There probably aren't many better ways to get attention in the hockey world than to be tabbed by TSN's Bob McKenzie as the game's next top young player.
So when McKenzie tweeted before the season started that little-known Philadelphia Flyers centre Matt Read was his pick for the Calder Trophy this season, it didn't take long for Read to hear about it.
"One of my friends texted me right away," Read said. "He just copied it and sent it. It’s pretty interesting to hear that. But it’s a long season. It’s great to get the mention, but you can’t make too much of it."
Some others did, however. Many fans, in fact, wanted to know who exactly this Matt Read was and why he was getting the nod ahead of the likes of Edmonton Oilers future star and No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Read, after all, was never even drafted and is seven years older than this year's draft class.
His story is a pretty interesting one, as he grew up all over North America due to the fact his father works in the military, living in Calgary, Vancouver Island and Colorado. It wasn't until he was 14 that the family settled in Ilderton, Ont., just outside London, and he was able to settle in as a hockey player.
Read was 21 when he went to tiny Bemidji State on a scholarship and still remarkably far from the NHL. After leading his team in scoring the first three years, however, plenty of teams were interested and he eventually got a three-year, one-way deal for $2.7-million to join the Flyers.
That's not a typical contract for an undrafted 25-year-old NCAA free agent.
Eleven games into his first season, however, he's fifth among Flyers forwards in ice time and fifth among NHL rookies in points with seven. He obviously trails RNH in that department but has quickly become a key contributor on a good Philadelphia team filled with higher profile prospects.
I asked McKenzie to explain how he could see that coming.
"I've known about the kid since he played Jr. A hockey in Milton," McKenzie said over email. "I knew when the Flyers gave him a non-entry level deal at about $1-million a year right out of college that he would be a player for them. I also got a very strong indication from [Flyers coach Peter]Laviolette just prior to the season that he would play a lot in a lot of different roles and be used in all situations on all lines.
"I also saw him in preseason and was impressed by his speed, his shot and ability to make plays. I figured on a good team like Philadelphia, he would have a chance to put up some decent offensive numbers and his maturity would be a big plus in a Calder race that was very uncertain because of the number of 2010 and 2011 draftees that started the season in the league but might not finish it."
While some of those players, like RNH and Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog have done well and will now stick in the NHL, Read remains in the Calder discussion mainly because of his versatility. He's in the top five in both PP and PK ice time among rookie forwards and is getting a chance to have a bigger impact on games than many rookies do.
Being older is certainly an advantage, too, something Read acknowledges may give him an edge over other rookies.
"I’m an under the radar kind of guy," Read said. "Being 25 years old, a bit more mature. I’m just trying to make the best of my opportunity. I’ve got no complaints. I'm getting a lot of ice time, put in a lot of situations. It’s been good so far, but it’s early and it’s hard to tell how the season’s going to go. I’m just every night making sure I’m doing the best I can out there so I get put in more opportunities out there."
Read's also a bit of rare bird in that he had opportunities to leave school earlier, like other undrafted players like Tyler Bozak did, but made school a priority and chose to first finish his degree.
He said he has long looked at Marty St. Louis as an inspiration given the Tampa Bay Lightning star played all four years of college and wasn't an established NHL player until 25. (At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Read is undersized, but nearly as much as St. Louis.)
"I had opportunities to leave, but I just thought a degree was a little bit more important," Read said. "If hockey doesn’t go your way, or you get injured, you have something to back up on. I think going to college you mature a lot as a person and a player. The college game’s a lot about defensive hockey and stuff like that.
"My senior year, I saw a lot of ice time in every situation: 5-on-3, penalty kill, everything. You expand your game a lot more I think and then so when you’re up here playing, if you get those opportunities, you know how to respond."
Now that he's in the NHL, and contributing at a high level, Read had to smile when asked just how long of a road it has been to get to the NHL.
"I had a lot of doubt when I was 18, 19," he said. "I didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought kind of like St. Louis, I’d be playing a lot in the minors until you develop yourself and get a shot in the NHL. I thought going to college, I’d get a lot more [years of]hockey than Canadian juniors. I thought I could graduate when I’m 24, 25 and if that’s the end of my hockey career, I played until I was 25 rather than 20. I just thought getting the most years that I can [was the best way to go]
"I don’t regret a thing."