By Adam Brady
When Ryan Garbutt was acquired from Chicago last January 21, the deal left a lot of Ducks fans admittedly skeptical.
After all, Garbutt played a prominent role in some combative encounters with Ducks players 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.
It wasn’t out of character for Garbutt, who was a late bloomer in his hockey career – not making the NHL until the age of 26 – and has maintained a foothold in the league with a grinding, gritty and sometimes gear-grinding style of play.
But this is hockey, not high school, so when Garbutt joined the Ducks on the road right after the trade, he was unsurprisingly welcomed with open arms. “It’s one of those things when you play in this league for awhile," he said, "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.”
It didn’t take long for Garbutt to endear himself to teammates and fans, maintaining that relentless and hard-hitting approach while also chipping in offensively enough to show why he spent some time on the top scoring line in Chicago. Garbutt also was a part of a remarkable win streak. The day he was traded from the Blackhawks, they were in the middle of a 12-game winning streak and happened to lose later that night. His first game with the Ducks was January 23, near the start of an incredible streak in which the Ducks went 17-1-1, making Garbutt part of 29-1-1 run with the two teams.
Coincidence or not, there was little doubt Garbutt brought energy to a Ducks team that desperately needed it at the time, something Executive VP and General Manager Bob Murray emphasized at the time of the deal that sent winger Jiri Sekac to the Windy City.
"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."
Garbutt finished with five goals in 37 games in Anaheim, and he added another goal during the playoffs while bringing the kind of intangibles that are vital in the postseason.
“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. If I'm being hard to play against, I know I'm doing my job.”
Garbutt’s lone goal during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs was a big one in a 5-2 Anaheim victory in Game 5 against the Predators. The Ducks went ahead for the first time in that game late in the second period when Garbutt won a battle with Mike Fisher and Shea Weber for the puck in the corner and tucked it inside the right post from behind the net.
"I was just trying to put it on net as quickly as possible," Garbutt said. "I’ve scored a couple of goals like that before where you just try to put the puck on net from a bad angle. Sometimes you can catch the goalie off the post a bit. I was lucky for that."
Garbutt also had three hits, a plus-2 rating and was named the game's First Star.
The Ducks have had a handful of free agent forwards depart this offseason, and Garbutt has one year remaining on a three-year contract. So he appears to be relied on once again as a depth forward for the Ducks, a role he has embraced.
“If you’re playing on the bottom six 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.”
Garbutt, a graduate of Brown University, will undoubtedly keep bringing the kind of passion and energy that will only further ingratiate himself with the Ducks faithful. After all, the last time the Ducks brought in an Ivy League bruiser, George Parros became one of the most popular players in franchise history.