It wouldn’t be unfair to say that the Winnipeg Jets off-season signing of defenseman Mark Flood went under the radar.
His play since then, however, has received plenty of attention. And deservedly so.
The 27-year-old native of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island had just six games of NHL experience under his belt when he agreed to terms with the newly relocated franchise this year, and those all came with the New York Islanders during the 2009-10 season.
Flood spent the entire 2010-11 campaign in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose, who were coached by current Jets bench boss Claude Noel, and played well, tallying 11 goals and 29 assists in 63 games. But just one season removed from his NHL debut, and he wasn’t sure if those six games on Long Island were going to be the only ones he got at the game’s highest level.
"I had a good year last year, and once I heard that the Jets were coming to Winnipeg, I was hoping to sign with these guys," Flood told ECHL.com earlier this month.
"I thought it was a good situation, but I was also 26 years old this summer and the clock was kind of ticking. I was getting pretty antsy to get some more games. I was hoping at some point that I was going to get an opportunity because I was familiar with the organization and my game was, I thought, good enough to play there. It turned out to be a good move for me, and I appreciate the opportunity."
Jets fans certainly must be happy with the signing as well, as Flood has proven to be a pleasant surprise on both sides of the puck, posting three goals and three assists in his first 28 games with the team. He’s also a +1, and has committed just four minor penalties all season, and it’s that kind of smooth style that gives Noel no qualms about giving him significant minutes paired alongside veteran blueliner Johnny Oduya.
"Mark Flood has come in and been very good for us," Noel told ECHL.com
"He came in with very little NHL experience and been here now for a good portion of the year. He’s been a steady guy for us, his play has been really consistent. Normally, when you get players from the American League, they’ll go two weeks, settle in and their play will fall south a little bit. But for him, he’s been really steady and he’s filled the void in a lot of areas. He moves the puck, he’s smart, he plays 5-on-5, he’s had some power play time. He was hot scoring early on, and for us he’s been a real steady player. He looks like he’s an NHL player."
But it wasn’t always a given that Flood would ever get there.
Selected as an 18-year-old by the team he grew up following, the Montreal Canadiens, in the sixth round of the 2003 NHL Draft, he ultimately wasn’t signed by the club, the first of several obstacles he’d have to overcome.
"It was pretty special for me at the time," Flood recalls. "They were my favorite team growing up, so it was a good day."
After finishing out his junior career with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes, Flood began his first pro season in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization, starting out with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch before being sent down to the ECHL’s Dayton Bombers after just nine games.
"I played pretty much the full year there, and I enjoyed it," he said.
"I just remember it being a good group of guys, I really enjoyed my time there. I think they really appreciated things a lot more down there, and it was fun. I was just kind of enjoying hockey and having a good time."
At the time, Flood says, his goal was just to make it back to the AHL.
"Well, I think at that time, the long run is always the NHL, but the first step was to get in the American League," he said.
"But I don’t regret my time in the ECHL at all. It was great for my development, and I probably wouldn’t have played that year in Syracuse a whole lot, but I got to play a lot in Dayton and developed a lot as a player."
Flood got his wish the following season, spending all of 2006-07 in the American Hockey League. After eight games with Syracuse, he was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes organization and finished his season with their affiliate at the time, the Albany River Rats.
"(Not going back down) was motivation, for sure," Flood said. "Nothing against the league of course, but I think I was at the point in my career where I needed to take that step and become a full-time American League player. I didn’t want to take a step backwards."
Flood played well for the River Rats, and his point total increased each year. But he never got to the NHL with them, and instead elected to sign a one-year, two-way deal with the Islanders prior to the start of the 2009-10 season. And after posting a then-career high 33 points with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, he was finally called up and got to make his NHL debut against the Calgary Flames on March 25, 2010.
"It was kind of similar to draft day in that it was an unbelievable day in my hockey career and in my life," Flood said.
"I just remember skating in warm-ups and seeing Iginla and Bouwmeester and Kiprusoff and guys like that, and it was a pretty great experience. Something I’ll never forget, for sure."
Now that he’s back, Flood is hoping to take what he hopes is the final step and become a full-time NHL player. Consider Oduya among those who believe he can do it.
"He’s been tremendous, I think. I think he made an impact right away," Oduya told ECHL.com
"He’s a very smart player and a great guy to have in the room. He’s always in a good mood and brings his best every day, even if it’s practice. He’s good with the puck and good for us on the power play when we had a couple of guys out. You can see the way he plays with the patience and the poise that he’s mature enough and he knows what to do. He’s a ready player."
He’s also confident, and the fact that he’s playing under a similar system that he did last year hasn’t hurt matters either.
"I think being familiar Claude’s style of coaching and what he expects from players definitely helps," Flood said. "I’m just trying to keep it simple, but if there’s an opportunity to jump in the play, I’ll do that. I’ll try to get my shots through and not be a passenger out there. I want to contribute as much as I can."
And perhaps Flood’s biggest contribution so far, at least in the scoresheet, was finally scoring his first NHL goal on Nov. 5 against future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur.
"I just got a D to D pass, and I wasn’t really trying to score," Flood recalls.
"I just kind of ripped a slapshot and there was a screen in front. It went in. That was a pretty cool moment and something I’ll never forget, especially scoring it on Brodeur. That was really neat."