Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers’ Derek Ryan seems to age like fine wine

It was only temporary, but Derek Ryan found himself tied fourth on the Edmonton Oilers when it comes to even strength goals over the past two seasons. Ryan would hardly be considered among the Oilers top four, even top six forwards. Of course, some of this comes down to circumstance, injuries, and partial seasons by multiple individuals, but Ryan has long been defying the odds. If anything, that much more credit is due to the right shot centre.

Ryan has been centring bottom six lines with strong results since the pre-Brind’Amour coached Carolina Hurricanes. He is first and foremost a smart player who can contribute at both ends, which helps him form chemistry with many different types of linemates. Now, at 36 years old, he hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down either.

Ryan’s career path is unique

Ryan has had an atypical, if not a unique, career path. His experience, his journey to this point, has had a number of twists and turns, a raging sea of uncertainty that has been navigated deftly by Ryan’s consistency. Mirrored is his stature, multiplied by his role as a bottom six forward, the deeper one dives into the curious case of Derek Ryan the more one realises how impressive he continues to be.

Listed at 5’10”, Ryan is what many would be considered to be undersized, especially for a depth forward. Even top scorers like Alex DeBrincat and Cole Caulfield fall in the entry draft, and historically that bias has been even more skewed.

In sport the attention and accolades are focused on the best of the best. The most discussion, drama, praise, blame, money. Of course such is only natural, the focus should be on the best, to an extent, as competition dictates. Yet at times this scope can blind us to the bigger picture beyond, that the purpose of the competition is to build and strengthen communities, that it is fuelled by and in service to real people, real passion. Though all of us have our own stories, relationships with the game and its inhabitants, that are worth exploring, Derek Ryan’s story is one of dedication and perseverance.

Ryan’s early career before the NHL

Ryan started his playing career similarly to a lot of players, in the CHL, more specifically the WHL. Playing a full career with his hometown Spokane Chiefs from 2003–04 to 2006–07, Ryan would eventually earn the “A” as an assistant captain in his final WHL season, though never achieving a point per game season. From this perspective it isn’t that surprising that Ryan wasn’t drafted to the NHL.

From there Ryan would attend the University of Alberta, playing a full four seasons while achieving a bachelor’s degree in general physiology. Ryan would post incredible production, discovering a scoring touch, winning an MVP award, and winning a championship.

After graduating Ryan would finally make the transition to professional hockey. Spending three seasons in the Austrian league, EBEL, and a single season in the SHL, continuing his high level of production. From the 2011–12 season to the 2014–15 season, Ryan would spend his mid- to late 20s raising his profile overseas.

Finally, in the 2015–16 season, where Ryan turned 29 in December, he would make his professional debut in North America. Ryan would captain the Charlotte Checkers in his rookie AHL season, showing the reverence his character had earned him in reaching this point. In this season he would make a brief six-game NHL appearance, scoring two goals across those games.

Though Ryan would begin the 2016–17 season as the Checkers captain once again, his 13 points in nine games earned him a true NHL call up in his age 30 season, a level he has yet to drop out of since.

Ryan finally found his way to the NHL

The last time the Carolina Hurricanes had a losing record was the 2014–15 season, or a year before Ryan joined the organisation. The seasons that Ryan played for the team, 2015–16 and 2017–18, the Hurricanes were by no means a juggernaut, finishing seventh and sixth in the Metropolitan Division and failing to qualify for the playoffs. That said, Ryan posted exceptional possession numbers during his time there, a trend that would continue, a big factor in cementing Ryan’s reputation as an effective two way player deep in the lineup. In his final season as a Hurricane, Ryan would post NHL career highs of 15 goals and 38 points.

From there Ryan would return to Alberta, playing three seasons with the Calgary Flames from 2018–19 to 2020–21. He would match his career high in points with 38 in his first season as a Flame, and help the team qualify for the playoffs in two of his three seasons with the club.

It was at this point that Ryan would join the Oilers, now in his second season with the team. Though his overall point production has fallen off a tad, Ryan is on pace for 14 goals this season, or one off of his career high. Ryan’s availability has given him a chance to stay in the lineup having missed only two games so far this season, and appearing in all but seven games last season.

No doubt Oilers fans have come to know Ryan’s effective style of play. He is able to contribute all over the ice, and is often one step ahead of the play. Despite being over 35, not being the biggest, fastest, or most skilled, Ryan continues to find ways to help his team control play while he is on the ice.

If Ryan is able to replicate his success with the Oilers for another season he will achieve career marks of 500 games and 200 points in the NHL. While these aren’t Hall of Fame worthy numbers, they represent impressive marks for a player that did not even make his AHL debut before being 28 years old.

Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire

Gregory Babinski

twitter: @axiomsofice

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