When the final buzzer sounded in the gold-medal game of the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, United States forward Ryan Hartman had an indescribable feeling.
"I saw a few guys crying and it kind of got the best of me," Hartman told NHL.com. "I believe I was the first one to jump on [goalie] John Gibson. I saw the look in his eyes … he was on the team that finished seventh [in 2012], and to finish on top this time was awesome. He looked so relieved."
The same could be said of Hartman, who was a tower of strength as a third-line grinder for U.S. coach Phil Housley. He did everything asked of him, producing two goals, three points and a plus-4 rating in seven games.
"He's a guy who can play center or wing, so that proves to me right off the bat the range he has as a player," Housley said of Hartman.
The 5-foot-11, 187-pound forward also was one of two 2013 NHL Draft-eligible players to earn a roster spot for the U.S. team. Though Hartman said he understands all the hype that fellow draft prospect and U.S. teammate Seth Jones has commanded this season, he won't sell himself short.
And he shouldn't, because Hartman himself is a candidate to hear his name called in the first round at this year's draft.
"Ryan's a great player," Jones, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated player in its midterm rankings, told NHL.com. "He's gritty when he needs to be and can score, drives to the net and forechecks hard. He's an all-round package -- he hits, scores and moves the puck well. I can't think of any weaknesses."
Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said, "When you're playing that well on a stage like [the WJC], you prove you're a big-name guy and can play with better players and better competition."
Hartman, in his first season with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, has 19 goals, 41 points, a plus-8 rating and a team-high 102 penalty minutes in 39 games. He has five power-play goals and a pair of shorthanded goals.
He also had an impressive showing at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Halifax, Nova Scotia, earlier this month. It wasn't so much what he did on the score sheet as it was the little things required to inspire his Team Cherry teammates.
After delivering the game's first big hit on Team Orr MVP Laurent Dauphin less than 30 seconds into the contest, he went toe-to-toe with Kerby Rychel of the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL in a spirited fight midway through the opening period. Rychel ended the scrap by landing on top of Hartman, who is two inches shorter and 13 pounds lighter.
"Coming into a new league, it was an adjustment, but I think I've done well," Hartman told NHL.com. "I'm having fun; we have a good group of guys. The pace is a little faster, but so far, I've enjoyed it."
A product of the Chicago Mission midget hockey program, Hartman had 16 goals and 41 points last season in 59 games with the United States National Team Development Program under-18 team. He cited coach Danton Cole as a major influence on his development.
"Danton Cole was an awesome coach for me during that two-year program with the NTDP," Hartman said. "He taught me the ins and outs, and the right thing to do on and off the ice. He was always big on character, and being an all-round good person."
In 2010-11, with the USNTDP U-17 team, Hartman dealt with off-ice adversity when he learned that his mother, Kim, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Hartman recalled how courageous his mother was and the inspiration she provided at a time that would seem so difficult.
"She said, 'Don't worry about me … I'm going to be fine,'" Hartman said. "We sat down as a family and [doctors] explained everything. When she was going in for her surgery, she said, 'Don't worry about me or change anything you're doing.'"
Hartman certainly took mom's words to heart to become the player he is today.
"They caught [the cancer] early, which was lucky on our part," Hartman said. "She had full surgeries and recovered quickly. She just knew she had to fight through it, and she's been cancer-free for about a year-and-a-half now. What she did to overcome that … I look at that and it's really something I admire."
In addition to earning a gold medal at the 2013 WJC, Hartman won gold at the 2012 Under-18 World Championship and was a member of the United States U-17 team that captured the 2011 Vlad Druzilla U-18 Tournament title in Slovakia.
"Ryan is one of the best skaters in this year's draft class," Edwards said. "He has a long, smooth stride and his agility, acceleration and speed are all excellent."
As Central Scouting's chief scout for the OHL, Edwards has seen Hartman several times this season.
"He's not the biggest guy, but he shows no fear of getting involved and battles for the puck," he said. "He can hit hard and is aggressive on the forecheck. He sees the ice well, gets the puck through traffic with creative passes and offers a very good shot that he gets off quickly."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
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