A week after the Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Sergei Bobrovsky from the Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus made a surprising signing, picking up Curtis McElhinney.
McElhinney, a veteran goaltender, had made his living over the past few seasons as a back up with Calgary, Anaheim, and Ottawa before spending most of last season with Phoenix’s AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine.
After Steve Mason’s shaky 2011-12 season, many wondered if McElhinney was being groomed to back up Bobrovsky. However, when the 2013 NHL season finally began, McElhinney was with Columbus’s AHL affiliate – the Springfield Falcons.
“When I signed, obviously, I knew that they made the trade for Bobrovsky. In terms of being the third guy, that was the plan all along,” McElhinney said.
The London, Ontario, native has appeared in 69 NHL games over the past five seasons. However, after spending three years on NHL rosters, he spent the majority of last season with the Portland Pirates, appearing in just two games for the Coyotes.
While McElhinney knows his place right now in the Columbus pecking order, he does hope that maybe the packed schedule might allow for him to have another shot at NHL competition.
“You just have to be kind of hopeful and see how things play out,” McElhinney said. “It’s going to be a busy season for Columbus, so hopefully there’s a game or two in there for me.”
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Calgary, McElhinney has yet to be able to earn a full-time starting gig in the NHL, notably serving as back-up to Mikka Kiprusoff in Calgary and Jonas Hiller in Anaheim.
“For a good four years, I was playing maybe every five to seven games up there which is difficult when you’re used to playing a lot,” McElhinney said. “Sometimes those are the transitions you have to make. Hopefully when the opportunity presents itself again, I’ll be a little more ready.”
While McElhinney has taken a step back to the AHL, playing against slightly less world-class competition, he enjoys being able to put on the pads and enter games on a regular basis.
“I think it was nice to come back and be able to play more games again,” McElhinney said. “When you spend three or four years just sitting around, it gets a little tedious and difficult after a while.”
While he’s happy to be in the AHL and playing games, McElhinney admits that he would not mind giving up bus rides for charter flights.
“It’s nice to come back and actually play some games,” McElhinney said. “I enjoy it. Of course if the opportunity presents itself, the NHL is where I’d like to be.”
In McElhinney’s 69 NHL games, he picked up 19 wins with 2 shutouts, a .899 save percentage and a 3.10 GAA. However, this season with Springfield, McElhinney has 20 wins, a 2.22 GAA, a save percentage of .928…and perhaps most remarkably, 7 shutouts.
“I had that chance once already,” McElhinney said. “There were some good times and some difficult games as well. It’s certainly getting harder and harder to get back to that level now with all of the young guys coming in now.”
His remarkable numbers in the AHL this season, combined with Columbus’ current insistence on maintaining the last place spot in the Western Conference seems to open the door at least slightly to an impending return to the NHL.
“Hopefully there’s one more chance and I make the most of it.”
Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua