By Mike G. Morreale
By Mike G. Morreale
PHILADELPHIA -- All this talk about possibly becoming the first player in Flyers history to win the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie certainly hasn't gotten to wing Matt Read.
Still, as hard as it is to stay humble, the 25-year-old does on occasion lower his guard.
"I don't pay much attention to the other first-year players … I'm just worried about my game and what I need to do to improve," Read said.
He was then asked if he witnessed any part of the five-assist night by Edmonton Oilers rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on Sunday in a victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
"Yeah, I saw it and it was pretty impressive," Read said. "I watched it on 'NHL On the Fly.'"
Really, though, who could blame Read? Here's a kid who signed a one-way, three-year, $2.7 million free agent contract with the Flyers last March, suddenly being considered as much more than an admirable fill-in.
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"I didn't know what [the Flyers] expected [at the start of the season]," Read told NHL.com. "I just expected a little bit from myself to make the team and be in the lineup, contributing in points and helping out in every situation. When you're in those situations, you have to make the best of them because if you're not your best, you know you could be taken out."
Read is certainly earning his keep on a line with Maxime Talbot and Jakub Voracek. In a 4-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday, Read extended his point-scoring streak to five games when he connected for a second-period goal. He has 6 goals and 7 points over that span, the best streak for a Flyers rookie since Mikael Renberg had 5 goals in a three-game span back in 1994. Read currently leads all NHL rookies with 9 goals, ranks third with 14 points and is second with a plus-7 rating.
"It is tough; you have to show up every night and try to be as mentally prepared as you can be," he said. "Knowing the opponent and knowing the little things that can help you throughout the game are important. I'm just trying my absolute hardest and hopefully I can stay this way.
"You can't get too high or too low, so I'll just try to enjoy it while it lasts and keep going."
After racking up 28 goals and 62 points in 58 games with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League in 2006-07, Read spent the next four years at Bemidji State in Minnesota. In addition to earning his degree in physical education, he learned the intricacies of defensive hockey while still producing 65 goals and 141 points in 147 collegiate games.
"Throughout my four years, I learned about the defensive zone and how to be in every position on the ice," Read said. "You learn so much about the defensive side of the game. If you can't play defense, that's when you're stuck in the minors. I feel the Canadian Hockey League is more offensive -- a lot of talented players go there, but you have to pick and choose what type of player you are and what you need help in. It's an individual's choice."
It's that defensive mentality that has landed him a spot in coach Peter Laviolette's lineup.
"He's been really strong since training camp," Laviolette said. "He's certainly had a real impact at the start of our year based on the opportunities we've given him. He kills penalties, he's on the power play and he's just about played every position for us. He's done a nice job."
Read was named College Hockey America's Player of the Year and a first-team all-star as a junior at Bemidji State in 2009-10 after scoring a career-high 41 points, including 19 goals, in 37 games. He was asked to explain the benefits of playing a 37-game season in the NCAA, as compared to a 65-plus season schedule in the CHL.
"In college, every game is like a playoff game," he said. "You only play 36 or so games a year so if you lose one, it could eliminate your chances of playing in the postseason or the national tourney.
"My coach in college compared our season to a Stanley Cup playoff run and going to the Finals. You need to put the season into seven-game segments and win four out of seven. When you look at it that way, every game means something because you're not playing as many."
Read was named the NHL's Third Star of the Week for games ending Nov. 20 after sharing the League lead with 4 goals in three games.
"I was glad to make the [Flyers] and now I'm benefitting from playing with great players," Read said. "I couldn't ask for anything better right now, and I love showing up to the rink."