Where Does Matt Calvert Fit?
Pending RFA Matt Calvert can play up or down in the lineup, but where does he fit into the forward group in 2015 and beyond?
The Blue Jackets have locked up some defensemen in recent days, but have yet to sign any pending free agents among the forward group. The two most interesting names waiting on contracts are Mark Letestu and Matt Calvert.
I had initially tabbed Matt Calvert as a potential "break out" candidate this past season, but injuries derailed his season (again). He played in only 56 games, compiling 24 points - he put up 23 points in 56 games the year prior. Calvert's best season, looking purely at point production, was actually his rookie season in 2010-2011. He had 11-9-20 in just 42 games with a +3 rating on a pretty mediocre team. For his career, Matty Hustle has played in 202 NHL games, scoring 42 goals to go along with 44 assists. He turns 26 this December. For the most part, he is what he is.
That isn't to say he doesn't have offensive talent - he put up over a point per game in juniors with the Brandon Wheat Kings for his career, thanks in some part to an extra over-age year. Calvert also scored at a 0.64 ppg clip in Springfield over a few years. Perhaps because of his hair-on-fire style of play, he has a fairly lengthy injury history.
I was wrong about Matty Hustle "breaking out" - he probably isn't going to be a player that puts up more than 40 points in a season. He does have some nice moves offensively (remember the breakaway near-goal in Game 4 against Pittsburgh?), he just doesn't display that part of his game all too often. Calvert can sometimes be a one-man penalty kill on the forecheck as he torments opponents in their own zone. Despite his small stature, he will stand up for his teammates and isn't afraid to play physically (which, again, leads to numerous injuries).
So where does he fit into the roster for 2015-2016 and beyond? He played all over the lineup last year. Late in the year, he was on an effective 4th line with Mark Letestu and Jeremy Morin. He also has frequently been on Brandon Dubinsky's left wing opposite of Cam Atkinson. When the entire team is healthy, he may no longer be a mainstay of the top 9.
Assuming Marko Dano and Alexander Wennberg reunite with Scott Hartnell, the remaining top 9 is pretty well set: Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, and Artem Anisimov would most likely make up the other two lines. That could all change with a trade, of course.
Calvert wouldn't be completely out of place moving up in the lineup as he has shown in the past, but with the current lineup, he would project to that 4th line left wing spot with some PK time. Of course, there are are projected top wingers waiting and gunning for roster spots in the fall - Oliver Bjorkstrand, Kerby Rychel, Josh Anderson, Sonny Milano, and on down the line.
His next contract will be dictated largely by how the front office views everything else he brings to the team outside of scoring. Calvert received a very similar to Atkinson a couple years ago - a two-year bridge contract with a modest salary. He won't be getting the same numbers as Cam on this next contract, should the front office choose to bring him back.
I think Calvert on the 4th line is a great thing - if that line is given regular minutes in the rotation. That doesn't happen on a nightly basis if Jared Boll or Corey Tropp are on that line, as Todd Richards tends to shelter their minutes. Calvert then loses his value if he is only playing 7 minutes a game.
He is a bit of a tweener - better than most other fourth-liners around the league, but perhaps not consistent enough offensively to warrant a spot higher in the lineup game in and game out. Because of his restricted status, there probably won't be an answer on his contract until after free agency has started as the team sorts through potential trades and UFAs. It definitely seems like he should be back in a CBJ sweater, but does the front office consider moving him at the Draft? We should know more in about a month, but much like Letestu, Calvert brings some versatility that would be hard to replace.