South Surrey’s Colton Gillies is now a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets after being claimed on waivers. Below

South Surrey’s Colton Gillies is now a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets after being claimed on waivers. Below

Blue Jackets a perfect fit for Gillies

South Surrey's Colton Gillies is adjusting to life in Columbus after being waived by the NHL's Minnesota Wild last month.

Colton Gillies has been a busy man, of late – a fact that isn’t all that surprising considering the demands put on professional hockey players during the National Hockey League season.

Between practice, team meetings, travel, media requests and the games themselves, it doesn’t leave a guy much free time.

In Gillies’ case, he’s also had to adjust a new city and a new team – the Columbus Blue Jackets – over the past four weeks.

The new Ohio resident hasn’t even had time to set up his cellphone messaging, which means inquiring minds in the media need to find alternative methods of getting in touch with the six-foot-four forward.

“Yeah, sorry about that… I didn’t recognize the number, and I haven’t quite figured out this new phone’s voicemail yet,” Gillies, a South Surrey native, said last week from Columbus.

“Eventually, my mom sent me a Facebook message and told me to call the paper back.”

In Gillies’ defence, fulfilling media requests has probably been low on his priority list. In mid-January, Gillies, who turned 23 on Sunday, was waived by the Minnesota Wild – the organization that drafted him in the first round of the 2007 NHL entry draft. But rather than head to the Wild’s minor-league affiliate in Houston, he was scooped up by the Blue Jackets.

Gillies heard he was being waived while the Wild were in St. Louis. He was walking to the rink with teammates when general manager Chuck Fletcher called him with the news.

“It was such a shock,” said Gillies, who signed a new contract with Minnesota in the off-season, and was expected to be a bigger part of the team this year, after spending much of the last two seasons in the minors.

“My heart just dropped. I was speechless.”

From there, Gillies – after calling his agent to figure out the next step – simply waited.

The next day, he found out Columbus had put in a claim for him, and just like that, he was gone.

“I didn’t really know how waivers worked… it was a tough day for me,” he said. “I flew home to Minnesota first, because I only had one suit, and then I met up with the (Blue Jackets) and went from there.”

Luckily for Gillies, the league’s all-star break quickly followed his move to Ohio, which gave him time to head back to Minnesota to collect his belongings.

“My brother flew out and helped me pack up all my stuff, then we drove to Columbus,” Gillies said.

So far, the fresh start has paid off.

Playing for Wild head coach Mike Yeo – who had been his coach in Houston – Gillies had just two assists in 37 games this season, and was often a healthy scratch. But with the Blue Jackets, who currently sit near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, Gillies has been getting considerably more ice time.

He tallied an assist in his first game with his new squad, and matched his Minnesota point total in fewer than 10 games with Columbus.

“It’s gone great here, really great. I’m so fortunate for this opportunity,” he said.

Last week, facing his old squad for the first time, Gillies played on the Blue Jackets’ second line with noted goal-scorers Jeff Carter and Vinny Prospal, and picked up an assist in a 3-1 Columbus victory. Last Saturday, the Jackets beat the Wild again, also by a 3-1 score.

“It’s definitely nice to have a good game against the team that didn’t want you”, Gillies said, which is about as close as he’ll get to throwing stones at his former team. “Kind of show them what they’re missing.”

And although the overly polite Gillies is loathe to badmouth his old organization on his way out the door, he does admit his season with the Wild surprised him, especially considered his new contract – a one-way deal – suggested he’d get a real chance to stick with the NHL team.

“Yeah, I guess I thought I’d get more of a shot,” he said.  “I went in and had a really good training camp, and (Yeo) even said I had a great camp.

“But this is all part of the game, that’s all. It is what it is, and really, it’s probably the best thing that could’ve happened to me.”

Gillies said he has mostly good memories of his time as a Wild, though he added it “was a bit of a roller-coaster.”

“I played a full season with the team at 19, and then I spent almost two years in the minors, so it was up-and-down a little bit, but overall, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”