Kerby Rychel is ready to play some hockey – and it shows.
The 25 players the Blue Jackets are taking to the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City skated at the OhioHealth Ice Haus yesterday for their first practice session prior to heading to Michigan and, while Rychel just arrived in Columbus on Wednesday, he drew notice from Jackets Traverse City coach (and Lake Erie Monsters coach) Jared Bednar.
“He’s one of the hardest working players on the ice, I noticed it right away today,” Bednar told Blue Jackets.com.
Rychel is participating in his third Traverse City tournament, and while Bednar, who also coached Rychel during his first professional season with the Springfield Falcons, said some returning players might use a first skate as an opportunity to loosen up, he saw none of that complacency in the Torrance, Calif. native.
“I saw intensity in his practice, his attention to detail was good,” Bednar said. “He was paying attention, working hard, and moving his feet.”
Impressing coaches isn’t something new for Rychel. Bednar said he stood out from the minute he joined the Falcons last season, but it’s particularly rewarding for a player who missed the final months of last season due to injury.
“It sucks missing games. I didn’t miss any games for five or six years,” Rychel said. “But (the injury) meant I had a longer off-season, so I had a lot of time to get in good shape and work on my skills.”
That bodes well for the 20-year-old. In 51 games with Springfield last season Rychel had 12 goals and 33 points, good enough for fifth best on the team in both categories; and over five games with the Blue Jackets last season, he was able to notch three assists.
Rychel spent the summer working with a skill coach and trainer in his hometown of Windsor, Ont., and Bednar was quick to comment on Rychel’s fitness and mental readiness.
And there’s another skill set Rychel is refining.
After Thursday’s practice, Rychel was one of a few players Bednar called aside for a chat prior to the weekend’s tournament.
“There are four guys that we see as potential leaders for us in this tournament and he’s certainly one of them, along with Josh Anderson, TJ Tynan, and Michael Paliotta,” Bednar said. “Those guys are going to wear letters for us.”
And Rychel is up for the challenge. He’s hopeful he can help some of the younger players going through their first tournament and rookie camp experience while putting forth a solid effort to defend last year’s tournament championship.
But the tournament isn’t the only goal on his list.
Rychel, known for his intensity and a cerebral approach to the game, says he knows that the forward side of the Jackets’ roster is full of talent and he’s ready to make his own push.
“There’s a lot of guys here and not too many spots (in Columbus),” Rychel said. “I’m going to play as hard as I can and we’ll see what happens.”
Bednar believes that approach will pay off. He says the ups and downs of last year proved valuable for Rychel, who saw time on both the power play and penalty kill in Springfield and became comfortable with a professional-style game.
“I expect him to be a real hungry player and a guy who has something to prove coming out with this season,” Bednar said. “He looks fit, ready to go and driven…the sky’s the limit for him.”