|Ryan Donally was a third round selection for the Calgary Flames in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
Just ask Ryan Donally.
The Las Vegas Wrangler has blossomed into one of the top power forwards in the ECHL this season after being provided with an opportunity to skate on the team's top line alongside Peter and Chris Ferraro by coach Glen Gulutzan.
While the trio has since been separated, Donally is on the verge of completing a breakout year with the Wranglers. In 52 games with Las Vegas, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound left wing has 15 goals, 20 assists and 174 penalty minutes. The second-year pro had three goals in 33 games for the Wranglers last season.
"I've been very pleased with the way things have developed," Donally told NHL.com. "I think I've always been a solid defensive player, but I've always wanted to broaden my offensive horizons. I think I've done that this year. Glen's given me the opportunity to play on the power play and on the top lines."
A third-round draft pick of the Calgary Flames in 2003, Donally has split time between Las Vegas and the American Hockey League's Quad City Flames, where he was held scoreless in seven games. Last season, Donally went 3-2-5 in 18 games with AHL Omaha. If you ask Gulutzan, though, Donally would have been better served spending the entire 2006-07 campaign in Las Vegas.
"He's got incredible character," Gulutzan said. "He went into a situation where there weren't many expectations for him last year. He just kind of willed his way on to that team for (18) games, when, to be honest with you, he didn't have any right to do that. It may have slowed down some of his development. He needed to play more and play with the puck more and just improve his hockey skill set. He's gone from someone I thought would be a third-line, OK player to one of the better players in the ECHL. He can do it all."
Donally admitted that skating on the top line with the Ferraro brothers did wonders for his confidence, especially in the offensive zone. While his primary role originally was to protect the twins, it quickly became clear that Donally had the ability to score goals. In the end, Donally said it was almost as if he was skating alongside two coaches.
"They're veteran NHL players and they've definitely kind of taken me under their wing from day one," Donally said. "Coming into the year, I think they just kind of expected me to protect them in the odd situation where somebody would take a run at them. I think they've kind of taken it upon themselves to help me improve in my offensive game. I've always heard that you play with better players, you become a better player."
Gulutzan agreed that Donally's game reached another level once he was placed on the same line as the Ferraro brothers. These days, though, it hasn't really mattered who Donally's linemates are. The hulking forward is playing like a man on a mission.
"They helped him tremendously," Gulutzan said of the Ferraro brothers. "Certainly, it benefited him to be in that situation. But for the last two and a half months, he really hasn't been in that situation. On his own, he's contributing now. That's something you didn't see from him at the beginning. He's an effective player on his own."
All it took was one chance. Donally has gone from an enforcer to a player who appears to be on the fast track to full-time status in the AHL.
"I think people get placed in a certain role and some believe they can't produce offensively," said Donally, who turned 23 in February. "I think a lot of guys just need the opportunity and that time and that confidence shown by their coaches. I'm not saying I'm a dynamic offensive player, but I think I've proven I can put a couple of points on the board."
"It's been huge," Donally said of playing in Sin City. "I think since the time that I've been here, we've lost maybe a combination of 20 games. Anytime you're in a winning environment, it always makes you enthusiastic about coming to the rink. It rubs off on everyone and that helps you play better. Anytime that you're happy with the situation and how things are going, it translates to your on-ice performance."
But considering the way Gulutzan described what Donally brings to the table, it sounds like the Tecumseh, Ontario native's days in the ECHL are numbered. After the Kelly Cup Playoffs, it appears as if Donally is on to bigger and better things.
"He won't see the light of the ECHL next year," Gulutzan proclaimed. "There's no chance. A 6-foot-4, 225-pound guy that can skate and has developed his offensive abilities … those guys don't stay in the ECHL.
"He's really come full circle here. He's really developing into a player. I'm not afraid to say knowing what I know now and watching five years of guys going up to the next level, he's certainly an NHL prospect in my mind."
As he's proven already, all he needs is a chance.
"I'm just like anybody here – I'm trying to move up," Donally said. "I think when you get complacent being in one spot, that's not exactly what you want to be doing. I think improving this year in my personal game has been the most important thing. I hope that the year that I've had has parlayed into a better opportunity for next year."
Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com.