Chaput heading in the right direction

by Alyssa Dombrowski || for

When the NHL comes knocking, any player in the American Hockey League must be prepared to answer the call. For second-year pro Michael Chaput of the Springfield Falcons, the feeling of making his NHL debut with the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier this season is one he’ll never forget.

“I remember sitting in the locker room next to Mark Letestu, and he was just telling me to play my game and things will go well,” said Chaput. “[The team’s veterans] are there to make sure you’re not too stressed out and that you’re confident when you go out there for your first few games.”

A third-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 NHL Draft, Chaput was acquired by the Blue Jackets in 2011 and was the MVP of the 2012 Memorial Cup, won by his Shawinigan Cataractes.

The 6-foor-2 center made his professional debut last season with the Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate in Springfield, Mass., where he led all Falcons rookies in scoring with 32 points in 73 games. He notes the benefits gained from spending his full first season as a pro developing in the American Hockey League.

“It helped a lot,” said Chaput. “You get used to the speed of the game and the size of the guys a bit more, so that when you get up to the NHL it’s less of an adjustment.”

After beginning this season with the Falcons, Chaput received his first NHL recall on Oct. 26. He notched his first NHL point – an assist on former Falcons teammate Matt Calvert’s goal – on Nov. 22 against Vancouver, and skated in 17 contests with the Blue Jackets before returning to Springfield on Dec. 4.

Chaput has tallied 10 points in 14 contests with the Falcons so far this year. Both of his professional seasons in Springfield have been under the direction of head coach Brad Larsen, who played in the AHL and NHL for more than a decade.

“I thought Mike had an excellent first year, and just steadily grew throughout the year,” said Larsen. “He came in and started on the third or fourth line, and we got to put him in a role where he could feel his way out and learn without having too much too soon.

“Even as a young guy, he earned trust with us as the season went on, so this year he’s obviously inherited a bigger role. He’s got some room to grow, but I think he’s headed in the right direction.”

The Ile Bizard, Que., native’s stretch as a rookie last year was further enhanced by Springfield’s postseason appearance, the team’s first in a decade. Chaput notched a goal and an assist in Springfield’s eight-game playoff run.

“Making and playing in the playoffs – that’s why you play hockey,” said Chaput. “It’s a different type of hockey, and I thought it helped not only for last year and for getting called up, but I think it’s going to help for this year again.”

The Falcons, who sit atop the Northeast Division again in 2013-14, are poised to make another bid for the Calder Cup this year – due in part to the versatility of 21-year-old Chaput.

“Mike’s a really good two-way player for us; he’s not just a one-dimensional guy,” said Larsen. “He’s got good hands so you can put him on the power play and in offensive situations, and because of his competitiveness and hockey smarts, you can also put him in defensive roles.

“He’s not a real flashy guy, but he does things right – he’s got great instincts for the game and he absorbs information really well then applies it. I really believe it’s his hunger to get better, his compete level and his willingness to learn that he’s really good at.”

Chaput’s stint with the Blue Jackets earlier this season fueled his desire to improve on an entirely new level, according to his coach.

“I think now that he’s gotten a taste and has seen what it entails, he’s probably got a bit more of a comfort level,” said Larsen. “He’s at a point where we can give him some challenges and areas to grow down here which will help him up there.

“When you go to the next level, you might play fewer minutes, so a coach has to know he can trust you to be a reliable player,” Larsen continued. “I think that Todd [Richards, Blue Jackets head coach] liked his game, so now it’s about continuing to work on his D-zone and making sure he’s that trustworthy player the coach can put in any situation and know that he’s going to do the right thing at the right time.”

Chaput embraces the grind required to lead him back to Columbus.

“I’m just trying to work as hard as I can to make it to the next level in the shortest time possible,” said Chaput. “Everyone wants to be in the NHL, so I’m just trying to be the best player I can be.”