There are certain stigmas attached to high-round draft picks who never reach the NHL. Their stories often include addendums about unfulfilled potential.
A positive about being drafted high and never reaching the highest level is that such players will rarely struggle to find work. That is the case with Thunder forward Chad Painchaud, a fourth-round pick of the now-defunct Atlanta Thrashers in the 2004 NHL Draft.
Though the 26-year-old Painchaud isn’t relinquishing his dream to play in the NHL, it becomes less likely with each passing season. Minor-league teams have often pined for Painchaud’s services, though.
Painchaud has been proven to be a sought-after scorer. He has two 60-point seasons as a hired gun who has played for nine teams since 2007. A hamstring injury derailed him briefly this season, but Painchaud has scored virtually a point per game in his first year with the Thunder.
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“I just try to go out there and do what I can and help any team that I’m on,” Painchaud said. “I try to stay healthy and just stay at the top of my game as much as I can. I hope I can keep playing as long as I’m able to and as long as it makes sense for me.”
Painchaud was an impressive prospect as a teenager and caught the attention of NHL teams particularly after a 42-point junior hockey season in Ontario in 2003-04. He remained in junior leagues after he was drafted but stood out in his debut professional season, scoring 54 points in the ECHL at age 20.
Moving up to the Triple-A American Hockey League the following season got Painchaud to the doorstep of the NHL but he never turned the knob. Atlanta essentially gave up on him by including him in a 2008 trade to Anaheim, and Painchaud has spent the majority of his time since then in the ECHL.
“When I was younger and drafted and signing and all that, you’re getting closer to the NHL and you think there’s going to be an opportunity and a chance to do that,” Painchaud said. “Early in my career that’s what I wanted to do. I still play to get as high as I can — back up to the AHL, whatever it is.
“It didn’t work out the way I thought. I thought I would be in the NHL, but things happen for a reason. I’m happy with the way my career has gone and I try to take advantage of every opportunity I’ve been given. I’ve just got to look at the bright side of things.”
Youth allowed Painchaud to imagine what his life would look like at 26. Now that’s he’s there, the picture looks different but still acceptable. Priorities have changed — Painchaud wants to make the most of his hockey career but he realizes the importance of other things.
“As I’ve gotten older, and I’m married now, you think a little bit about what life has to offer after hockey,” Painchaud said. “When I was younger it was all about hockey. With anything, when you get older your priorities change and they change with how your life goes. As I grow older, it kind of goes naturally with that, I think.”
Painchaud was one of the prize additions of the Thunder offseason and he has fulfilled that promise with 26 points in 27 games.
In December, Painchaud suffered a slight tear in his hamstring, forcing him to miss a month. While he was out, the Thunder signed forward Matt Robinson, who had been in the ECHL after scoring 124 points combined for Wichita in the last two seasons.
The signing of a star such as Robinson could threaten Painchaud’s production. But just as he has with his circuitous career and the latest stop in Wichita, Painchaud is taking it as a positive.
“He’s a great player and he’s done well since he’s been here,” Painchaud said. “I was excited and happy, it gives us an extra threat. We already have a great offensive team and he just adds to it. We’ve been doing well as a team recently, so it just adds to it.”