Zac Dalpe first arrived in Columbus as a scrawny but talented kid trusted with turning around a flagging Ohio State program in the fall of 2008.
Thus, his most recent arrival in the capital city – this fall for the Columbus Blue Jackets training camp – has brought him full circle eight years into his professional career.
Has it gone exactly as he hoped? Probably not. As a second-round pick – not to mention someone who raced past the point-per-game mark his sophomore year at OSU before turning pro – many thought a consistent NHL future was in the cards.
Now, he’s a grinder, fighting for a spot on the Blue Jackets’ roster as one of the players still in the team’s camp.
“It’s huge,” Dalpe said. “I think this part of my career, it’s always nice to be wanted. I’ve had an up-and-down career as far as injuries and playing in the minors a lot, but it’s nice that eight years in, someone still wants you. I’m taking advantage of it. I’m working hard and I’m hungry for it.”
He was a scorer when he first got to Ohio State, an Ontario native who had ran rampant through the BCHL with 63 points in 46 games during his final year of junior hockey.
As a Carolina Hurricanes draft pick, there were rumors he might go the OHL route – Canes owner Peter Karmanos also owned the Plymouth Whalers, the team that owned Dalpe’s rights in that league – but instead he arrived in Columbus to join the Buckeyes as a ballyhooed recruit.
He didn’t disappoint, finishing with a 13-12-25 line his freshman year in 37 games for a Buckeye team that broke a three-year NCAA tournament drought. Ohio State wasn’t the same a year later, losing in the second round of the league playoffs after a rousing three-game series with rival Miami, but Dalpe shined to the tune of 21 goals and 24 assists for 45 points in 39 games.
From there, it seemed like there wasn’t much more to accomplish in college, so it was off to the Albany River Rats, where Dalpe quickly scored his first career hat trick among six goals in nine regular-season games to close the season.
It appeared he was on the fast track, but instead, the last few years have been a mish-mash. His AHL days have included 97 goals and 92 assists in 270 games during stops in Charlotte, Utica, Rochester, Iowa and finally Cleveland when he was picked up by the Blue Jackets organization late last season. There, he shined, totaling eight goals and six helpers in 20 games during the Monsters’ playoff push.
His résumé also includes 128 NHL games with Carolina, Vancouver, Buffalo and Minnesota and a total of 12 goals and 12 assists.
Yet he finds himself on the cusp of breaking camp with the Blue Jackets. What has he done to earn it? A little bit of everything, which is what Dalpe had in mind as a potential bottom-six forward.
“I thought about that,” Dalpe said when asked what he wants to show. “At some point, you have to do what got you here, and then at some point, you have to show them a little bit more. I think I’m going to balancing between the two. Obviously, they like my speed and I like to shoot pucks, but I have to play well defensively. You have to add dimensions.”
It helps that the Blue Jackets could have a need at center with the injuries to Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner, neither of whom has played this preseason. It also helps that Dalpe has experience with Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, who coached the center during his time with the Canucks.
Now, Tortorella sees a different player than the one who suited up for the Canucks in 2013-14.
“He’s had a really good camp,” the head coach said. “He’s a long body, can play wing, center ice man, can kill penalties. Back then, four or five years ago, he was a teaser for me where he was ready to take the step and then he just couldn’t consistently play.
“I like the versatility of him, and I do like his long body and his reach – everything about him. He’s put himself in a really good situation here to win a spot.”