Long labelled simply as the player taken after Sidney Crosby in the 2005 NHL draft, Bobby Ryan is beginning to carve out a more appealing identity as a rising star in the NHL.
Since his recall from the AHL on Nov. 16, the Anaheim Ducks right-winger has slowly made his way up the freshman scoring ranks, and on Tuesday was rewarded for a spectacular January by being named rookie of the month.
The success has been especially rewarding for the 21-year-old from Cherry Hill, N.J., who essentially won a job in the NHL during training camp but started the season in the minors with the Iowa Chops because of the team’s salary-cap issues.
“I think obviously I needed to kind of make a statement in some sense of the word,” Ryan said on a conference call. “And for the month of January to go the way it did was maybe a little extra sweet because of the way I had to start the year.
“It’s something that I hope to continue into February and through March and April.”
Ryan’s impressive run – he led all rookies with 16 points (11 goals, five assists) in 14 games last month – was made possible by a season-ending injury suffered by defenceman Francois Beauchemin.
By putting Beauchemin on the long-term injury list, the Ducks were able to get the salary-cap relief needed to bring up their prospect.
Ryan, who didn’t complain when he was sent down to the minors after training camp, was ready for the opportunity after scoring nine goals with 10 assists in 14 games for Iowa.
“I think there’s two ways you can look at the situation when it happens,” he said. “Obviously it would have been easy to sulk and complain or maybe not even report. But at the same time I had friends on that team, so I was – not happy – I was fine going down and putting in the time and the work.
“I had a relationship with the coaches previously as well. So I knew they would help me by doing everything in their power to get me back to the National Hockey League and I kept my word and they kept theirs. And it was healthy the whole time.”
Healthy, maybe, but it was also uncertain.
Ryan was unsure about his future and former Ducks general manager Brian Burke told him a trade might have to be made. He tried to stay in the loop as much as possible and just keep developing his game.
“It was emotional,” Ryan recalled. “The conversation was, ‘You’re good enough to play at this level, you’ve kind of made the team, but our hands are tied.’ It was certainly tough, I didn’t know if I was coming back to this organization or be moved.”
The Ducks are certainly happy they managed to keep him now.
With 34 points (17-17) in 35 games, Ryan is second in rookie scoring to Chicago’s Kris Versteeg, who leads with 38 points (14-24) in 45 games before Tuesday’s action. St. Louis forward Patrik Berglund is third with 32 points (16-16) in 44 games.
More importantly, much of Ryan’s damage came while Teemu Selanne was out with an injury and Corey Perry served a four-game suspension, helping the Ducks paper over the absences.
Head coach Randy Carlyle developed some trust in Ryan over that span, allowing him to skate alongside Ryan Getzlaf.
“I was able to click with a bunch of different guys during Teemu’s and Perry’s absence,” said Ryan. “I played a little bit with Getz and that went well, he certainly makes it easy on everyone around him and I was the beneficiary of some good plays.”
Enough to perhaps finally escape Crosby’s long shadow and get some due himself.
“Everybody going into the draft kind of knew who was going No. 1 and it was nice for all of us to kind of fly under the radar, not have to deal with as much publicity as we would under normal circumstances,” he said. “For me, I was kind of able to keep my anonymity throughout the whole thing and squeeze into the No. 2 spot unnoticed. …
“The attention (now) – obviously there’s good and bad to both sides, but you have to continue to enjoy it while you can.”