by John Kreiser || NHL.com
Bobby Ryan wants this to be the season he becomes known for something more than being picked right behind Sidney Crosby in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
While Crosby was a star immediately after being drafted No. 1 by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan, a 6-foot-1, 221-pound power forward, has been patiently nurtured by the Anaheim Ducks. Crosby is preparing for his fourth NHL season after leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final this spring; after two seasons in junior and another split between the Ducks and their AHL affiliate in Portland, Ryan and the Ducks both feel he’s finally ready to play his first full NHL season and become an impact player.
Still, he knows that part of his hockey legacy is tied to his draft position.
"The only reason I continue to remember (being drafted No. 2 behind Crosby) is that everyone brings it up when I do an interview," he said with a laugh.
"To be picked anywhere in the first round is nice, but to be picked second is something special. It’s something I’ll always remember, and I’ll always remember being picked second because of the guy who was picked ahead of me and how he continues to do great things. At the same time, it’s kind of the year I’ve been looking forward to; hopefully I can make a name for myself."
Still, Ryan admits that his career development hasn’t exactly been on the fast track. Part of the reason for his long development cycle owes to the fact that the Ducks didn’t need to push him along the way the Penguins have done with Crosby
"It’s been a little slower than I would have liked to come along, but at the same time, the main thing the Ducks try to stress is not to throw guys into situations they’re not ready for. I’ve been kind of babied along, and sometimes that pays dividends in the long run. I hope that’s the case for me — that I can look forward from here.
"I think a lot of times when people say, ‘Why haven’t you been a regular in the last two years?’ I just look at them and say, ‘Where the heck was I going to play?’ Where were they going to put me that I was really going to get to contribute? It’s a very professional organization, where if you’re a young guy coming in, the older guys take you under their wing. I’m sure not every organization can say that about their veterans. I’ve been blessed so far to have a good group and a good coaching staff that’s made me feel comfortable. This year, hopefully, I get to put a little bit of a base around my career."
The Ducks are also optimistic that he’s ready to break out.
"Bobby is huge to our future," Anaheim’s Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Bob Murray said. "He’s ready to play in the NHL. He’s had a little growing up to do, but he’s gotten there now. There’s been a lot of time and effort spent on him."
Murray cited last spring’s AHL playoffs, when Ryan had 20 points in 16 games as Portland made the AHL conference finals, as a turning point.
"His playoffs were outstanding this year," Murray said. "He turned the corner and carried the team on his back."
Ryan has the build of a top-flight power forward. Murray feels he has the skills to match.
"For a big boy, he’s got great hands. He’ll score goals. On the power play, he’s outstanding. Those are all huge things in today’s game," Murray said. "He’s still a little gangly, but power forwards can take some time. He still hasn’t grown into his body. He’s taken a little more time, but guys like that often do."
Ryan actually started last season with the Ducks, but breaking into the lineup of a defending Stanley Cup champion isn’t easy. He had mixed feelings about ending up in Portland for most of the season.
"I was excited to go to a situation where I knew I was going to be the go-to guy, where I was going to get to play a lot of minutes," he said. "I looked forward to playing with (Portland coach) Kevin Dineen, and some of the guys who were in Portland I had friendships with. In that aspect, I was excited, but at the same time, you want to play at the highest level, and you want to continue to improve.
"I felt that every time I got up to Anaheim, things got a little bit better. I would have liked a little more of an opportunity, but they come as they go. This year, there’s a different opportunity — there are more openings and a spot for me there."
Like Murray, Ryan says his success in the AHL playoffs were a major breakthrough.
"They laid it on my shoulders," he said. "They said, ‘Go to Portland and be that guy who carries the team. You never really did that at Owen Sound. It’s something you’ve got to do here.’ I kind of took that personally; I put it on my shoulders and made sure that things went well. Everybody stepped up their game throughout the run, but I took it personal when they said ‘do it’ — I had to earn my place. I think I kind of did that a little bit."
One reason there’s a spot is that the Ducks bought out Todd Bertuzzi this summer, creating an opening for Ryan. That’s ironic, because Ryan lists Bertuzzi as the player he’s modeled himself after.
"Todd Bertuzzi is the guy," he said. "I think we play similar styles — we’re both big and we like to control the puck and walk from the corners and find guys. We like the physical play as well. Having him around last year helped me a lot. Off the ice he was good to me. He helped me on the ice as well. I got a chance to play with him a few times, and we kind of worked well together. I appreciate everything he did."
One of those things was to help Ryan score his first NHL goal — and the Ducks’ first goal of the 2007-08 season, in their season opener against Los Angeles in London.
"A lot of that was him," Ryan said. "He and I were just hanging by the side of the net, and it was my first game in the League — so who do you cover? Four guys went to him and I had a wide-open net. I thanked him for that one, too.
"He was great to me. I thanked him numerous times throughout the summer for everything. I told him I do look forward to playing against him. He would have been nice to have around, that’s for sure."
There may be an opening in Anaheim that the Ducks want Ryan to fill, but the 21-year-old knows that nothing is going to be handed to him.
"If you look at the numbers, who’s in and who’s out … there’s a spot in the top six and it’s mine to earn," he said. "Randy Carlyle’s not exactly the kind of coach who just gives things away. In my short time, I’ve learned that from him. I think if you work hard and earn your stripes and are respectful to him and the veterans, his respect level for you goes up. As long as you continue to work hard and, in my case, produce, that’s going to be my area to lose."