Phantoms’ Picard coming of age

Alexandre Picard may or may not turn into the next John Slaney. But being a rookie defenseman on a team captained by one of the greatest offensive defensemen in the 70-year history of the American Hockey League certainly won’t hurt.

Much like Slaney has done for the past five seasons for the Phantoms, Picard, 20, was an offensive punch from the blue line for Halifax and Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League over the last five years. The Phantoms will be looking for Picard to do the same in the AHL this season, and he started that out with his first professional goal on Oct. 30 against Springfield.

“Our players were changing and their goalie stopped the puck, and didn’t look – he just rimmed it around the boards,” Picard said about the events leading up to his first goal. “I just went down, picked up the puck and had a lane to the net. I saw a hole over his shoulder, and just backhanded it to the top corner.

“I think Slaney got the puck. I still don’t have it. I think the trainers have it.”

Like all rookies, Picard has been going through a transition period over the past couple of months. Because of the longer seasons played in the QMJHL – Picard hasn’t played in fewer than 57 games in any of the last five years – he’ll likely adapt to a long AHL season more easily than a collegiate rookie who played about 30 games per season in college.

It’s also a bit easier from the standpoint that the Phantoms are not completely new to Picard. He joined the team late last year and practiced during the playoffs, and ended up being pressed into game action for two games of the Calder Cup Finals when the Phantoms were hit by injuries.

However, head coach John Stevens noted that Picard will have to become accustomed to dealing with bigger players.

“For a defenseman, you’re playing against bigger, stronger players and you have less time than you’re used to,” Stevens said. “I think in the case of Alex Picard, when you put him in a junior hockey environment he’s probably one of the bigger, stronger guys. I think he was able to get away with things in juniors because of his size and strength that he probably can’t get away with here. So that’s probably a big adjustment for him.

“I think he’s getting acclimated very nicely, and I think you’re going to see a constant improvement in him as we go along. I think we were all impressed with him last year when he came in so late in the year.”

Picard shares the same sentiment about improvement, and hasn’t felt the transition has been too difficult to this point.

“It wasn’t that bad, especially with the rule changes,” he said. “You’ve got to adapt to quicker guys and new rules, but I think it’s been all right. You can see all the guys are kind of getting used to it. On defense it can be kind of hard to contain the guys. But I think it’s going good, and only being 10 games into the season I think it’s going to get better.”

Only time will tell how far Picard will go in his hockey career, but Stevens sees qualities in him that he also sees in some young players who have already made it to the NHL.

“Something about Jeff Carter and Mike Richards that’s talked about a lot is they’re already good pros,” Stevens said. “They take time to prepare. I would put Alex Picard in that same group. He really takes the game seriously, he prepares well, and he doesn’t get nervous. I think because of that he’s able to come in and play well for us.

“He’s got good poise for a big guy. I think you’re going to see his offensive numbers increase. He was an offensive guy in junior. Sometimes it takes them a while to get acclimated to our game, but it was good to see him get his first goal, and he’s going to play a lot of situations for us and we’re going to expect a lot of offensive output from him as we go along.”