If NHL players participate in the Olympic Winter Games next year in Sochi, Russia, don’t be surprised if you see Bobby Ryan’s name on the Team USA roster.
The 25-year-old native of Cherry Hill, N.J., who considers earning a silver medal at the 2010 Games in Vancouver as the top highlight of his six-year NHL career, is off to another strong start this season, helping the Anaheim Ducks compile a stellar 8-2-1 record through Sunday.
Following a dominant performance in the Ducks’ 6-5 shootout victory over St. Louis Saturday night, in which he contributed two goals and two assists, Ryan ranked third in team scoring with four goals and 11 points in 11 games.
“Bobby Ryan is just a very skilled player,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s on the same pace that he would normally be. He’s a second-half guy, where he scores a lot more goals in the second half than the beginning. I’ve used him at center and on the wing and he’s done everything that I’ve asked of him, so I don’t have any complaints at all.”
After skating much of his NHL career at right wing on the club’s top line with offensive stars Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan has found a home this season paired up on the second line with 42-year-old Teemu Selanne, who tops the Ducks with 14 points. Along with second-year winger Kyle Palmieri most of the time, the trio has helped provide the Ducks with a more balanced attack.
“Playing with Teemu, the chances are going to come,” Ryan said. “I’ve always been a guy that creates off the cycle, and he’s always been a guy that creates off the rush, so it’s helped me read plays coming into the zone better. He opens up ice and he’s always drawing double coverage, so it’s allowed me to make some different plays.”
Added Selanne: “Obviously, Bobby is so super-skilled and always dangerous when he gets the puck. It’s fun to play with a guy who sees the game so well. He can make things happen. He has been very consistent, and he puts a lot of pressure on himself and that’s what makes him push himself.”
Averaging 16:40 of ice time, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Ryan has also registered a solid plus-6 plus/minus rating, ranks tied for fourth on the club in hits (20) and leads all Duck forwards with 13 blocked shots. This is all while adjusting to more complex defensive responsibilities associated with switching from wing to center.
“It changes things, it changes a whole lot,” said Ryan, who was the Ducks’ first-round draft pick (second overall, right after Sidney Crosby) in 2005. “Some of the reads are a little different, obviously, coming back into the defensive zone and figuring out where to pick up. As a guy that’s never really played (center) at all, I’ve learned on the fly, I’ve learned through video, but I’ve felt pretty comfortable in a lot of situations.”
“A guy making the transition from the wing to center, it’s not something you see often,” Palmieri pointed out. “It’s a tribute to him as a player and his hockey sense is one of the things that allows him to do something like that. I think Coach Boudreau trusts our line and it all runs through him.”
Ryan’s impressive season has undoubtedly made Anaheim General Manager Bob Murray glad he didn’t trade him last season. Hounded by trade rumors off and on during a disappointing year in which the Ducks missed the playoffs, Ryan said he has put the whole thing behind him, an unpleasant reminder of the business aspect of the sport.
“It was tough,” admitted Ryan, who still managed to accumulate 31 goals — his fourth consecutive 30-goal season — and 57 points in 82 games in 2011-12. “Obviously, it’s something you’ve got to deal with and everybody’s probably gone through it, but I wear my heart on my sleeve and I took it a little personally.
“But I understand, after talking to Bob, he’s not going to apologize for trying to make the team better, and if it means moving me, then I understand that. I just have to understand it comes with the territory. It was my first time going through it, and thankfully, Bob gave me a little leeway with some of the dumb comments I made.”
Ryan also has his roots in the local youth hockey scene, something that used to be considered rare. After growing up in a South Jersey suburb of Philadelphia, Ryan’s experience as a teenager in Southern California helping the Los Angeles Jr. Kings AAA program win multiple USA Hockey national championships doesn’t seem so outlandish now as more and more non-traditional hockey areas produce elite-level players.
“It’s come full circle,” said Ryan, who also skated for Team USA at the 2006 World Juniors and last season’s World Championships. “Now you’re seeing kids from California getting drafted every year, and it’s a testament more to what the coaches in the area have done than to what the Kings and Ducks have.”
As for the possibility of playing in the next Olympic Games, Ryan acknowledges that it’s been on his mind, and after the thrill of 2010, would love to represent his country again.
“It was the experience of a lifetime,” said Ryan, who scored a goal and an assist in six games in Vancouver. “It’s the pinnacle of sports and I really hope I get a chance to do it again a year from now. That’s where my focus is at, to be back there and wearing that jersey again. I know that we built that team in 2010 to focus on 2014 and that was one of the long-term goals. I think whatever they ask me to do, whether it’s to be a top-six guy or a bottom-six guy, I don’t care, as long as I’m going.”
If he keeps playing like this, there’s no question he will be.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Tag(s): Player Features