Last summer, Ryan Bourque was trading texts with an old hockey buddy, Derek Stepan. Stepan wanted advice about what the Rangers' prospect development camp was like -- something Bourque had already been through.
This winter, the two friends exchanged texts regularly. Yet this time, most of the hockey-related questions were asked by Bourque. He wanted to know what life as an NHL rookie was like.
Bourque and Stepan -- old friends and linemates at the 2010 Traverse City Prospects Tournament -- are both members of the Rangers organization. Yet they've taken completely different paths to the NHL.
After two years at the University of Wisconsin, Stepan made New York's roster out of training camp last summer. He shined as a rookie sensation for the Blueshirts in 2010-11, tallying 21 goals with 24 assists while playing all 82 games.
Bourque, meanwhile, was a third-round pick of the Rangers in 2009. Last week, he completed his third prospect development camp. He has aspirations of joining Stepan with the big club one day, but he's in no rush. That's because both Bourque and the Rangers are happy with the forward's development so far.
"Obviously, that's my ultimate goal. I want to play in the NHL -- that's every kid's dream," Bourque told NHL.com. "But realistically, looking at it, I'm a young kid, and I'm going to try to train to the best of my ability this summer and try to get as strong as I possibly can."
The Rangers, meanwhile, have nothing but good things to say about Bourque. The 20-year-old is listed at just 5-foot-9, and many have raised questions about whether a player of his size can compete in the NHL.
But Bourque has serious speed -- he was perhaps the fastest skater on the ice in many of the drills at prospect camp last Thursday -- and plays a tenacious, two-way game that fits well into coach John Tortorella's system.
Bourque also has the intangibles that lead the Rangers organization to believe he can be a contributor on Broadway one day.
"He's going to be the size he is, that's not going to change," New York's Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark told NHL.com. "But as an organization, we've become more patient with the guys to realize they all mature at different times. Right now for Ryan, everything's starting to come together, and you see what type of player he can be. You do feel that his hockey sense, his work ethic and the fact that he'll do everything possible on the ice, it will outweigh his size."
On top of that, his bloodlines are pretty impressive, too.
Ryan's father is Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, who played 21 NHL seasons -- most with the Boston Bruins -- and won five Norris Trophies.
Clark said it's tough to compare Ryan to his father since the younger Bourque is a forward.
"But at the same time they have one big thing in common," Clark said. "The major thing that Ray taught Ryan is that you can't control how many goals you're going to score, or some things like that. But the one thing you can control in a certain game is how hard you work on every shift. And the work ethic that Ryan has is exactly like his father. He knows how to handle himself as a pro."
Ryan said that his father takes notes every time he watches him play, and has been a huge mentor throughout his hockey career. Ryan is a defensive-minded player, a characteristic he likely picked up from his father.
Another characteristic he picked up? Leadership skills. Ray was the longest-serving captain in Bruins history.
Now that he is considered a veteran among the rest of the Rangers' prospects, Ryan said he's tried to establish himself as a leader through camp.
"In these past three years, I've gotten stronger, I've gotten smarter, I've gotten more mature as a hockey player," Bourque said. "You come in as a first-year guy and you just try to soak everything in. You see this beautiful atmosphere and this beautiful building that they have to offer with all the amenities that you need as a player. It's almost surreal. Then, coming in your second year and your third year, you get to see new faces and you almost act like a leader and you try to help those new faces ease into the organization."