MONTREAL – Persistence paid off for defenceman Josh Gorges in the form of the US$3.3 million, three-year contract he signed Wednesday with the Montreal Canadiens.
Gorges, a 23-year-old restricted free agent, was considered a depth player at training camp last year, but by mid-season had played his way into a starting role.
“From where I started with the Montreal Canadiens to where I am now, I’ve taken steps forward,” Gorges said from his off-season home in Kelowna, B.C. “The team gave me an opportunity to play and has shown faith in me.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I was shocked at three years. They said they wanted me and it fit well for me.”
The six-foot-one defenceman played a career-high 62 games after being a healthy scratch for most games early in the season. He played in the club’s final 52 regular-season games and all 12 playoff contests.
“Josh established himself as a key member of our defensive squad last season,” general manager Bob Gainey said in a statement. “His reliability and solid play made him one of our most improved players.”
Gorges had no goals and nine assists last season. He has one goal and 18 assists in 165 career NHL games, but has shown himself to be a steady defensive player.
The Canadiens acquired Gorges and a 2007 first-round draft pick (Max Pacioretty) from the San Jose Sharks in return for defenceman Craig Rivet and a fifth-round pick on Feb. 25, 2007.
Gorges was never drafted, but signed as a free agent with San Jose in 2002. Two years later, he was captain of a Kelowna Rockets team that won the Memorial Cup and he won silver on Canada’s team at the world junior championships.
He still needed to prove himself at the NHL level and did that last season.
“When I started with the team it was tough, but as the team got better, I played more and more,” he said. “A lot of guys on the team did that last year.
“Expectations weren’t high for us, but we came together as a team and we all got better.”
On Tuesday, the Canadiens signed restricted free agent goaltender Jaroslav Halak and earlier signed forward Andrei Kostitsyn, but still have RFA defenceman Ryan O’Byrne to sign.
Gorges said he was excited about the club’s off-season acquisitions – scoring winger Alex Tanguay and tough guy Georges Laraque.
“I think it’s going to be a great year,” he said. “We have a team to contend.”