two different AHL teams and now has received a chance to prove that he can play at the NHL level.
“(Columbus) gave me a good chance to make it to the NHL, that’s what you want as a hockey player,” the 22-year-old said. “Hopefully I’ll get my chance this year.”
The Quebec product will get his chance with his former AHL power play linemates, Calvert and Atkinson, sidelined. Columbus will be looking for a playmaker to step into the team’s gritty offense. There is no reason why the winger cannot fill that role.
When Atkinson headed to the NHL, Audy-Marchessault became the Falcon's top scorer with 16 goals and 29 assists.
“I’m an important player on (Springfield),” he said. “I have to be able to raise my game every game and be one of the top players in the league.”
He quickly became one of the league’s top performers and will head to the NHL ranked third in the AHL with 45 points in 43 games. As a key playmaker in Springfield’s lineup, Audy-Marchessault became a player that team’s began to mark in the offensive zone.
“You know you’re going to be checked out,” Audy-Marchessault said. “You have to work harder and just find good areas that you can work on to improve your game.”
Although he has had success, the former QMJHL’s leading playoff scorer will be the first to admit that he needs to improve his consistency, which was apparent in his pedestrian 12-minute debut on Thursday against the Blues.
“I need to be there every game playing hard,” he said. “Be able to make plays every game with confidence defensively and offensively.”
Consistency will be the key for both Erixon and Audy-Marchessault to help the two-win Blue Jackets turn around its season in a very competitive Central Division.