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Duncan Towers Over The Competition

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues

Ryan Duncan stands at 5'6, but he scored 31 goals for the University of North Dakota last season (Photo by Mark Buckner).
Whoever said bigger is better probably never met Ryan Duncan.

Measured at a mere 5-foot-6, it’s the size of his heart and determination that matters. Rest assured, there’s nothing small about that.

“I think I have something to prove every year. People have been telling me I’m too small of a player, that I can’t play at a certain level, but it’s been that way all my life,” Duncan said.

His small stature might explain why all 30 NHL teams passed on him in recent drafts. Not a single club was willing to take the risk that Duncan might be able to make a difference in the NHL.

So Duncan set out to prove he could not only play with the big boys, but show that he could make an impact as well.

“Just because I didn’t get drafted, it didn’t stop me from doing anything,” Duncan said. “It just gave me motivation. Just go out there, keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully somebody will recognize that and give me an opportunity."

During the 2006-07 season, he put together arguably the most electrifying stats in college hockey, scoring a whopping 31 goals and 26 assists in 43 games at the University of North Dakota. At just 142 pounds, Duncan has the speed and quickness to leave defenders in the dust. By time their eyes can find him, the red light is on and the puck is in the back of the net.

Thanks to a 57-point season, the NCAA took notice and presented Duncan with the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to college hockey’s most valuable player.

“It kind of snuck up on me. I didn’t really expect that,” Duncan said. “Obviously, it comes from playing with great players like T.J. Oshie and Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks’ first round selection, third overall in 2006). They make the great plays, allow me to fly under the radar and then the chips just kind of fell into place for me.

“Things just worked out. (Winning the Hobey Baker) was an amazing honor. I’m not sure I deserve it, but it’s an amazing feeling and I can’t thank the people who voted for me enough.”

With his name engraved on a shiny new statue, the NHL began to take notice. Duncan was offered several free agent contracts, but turned down each one of them in favor of staying at North Dakota to take a run at a national championship.

But when Blues coach Andy Murray called to invite him to the Blues Prospect Development Camp in July, Duncan couldn’t resist the opportunity to get a small taste of the NHL.

“When you’re looking at players that weren’t drafted and inviting them to camp, the first thing you want to take a look at is if you think they have a chance to make your team,” Murray said. “If you take a look at Ryan in that particular case, he just won the Hobey Baker, he’s got a tremendous shot and he’s a good competitor.”

What made the deal even sweeter is that Oshie, a Blues draft selection in 2005 and Duncan’s linemate and best friend, would be participating at Development Camp as well.

Ryan Duncan was presented with the Hobey Baker trophy in April. It is awarded to college hockey's most outstanding player (Photo by Mark Buckner).
“I don’t think you could ask for a better situation than being down here with one of my best friends and one of my linemates,” Duncan said after a hard skate in mid July. “It just so happened that we’re rooming here, and it’s both of our first experience with prospect camps, so sometimes that’s kind of a nerve-wrecking thing.”

Nerve-wrecking or not, getting Duncan to camp was beneficial for both Duncan and the Blues. For Duncan, he gets a chance to see how he stacks up against the pros, while Blues management gets a look at what Duncan is capable of against stiffer competition.

“We have a chance to see him and he has a chance to see us,” Blues President John Davidson said about inviting Duncan to participate. “If things progress, who knows where it’s going to go. Maybe something becomes part of the future with both sides.”

For now, Duncan plans to head back to North Dakota and take aim at the national title, but small stature and critics aside, playing in the NHL is his ultimate long term goal.

“You can’t really listen to (critics) too much. You can’t really focus on the naysayers because they’ll bring you down and you won’t be able to play your game properly,” he said. “I’ve always had confidence in myself and I’ve always believed in myself, so it doesn’t really matter what other people say about me. I’ll let my play do the talking for me.”

And that’s exactly what Duncan has done.

There’s nothing small about that.
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