MONTREAL - After emerging from obscurity to play a key role as a penalty killer and speedy checking line winger for the Canadiens' playoff run, Tom Pyatt can?t walk the streets of Montreal these days without getting noticed.
But it wasn?t so long ago that Pyatt wasn?t even recognized in his own dressing room.
Pyatt and Michael Busto were two of the unknown names added to the trade that brought Scott Gomez from the New York Rangers to the Canadiens last summer, players that are commonly referred to as?throw-ins.?
While most would consider that somewhat of a derogatory term, Pyatt sees it in a different light.
?I was alright with hearing that from people, it gave me a chance to surprise some people and show I can play at this level,?Pyatt said Friday just before he and the Canadiens boarded a flight to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Saturday (CBC, 7 p.m. ET).?At the start of training camp I think I surprised a lot of people and I was just happy to continue that throughout the year.?
Though most Canadiens fans didn?t know who Pyatt was when the trade was made, one would think Gomez at least had an idea, even though Pyatt never played a single game with the Rangers since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2007 draft.
Still, Pyatt attended training camp with Gomez the past two years, but it obviously failed to make an impression on the Habs centre.
He recounted a story of going out with Pyatt and Andrei Markov during a late-season road trip in Los Angeles, and Gomez finally decided to come clean with Pyatt.
?This is going to sound so bad, but we walked in the room (at training camp) and I looked over and said,?God, that kid looks so familiar,??Gomez remembers telling Pyatt, still laughing at the awkwardness of the conversation.?Then it dawned on me, that?s the kid I got traded with.?
Pyatt has gone from being?that kid?in the Canadiens biggest trade in recent memory to becoming a vital part of the team, leading Montreal forwards in short-handed ice time per game in the playoffs.
Head coach Jacques Martin admits that he, too, had never heard of him in training camp, but he quickly saw something in Pyatt that he felt would be valuable later on.
?I guess what caught my eye was his speed, his quickness, his level of competitiveness and his ability to read the game,?Martin said.?As a player, you hope that he develops more scoring, but I think that comes with confidence.?
And that confidence is growing as Martin continues throwing Pyatt out there in critical situations.
Probably the biggest one of the playoffs so far was a 5-on-3 power play for the Washington Capitals in the first period of Game 6 of the first round, with the Canadiens clinging to a 2-0 lead and their playoff lives on the line.
Tomas Plekanec began defending that penalty as Montreal?s lone forward, but as soon as the puck was cleared and Plekanec came to the bench, Pyatt was the next forward sent over the boards.
The Capitals didn?t score, lost the game 4-1 and then lost Game 7.
That power play could have been the most pivotal moment of the series, and it was Pyatt who was on the ice representing his team?s interests.
?Honestly, there wasn?t one guy on the bench going,?What?s he doing out there???Gomez said.?If I?m going out there on a 5-on-3, I?m sure there?s 19 other guys saying?What is Jacques thinking??But that?s a credit to (Pyatt), it wasn?t even a question. He?s out there for a job and he does it well.?
Pyatt, 23, comes from a strong hockey family in Thunder Bay, Ont. Pyatt?s father Nelson played 296 games over seven NHL seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, Washington Capitals and Colorado Rockies. His eldest brother Jesse played four years at Guelph University, while the middle brother is Phoenix Coyotes forward Taylor Pyatt.
Pyatt says watching his brother make the NHL served as great motivation to follow in his footsteps.
?I was young when he got in the league, and I saw his lifestyle and how fun it was,?said Pyatt, who is six years younger than Taylor.?It made me want it so much more.?
The biggest improvement in Pyatt?s game of late has been his play with the puck. In Thursday night?s Game 4 come-from-behind win over the Penguins, Pyatt opened the scoring with a shot from the side boards that somehoweluded Marc-Andre Fleury.
It wasn?t necessarily one for the highlight reels, but Pyatt?s first career playoff goal was a key ingredient in allowing the Canadiens to stay with the Penguins long enough to score twice in the third and pull out a crucial 3-2 victory.
?I was hoping it would be a little but prettier than that, but I?ll take it,?Pyatt said.?It definitely felt good to see that puck inside the net.?
That goal should only add to Pyatt?s newfound celebrity on the streets of Montreal, but one thing?s for sure: he?ll never have to introduce himself in the Canadiens dressing room again.