📝 by Patrick Williams
This is the time of the year that every word from National Hockey League general managers is parsed, and their every appearance is tracked.
The NHL trade deadline often has a strong American Hockey League flavor as well. That is where the work that AHL general managers like Ryan Martin of the Hartford Wolf Pack do all season can also pay off for an NHL organization. Usually doubling as an NHL assistant general manager, they work quietly in the background to keep the AHL club running smoothly while compiling a base of information on talent from around the rest of the NHL’s top developmental Martin league for use in a trade or signing later.
AHL players already are on the move as important parts in a pair of NHL deals Saturday.
Urho Vaakanainen, John Moore, and Kodie Curran were part of the trade that sent Hampus Lindholm from Anaheim to Boston. Investing parts of four seasons in Vaakanainen’s development with Providence helped the Bruins to make that deal.
Shortly after that deal, Owen Tippett, German Rubtsov, and Connor Bunnaman were pieces in the Claude Giroux trade between Philadelphia and Florida. Tippett won AHL Player of the Week honors with Charlotte just last week, while Rubtsov and Bunnaman had been fixtures with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms going back to the 2018-19 season.
In addition, the Ontario Reign picked up experience for their blue line by adding Thomas Hickey on loan from the New York Islanders.
Amid it all is Martin, one of those busy executives balancing NHL and AHL duties. He also serves as assistant general manager for the parent New York Rangers and came to the organization last August following a 16-year tenure with the Detroit Red Wings, during which time the Grand Rapids Griffins won two Calder Cups.
“My job is similar to most guys in my role,” Martin outlined. “It’s a balance between being in the office and helping [Rangers president and general manager] Chris [Drury] with things that are going on at the NHL level and being another set of eyes and ears for him.
“Also making sure that the American League is getting attention, working with the player development staff. Player development staffs, I think, are critically important to the role of the [AHL] team and developing players.”
Martin’s decision to leave the Detroit organization did not come easily, but the Rangers posting appealed to the Connecticut native.
“I really believed in [Drury’s] vision for the team, how he wanted to build a team, and what he wanted to do here in New York,” Martin recalled. “And to me that was the attractive thing. It was a tough decision, but it’s been a great move for me personally and professionally.”
For years Grand Rapids has blended consistent player development with a strong winning culture. Martin wants that same mix in Hartford, where the Wolf Pack are trying to go to the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2015. After a 5-2 win Saturday night in Belleville, the Wolf Pack (28-20-5-2, .573) are fourth in the Atlantic Division.
They already have a strong development framework established in Hartford. The Rangers are positioned to make a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs thanks to key contributions from several recent Wolf Pack products. Defenseman Braden Schneider is the latest Hartford graduate to find a place with the Rangers, joining defensemen Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek, forward Filip Chytil, and goaltenders Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. Prospects Morgan Barron, Nils Lundkvist, Tim Gettinger, and Zac Jones have split their seasons between Hartford and New York, and Wolf Pack captain Jonny Brodzinski is also on recall to the Rangers amid an outstanding AHL season that earned him a new two-year contract March 1.
Martin’s spring will be even busier after USA Hockey recently named him its general manager for the IIHF World Championship. Along with his responsibilities in New York and Hartford, this new post will charge Martin with building a roster for the May tournament. For Martin, the opportunity builds on his work with USA Hockey’s entries at the IIHF World Junior Championship that have included gold medals in 2013, 2017, and 2021.
Martin can apply lessons learned from the AHL to Team USA this spring.
“This goes back to one of the things that I love about my job, [which] is team building and assembling a roster and working with the coach to put those pieces in place,” Martin said.
An AHL roster starts with a certain number of prospects, most of them taken in the NHL Draft. But surrounding that young talent with the right experience is where someone like Martin steps into the process, whether that is signing players during the offseason or adding a key veteran for a run to the Calder Cup Playoffs. Martin also works closely with Rangers director of pro scouting Kevin Maxwell throughout the season.
“You’ve got to put pieces around [the prospects],” Martin said. “So you work…and you try to find some good players and fill different roles.
“I certainly can’t take all the credit, and I would never take all the credit for those Calder Cups. It’s the pro scouts that spend time out on the road and find guys that can be really good players. It’s our amateur scouts that might find [college or junior talent] that’s going to come in and fill a role. It’s the coaching staff that helps these guys. It’s our player development staff.”
Whether it is a summer signing or perhaps a late-season move to fortify the roster, veteran players must meet certain criteria to play for the Wolf Pack.
“They’ve got to set a standard of how to be a great pro,” Martin stressed. “To me the players are not just paid for goals and assists. It’s how they live off the ice. It’s how they train. It’s how they show up to the rink every day. They’re a pro, they’re on time for meetings, they’re professional, and what they look like when they go on a road trip. It’s all those little things that [when] we put our prospects down there, we want them to develop.
“You hire great coaches, and you trust in them the ability to develop these players, but the vets are so important down there to set the standard on how they’re going to compete, how they’re going to work every day, what they’re going to have to do to win.”
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports, and is currently the co-host of The Hockey News On The ‘A’ podcast. He was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.