© — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
The St. John’s IceCaps’ Eric O’Dell (right) fights off the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ Brendan Mikkelson during a game at Mile One Centre recently. O’Dell, the IceCaps’ leading scorer with 29 points in 28 games, was called up to the Winnipeg Jets for the first time in his pro career on Tuesday and was in the lineup for the team’s game against the Buffalo Sabres.
IceCaps leading scorer called up by Winnipeg Jets, plays in first NHL game
If Eric O’Dell’s patience with the puck is anything akin to his patience in his hockey career, then the Winnipeg Jets may have just made a shrewd move.
O’Dell, the leading scorer for the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps, was recalled by the parent Winnipeg Jets late Monday night and made his National Hockey League debut Tuesday in a 4-2 loss to the Sabres in Buffalo.
It is the first recall to the NHL for the 23-year-old centre, who has 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) in 28 games for St. John’s this season.
The promotion came in the third pro season for the Ottawa native, who was St. John’s MVP in 2012-13, when he topped the team with 55 points (29 goals and 26 assists) in 59 games, and who also is the IceCaps’ all-time leading scorer, with 106 points — equally divided between 53 goals and 53 assists — in 126 games.
“Being patient and staying positive, that’s what I’ve focused on,” said O’Dell after arriving in Buffalo on Tuesday afternoon on a roundabout flight from the Canadian capital via Chicago.
“I believed that if I did that and played well and played hard, my chance would come eventually.
“I know you hear that all the time, but I can’t see where it wouldn’t be true. I can’t see how getting frustrated would help. It would just take away from your focus and take away from your game and that’s never going to get you where you want to be.”
O’Dell is where he wants to be now, although it would be difficult to believe the positive, patient attitude he adopted didn’t undergo at least some testing during this calendar year.
There were many times over the 11 months when it seemed O’Dell might be in line for some time with the Jets, but it never happened.
After the end of the NHL lockout in January, forwards Maxime Macenauer, Aaron Gagnon, Jason Jaffray and Spencer Machacek were brought to the Jets’ mini training camp. O’Dell was not, although truth be told, he did have — in part because of injuries — a slow start to the 2012-13 AHL campaign.
He did have an outstanding second half, averaging a point per game, with 24 goals and 18 assists in 42 games, but it was Patrice Cormier and Gagnon who were the centres recalled to Winnipeg during that time.
He enjoyed what all observers agree was a strong training camp with the Jets this fall, and although it was no huge shock he didn’t crack the Winnipeg roster to start the season, he had to watch as, first Cormier, and then John Albert, were promoted to the big club over the last couple of months.
And there have been plenty of points of comparison outside the organization.
O’Dell entered Tuesday tied for fourth in AHL scoring, the highest such point-getter in the league not to have played in the NHL this season and one of only four of the league’s top 20 scorers who haven’t been promoted at one time or another in the last 10 weeks.
What’s more, there have been more than 30 players (see accompanying list) who, like O’Dell, are currently the leading scorers on their AHL team, who have led their AHL team in scoring at some point this season or who led an AHL club in scoring last season, who have played in an NHL game this fall.
“No not really,” O’Dell answered when asked if he paid much attention if all those transactions.
“If you concentrate on those sorts of things, you are just asking to be frustrated. And anyway, the other way to look at it is that if those are the kinds of players getting recalls, and your in that group, chances are that your time will be coming.”
O’Dell even put the same sunny spin on his take on the earlier call-ups of Albert, who played on a line with O’Dell Tuesday, and Cormier, who has since been returned to St. John’s.
“The way I looked at it, in both cases, it was another player who was playing really well and deserved to be called up and maybe because (the Jets) were looking for something in particular. So I just thought, if I continue to play well and Winnipeg needs something that I can hopefully bring, I’d get my turn.”
Perhaps it’s the fact that there was a time, not that long ago, when he didn’t know if he’d be able to play hockey again, that he can look at things so affirmatively now. In the summer of 2010, O’Dell needed surgery to repair a congenital heart defect, causing him to miss the first half of his final junior campaign with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves. However, he recovered completely and came back to finish with 44 points in 39 games with the Wolves, and has kept on improving after turning pro with the IceCaps in 2011.
In the past, O’Dell’s shortcomings as a player have always been seen as strength level and lack of top-notch skating speed. To counter the former, he spent extra time training this off-season and came to camp in his best shape ever, with added muscle. His skating has also improved since turning pro, although he’s always been able to compensate by being smart with the puck, by utilizing very good-on ice vision and through an innate ability to be where he needs to be, or close to it.
“I guesss you can say I’ve never been one to rip around the ice. Instead, I’ve always worked hard at reading the play and conserving energy to use it when it’s best,” he said. “Hopefully, that works (in the NHL), too. It’s a faster game, the puck moves faster, and obviously, the quality of players is that much better, but that can be a help, I think, for a player like me.
“All I know is that I can’t wait to find out. I’m ready to find out.”
The 32 players who are currently the leading scorer for their AHL teams this season, were leading their AHL team in scoring at the time of their recall this season, or who led their AHL team in scoring in 2012-13, who have played in NHL at some point since the start of the 2013-14 campaign.
Luke Adam, Rochester to Buffalo
Mark Arcobello, Oklahoma City to Edmonton *
Zach Boychuck, Charlotte to Carolina
T. J. Brennan, Toronto Marlies to Toronto Maple Leafs
Gabriel Dumont, Hamilton to Montreal
Tim Erixon, Springfield to Columbus @
Brian Gibbons, Wikes-Barre/Scranton to Pittsburgh
Erik Haula, Iowa to Minnesota @
Mike Hoffman, Binghamton to Ottawa
Justin Fontaine, Houston (now Iowa) to Minnesota *
Ryan Hamilton, Toronto Marlies to Edmonton #
Tyler Johnson, Syracuse to Tampa Bay *
Tomas Jurco, Grand Rapids to Detroit @
Bracken Kearns, Worcester to San Jose
Nikita Kucherov, Syracuse to Tampa Bay @
Patrick Maroon, Norfolk to Anaheim*
Andy Miele, Portland to Phoenix
Travis Morin, Texas to Dallas
Brock Nelson, Bridgeport to New York Islanders @
Gusta Nyquist, Grand Rapids to Detroit @
Linus l, Oklahoma City to Edmonton
Pascal Pelletier, Utica to Vancouver
Brandon Pirri, Rockford to Chicago
Richard Rakell, Norfolk to Anaheim
Colton Sceviour, Texas to Dallas @
Ryan Spooner, Providence to Boston @
Martin St. Pierre, Hamilton to Montreal
Ben Street, Abbotsford to Calgary
Ryan Strome, Bridgeport to New York Islanders @
Chris Terry, Charlotte to Carolina
Tyler Toffoli, Manchester to Los Angeles @
Linden Vey, Manchester to Los Angeles @
@ Currently on recall to an NHL team
• Has spent entire season to date in NHL
# Signed with a different NHL organization as a free agent during the off-season