Anaheim Ducks gave Bobby Ryan the infamous distinction of being the player selected second in the 2005 Entry Draft, then-general manager Brian Burke had one question for the 18-year-old native of Cherry Hill, N.J.When the
"Are you ready to play in the NHL right now?" the GM asked him.
Not one to ever give false hope or distort the truth, Ryan gave Burke the right answer.
"No," he told him. "Not a chance."
Sidney Crosby, the first pick that year, obviously was ready to take the NHL by storm. Ryan, though, wasn't even close. He knew it. Burke knew it. Ducks coach Randy Carlyle knew it, too.
"I didn't want to do anything that was going to hinder me long term," Ryan told NHL.com. "As soon as I said that, I remember (Burke) saying, 'I don't think you are, either.' I think he was impressed. I said what I felt."
Patience always has been the key word when it came to Ryan. The Ducks could afford it, too, thanks to the development of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and the additions of veteran stars Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Teemu Selanne.
Today, Anaheim's patience is proving to be a virtue as the kid who was getting perilously close to earning the moniker "first-round bust" last season now is closer to a different title altogether -- Calder Trophy winner.
Ryan has 33 points (17 goals, 16 assists) through 34 games since being recalled from the Iowa Chops of the American Hockey League on Nov. 15.
His 11 goals in January tied with Calgary's Michael Cammalleri for most in the League and were the most scored in a month by a rookie since Alex Ovechkin scored 11 in March 2006. Ryan had his five-game goal streak (a Ducks rookie record) snapped Saturday.
"When you go where he went in the Draft there is a lot of notoriety coming out of that automatically and there is going to be a lot of pressure. He's going to feel that pressure from outside sources, and more than anything, from himself," Carlyle said. "We have to try to protect that player from those situations. He wasn't ready in our minds. It wasn't anything drastic. He had to understand just because you are selected second overall doesn't mean you have the right to play in the NHL.
"Now he understands more of the game. He has a better understanding of himself and what he has to do to have success to stay in the lineup."
To get there, Ryan, who is second among rookies in points, had to change his entire lifestyle. He turned pro last season and had 10 points in 23 games with the Ducks, but he wasn't in good enough shape to be a steady contributor.
"I got into that junior lifestyle a little bit too much, where you wake up for an hour in the morning, go to the rink and fake it, then go back to bed," he said. "It wasn't easy to come out of, but I changed my whole diet around, my eating times, and made sure all those little things would contribute to the overall fitness level."
Carlyle noticed a difference the moment Ryan walked into the rink for training camp this September. Ryan said his teammates did, too. Some pointed it out to him.
"He had a different body makeup," Carlyle said.
Ryan's extra upper-body weight was gone. He still was strong in the chest and shoulders, but through his offseason workout routine Ryan not only was able to redistribute his weight more into his legs and his torso, but he dropped 10 pounds, too.
The difference isn't so much in his speed, but his quickness and ability to jump on loose pucks. Ryan is playing the angles better this season, using his new lower-body power to get inside positioning on the opposition to gain possession of the puck.
Carlyle said Ryan's scoring is a byproduct of that positioning and hard work.
"Last year, my top-end speed was good, it's just that I never got to it, or I had to really open it up to get to it," Ryan said. "This year I can get to it in four or five strides, which is a considerable difference from last season. I'm able to get to loose pucks now and win battles in the corners. Through the neutral-zone ice, it's like night and day from last year."
Even so, Ryan still needed some luck to get his big break.
He proved he was good enough to make the squad out of training camp, but salary-cap issues forced him back to the American Hockey League.
Going back to the minors was a bummer, but Ryan knew he was close to becoming a full-time NHL player. He was closer than ever before, but he needed some help, which for a young player with a hefty cap hit usually means an injury to an established veteran.
Francois Beauchemin's season-ending knee injury punched Ryan's ticket to Anaheim, and Teemu Selanne's lacerated quad muscle paved his way onto the Ducks' first power-play unit, where he has been playing with Getzlaf, Sami Pahlsson, Niedermayer and Pronger.
Eight of Ryan's goals this season have come on the power play.
"When you're trying to prove yourself in this League it's all about getting confidence," Getzlaf told NHL.com. "Once your coach trusts you in certain situations it becomes a lot easier for you to do things out there. Obviously he's been playing well for a little while now and now he's playing on the first-line power play. That's a big-time role."
"I feel like I've made a statement and I'll continue to make it," Ryan said. "Not since juniors have I been able to have my own place to call home, and I've got one now in California."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.