For anyone catching up, a menu of previous player (and also coaching and GM) report cards can be found at the bottom of the article.
Derek Ryan’s starting point for the 2016-17 season
Prior to the start of the 2015-16, Derek Ryan was signed to a two-way contract with the Carolina Hurricanes after an impressive 2014-15 campaign in Europe that saw Ryan lead the Swedish Hockey League in scoring and win the most valuable player award. As an undersized, 28-year old who had taken a circuitous route back to North America and within reach of the NHL, he represented good veteran offense for the AHL level and wild card for the NHL. He spent the 2015-16 primarily at the AHL level and had a solid though maybe not spectacular season with 55 points in 70 games for the Charlotte Checkers. His recall and short stint with the Hurricanes in March of 2016 was a great story and became even better when he scored a goal in his first NHL game at the age of 29. In his short run of 6 games in the NHL at the end of the 2015-16 season, Ryan collected 2 goals (and no assists). He did not look out of place, but he did not so much make a huge statement that suggested he was a can’t miss for the 2016-17 season.
Derek Ryan’s 2016-17 season with the Carolina Hurricanes
Ryan entered training camp before the 2016-17 season as one of a few dark horses with the potential to compete for one of the final opening day roster spots. With the free agent signings of Viktor Stalberg and Lee Stempniak, the acquisition of Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell via trade and the arrival of rookie Sebastian Aho, most of the openings were taken and despite having a decent training camp and preseason, Derek Ryan headed for Charlotte to again start the season in the AHL.
Ryan got right to work in Charlotte and posted 13 points in 9 games to start the season. He and line mate Brock McGinn were called up to the NHL in mid-November and placed on a third line together as part of a mini-shake up aiming to boost the languishing Hurricanes. At the team level, the shake up had positive effects. The Hurricanes won their next 5 games and seemed to finally get the 2016-17 on track. Offensively, Ryan started slow, collecting only 2 power play points in his first 9 games at the NHL level for 2016-17. In his eleventh game, Ryan finally picked up his first even strength point and seemed to use that as an ignition switch for his offensive production. He collected 10 points in the first 8 games of November and in the process carved out a place in the Hurricanes lineup. On December 14, 2016, I wrote an article entitled, “The emergence of Derek Ryan” that detailed Ryan’s burst after settling into the NHL lineup.
The rest of Ryan’s 2016-17 season was characterized by some hot and some cold, but along the way he compiled a solid list of accomplishments that kept him above the AHL/NHL cut line. Ryan’s skill, playmaking and hockey smarts made him a capable player for the power play where he collected 8 points with the man advantage. Past special teams, he offered reasonable depth scoring to the tune of a 35-point 82-game pace (29 points in 67 games). Importantly, Ryan also proved not to be a liability on the defensive side of the puck with minimal errors and an impressive 55.3 face-off win percentage. And along the way he filled in at right wing without taking a significant step back.
When the dust settled on the 2016-17, I think one could make a strong case that more than any other player on the team, Derek Ryan exceeded what could reasonably have been expected from him at the start of the season.
Grading Derek Ryan
Graded as: Depth forward with ability to contribute offensively.
Grade: A. If one starts from any kind of reasonable preseason expectations for Derek Ryan, I do not see how he could be graded less than an A. In his time at the NHL level, he would probably rate out as the Hurricanes #8 forward which is impressive for a player who was not even on the depth chart at the beginning of the season. He also gets high marks for versatility being more than competent in the face-off circle, shifting short-term to right wing and providing power play depth.
Ryan is a bit like Stalberg in that grading him highly for his role as a “depth forward” is not the same thing as saying that he should automatically be elevated to a bigger role. Like Stalberg, my thinking is that Ryan is good in his role but also that this role could well be his ceiling.
Looking forward to 2017-18
As I write this, Derek Ryan is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July. In a poll in the Monday Coffee Shop, readers were not overly optimistic about Ryan returning, but personally I lean a bit more optimistic. Coming off of a strong season as a depth player who scored some, it is possible that he could explore the open market and depart. But my hunch is that he will return to the Hurricanes because it is a good fit for him and the team. He has a history with Bill Peters and a track record now with the team and its system. In addition, with the Hurricanes young depth just starting to encroach on the NHL level, there is still an opening for Ryan to win a role and ice time at the NHL level for 2017-18. My wild guess is that Ryan returns, but that he does not sign until after the expansion draft to avoid the risk of being selected.
If Ryan does return for the 2017-18, he will be a front-runner and known quantity in the competition for slots on what could be a completely revamped fourth line. He might need to hold off some talented prospects, but as a player now proven at the NHL level, he will have a fair chance. I could see Ryan landing as the fourth line center, possibly shifting to right wing on that line or otherwise being experienced depth in the #13 slot.
What say you Canes fans?
Were you as impressed as I was with Derek Ryan’s quiet but solid 2016-17 season?
Do you similarly think both he and Ron Francis will recognize the good fit and get a deal done?
If so, where do you see Ryan landing on the forward depth chart to start the 2017-18 season?
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