By Adam BradyEditor's Note: This story also appears in the February 21 and 24 issues of Ducks Gameday, available for free at every Ducks home game.
Getting traded away from the defending Stanley Cup champs just six months after they acquired him certainly wasn’t something to be expected, but Ryan Garbutt has learned to take nothing for granted in this game.
After all, the 30-year-old grinder didn’t get his first taste of the NHL until he was 26, an advanced age in a league where players are typically drafted in their late teens and often make their debuts in their early 20s. But the Edmonton native went undrafted after two offensively prolific seasons with the now-defunct Winnipeg South Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and plied his trade over four years of college hockey at Ivy League school Brown University.
|“You realize when the puck drops for 60 minutes, it’s a battle. And especially in the playoffs, it ramps up that much more. Once you change teams, and you get to know guys, you realize there is nothing that guys take off the ice.” |
From there he put in time with the likes of the Corpus Christi Ice Rays and Gwinnett Gladiators before finally climbing his way to the show in a 20-game rookie stint with the Dallas Stars in 2012. It was a long road, but as Garbutt says, “I always thought if I got to this level, I would stay here.”
He did just that, playing three more seasons in Dallas, which included a 17-goal campaign in 2013-14 and a bitter playoff battle with the Ducks (more on that later). Last summer the Stars traded him to Chicago with defenseman Trevor Daley in exchange for longtime Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp, who was just coming off his third Stanley Cup with the franchise.
Garbutt was brought in to provide some grit and glue to the Blackhawks lineup, and even got a look on the team’s top forward line, but it took him 17 games to score his first goal of the season. By the team’s 50th, he was dealt to Anaheim in exchange for Jiri Sekac, who similarly hadn’t gotten it going offensively in Anaheim.
“It definitely was a surprise,” Garbutt said of the trade, which he learned about early in the morning of January 21. “It wasn’t something I was expecting. But it’s one of those things you look back on it and you can kind of see it was a good change for me, and I’m pretty fortunate to have an organization who wanted to have me and took a chance on me.”
Coincidence or not, the Ducks are 9-1-1 since acquiring Garbutt, who was part of a pretty good winning streak in Chicago when he was dealt. Between the two, Garbutt's teams have gone 21-1-1 in his last 23 games played.
The Ducks were already playing good hockey before Garbutt's arrival, but GM Bob Murray stressed the team’s need to add a little so-called sandpaper and saw a good fit in Garbutt. "We've played against Ryan enough to know what kind of player he is,” Murray said. “He's a good skater who plays hard and plays on the inside. Our team definitely needs to play a little harder, and a little more on the inside."
The deal raised a few eyebrows among Ducks fans who well-remembered contentious battles with Garbutt over the years, notably in the First Round of the 2014 playoffs between Anaheim and Dallas. In Game 3 of that series, Garbutt had a violent collision with Stephane Robidas that resulted in a broken leg for the Ducks defenseman. In Game 5, he speared Corey Perry and was sent to the showers with a game misconduct.
|“My first job is to help the team with whatever they need me to do. I come to the rink to play hard and play with speed. It's those intangibles I bring every day. If I'm being hard to play against, I know I'm doing my job.” |
Garbutt insists there was no animosity when he first met up with the Ducks in Washington D.C., in the middle of the team’s three-game road trip. “Honestly, there wasn’t,” he says. “It’s one of those things when you play in this league for awhile, you see the quality of guys there are on every team.
“You realize when the puck drops for 60 minutes, it’s a battle. And especially in the playoffs, it ramps up that much more. Once you change teams, and you get to know guys, you realize there is nothing that guys take off the ice.”
And while Garbutt will never light up the scoreboard like Perry, there are similarities in their games – you love them when they’re on your side and hate them when they’re not. “That’s one of those things about playing against Corey,” Garbutt says. “He can frustrate you when you’re playing against him, but it’s nice to be on the other side of that for sure.”
Garbutt certainly endeared himself early on, scoring the game-winning goal in his first home game (a 3-2 victory over San Jose) and doing the same two nights later in LA (a 4-2 win over the Kings). He has three goals and an assist in his first 11 games as a Duck, including an impressive 17.6 shooting percentage, all while maintaining the work ethic that got him to this level and kept him here.
“If you’re playing on the bottom six [forwards] on an NHL team, you’ve got to find a way to chip in and be effective,” Garbutt says. “If you’re not being offensive, you’ve got to make sure you’re doing the other stuff as well.”
For Garbutt, that’s a grinding, passionate and sometimes violent style that has occasionally brought the ire of opposing fans. That once included the Anaheim faithful, who will undoubtedly grow to love Garbutt the more they see him flying around the rink, banging off of bodies while wearing a Ducks sweater. (Heck, the last time the Ducks brought in a bruiser who attended an Ivy League school, George Parros became one of the most popular players in franchise history.)
“My first job is to help the team with whatever they need me to do,” Garbutt says. “I come to the rink to play hard and play with speed. It's those intangibles I bring every day.
“If I'm being hard to play against, I know I'm doing my job.”