'It's Been a Rollercoaster'
After languishing in the minors due to salary-cap issues, Bobby Ryan is making the most of his chance in Anaheim.
Wednesday, 01.7.2009 / 12:43 PM PT / Features
|Since being called up from Iowa, Bobby Ryan has scored 22 points in 23 games and placed himself among the league's best rookies.
He never dreamed he'd be living in a hotel room while his truck was parked in a driveway hundreds of miles away.
He never dreamed he'd ask the team that drafted him to find a roster spot for him or find another team that would.
"It's been a roller coaster, to say the least," said Ryan, a talented 21-year-old forward who is finally realizing his potential after switching from right wing to left wing.
Perhaps that's why his mother, Melody Stevenson, boarded a plane from Philadelphia to Anaheim last week with her bags packed and her fingers crossed.
Melody Stevenson, who lives in Cherry Hill, N.J., with her husband Bob Stevenson, had not seen her son play a hockey game since she and her husband watched Bobby make his NHL debut with the Ducks in London on Sept. 29, 2007.
Twice last season, the Stevensons purchased tickets to see their son play in Philadelphia. But just before the Ducks visited the Flyers in early February, Ryan was sent to the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League. And before the Pirates made their only visit to Philadelphia in March to play the Phantoms, Ryan was recalled by the Ducks.
"It's very hard to get excited," Melody Stevenson said. "Because you just don't know."
|"The Ducks drafted me and I've always said I wanted to be a part of this family," Ryan said. "Obviously, my play will decide whether I stay here or not. I'm confident I will."|
No NHL rookie has more points in that span.
"I am not surprised at how well Bobby's doing," said Brian Burke, who drafted Ryan and oversaw his development in Anaheim before becoming general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. "He has a rare combination of size and skill. He's worked very diligently to improve as a hockey player and he's finally getting a chance to come out on center stage and I'm not surprised he's flourished."
Ironically, it was Burke's handling of the Ducks' salary cap that led to Ryan living out of a suitcase and eventually asking for a trade.
After being named to the AHL All-Rookie Team last season as a member of the Portland Pirates, Ryan was called up by the Ducks and played in two playoff games before he was sent back to the Pirates.
Angered by the demotion, Ryan led Portland in playoff scoring with 9 goals and 11 assists in 16 games, leading them to the Eastern Conference Finals. But instead of getting a pat on the back for his playoff performance, Burke gave Ryan a pat on the belly and told him that if he planned on playing full-time in the NHL, he'd need to get in better shape.
"They told me my baby fat was holding me back," said Ryan, who finished last season at about 228 pounds.
Under the direction of Ducks strength and conditioning coach Sean Skahan and a team nutritionist, Ryan shed 20 pounds over the summer and reduced his body fat from 17 percent to just over 9 percent.
"It's not that I ate at McDonald's every night, but sometimes I'd eat big portions late at night and I couldn't burn it off," Ryan said. "I had to change my lifestyle and start eating every two or three hours, whether I was hungry or not."
Ryan also spent hours a day in the weight room and when he arrived at training camp in September he felt stronger, lighter and a step faster at 208 pounds.
"I felt tremendous the very first day," he said. "I was holding onto pucks and winning battles that I would have lost last season. I always felt I had the talent, but it took me two years to put everything together."
Ryan fully expected to begin this season with the Ducks but when Burke welcomed back prodigal sons Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer from their retirements, he found no room for Ryan's salary, which, because of potential bonuses, carried a cap hit of $1.746 million.
So instead of beginning this season in Anaheim, Ryan started with the Ducks' new AHL affiliate, the Iowa Chops.
"It's hard to complain when your son's in the NHL making great money," said Bob Stevenson. "But it's hard to take when he's up and down like a yo-yo."
Ryan took out his frustration on the rest of the AHL with 19 points in his first 14 games in Iowa, enticing the Ducks to call him up Nov. 15. Two days later, to save money against the salary cap, the Ducks assigned Ryan and his roommate, defenseman Brett Festerling, to the Bakersfield Condors of the East Coast Hockey League.
"We drove three hours to Bakersfield, grabbed dinner, went to bed, got up at 5 in the morning and drove back to Anaheim for practice," Ryan said.
Ryan was beginning to wonder if the Ducks really wanted him as part of their future, so he approached Burke, which can be the equivalent of approaching a bear feasting on honey.
"There were definitely times when the Ducks had the opportunity to make a trade and I was involved," Ryan said. "They always told me I was a big part of their future. But you need to get a chance, right? So I said to Burkie that if by December I'm not with the (Ducks), use the opportunity to move me."
"He has a rare combination of size and skill. He's worked very diligently to improve as a hockey player and he's finally getting a chance to come out on center stage and I'm not surprised he's flourished." - Brian BurkeBurke, however, was on his way to Toronto. He left Anaheim to take the vacant general manager's position in Toronto. And with Bob Murray in charge, Ryan remained with the
Ducks and has recently been a fixture on a second line with Andrew Ebbett and Brendan Morrison.
Averaging nearly a point a game since being recalled, Ryan has an outside shot of catching Chicago's Kris Versteeg -- he's 11 points behind -- and winning the NHL rookie scoring race, despite spending the first six weeks of the season in the AHL. Burke said he's not surprised.
"He's got a big power forward's body and he's got those moves, too," Burke said. "But he's got little-man hands and makes great passes and his teammates like him very much."
The Ducks have been encouraged enough by Ryan's play to arrange for him to move into an apartment, one Ryan hopes to keep for a while.
"My contract is up after next year, but the Ducks drafted me and I've always said I wanted to be a part of this family," Ryan said. "Obviously, my play will decide whether I stay here or not. I'm confident I will."
Author: Chuck Gormley | NHL.com Correspondent