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Ryan eager to paint a picture for Leafs

by Jonas Siegel /
LONDON, Ont. -- Kenny Ryan is happy to paint.

He'll lay bricks if that's what it takes to make it in the NHL.

"If I'm going to make it in this game, I know that I'm not going to be putting up 50 goals," Ryan laughs. "I mean maybe I will, who knows?"

The Toronto Maple Leafs' prospect and current Windsor Spitfire forward is well educated on General Manager Brian Burke's mantra for building teams and is eager to pitch in whatever role the organization envisions.

"Brian Burke always talks about [how] he's got his top six and his bottom six," Ryan says. "He's got his bricklayers and painters and I think if I'm going to play in this organization, I'm going to be a third line type of guy, a hard-nosed player, get under guys skin and put a couple points up."

A second-round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft (No. 50), the 19-year-old Ryan scored 14 goals as a rookie with the Memorial Cup winning Spitfires last season, that after two years with the U.S. National Development Team program.

Joining fellow prospects at the annual Leafs rookie tournament in London, Ontario, Ryan is out to prove his worth as a contributor in all facets of the game. The Michigan native did just that against the Blackhawks rookies in the opening game of the tournament Saturday night, scoring once in a 6-3 win.

"Kenny was solid [Saturday night]," said Dallas Eakins, head coach of the Leafs rookies. "I was able to use him in lots of different situations and he responded. He made a great play on the goal there tonight; he was in tight and made a nice play to get it back past the goalie."

After committing to Boston College prior to last season, Ryan decided early in his commitment that the junior game was better suited to his growing his talents, thus leaving college for Windsor. While he admits that the decision to leave BC was difficult, Ryan says the opportunity to play in the Ontario Hockey League with the highly esteemed Spitfires was one he couldn't turn down. Looking back at the decision less than a year later, he remains pleased.

"Obviously it was a tough decision," Ryan said. "I have a lot of respect for Boston College. Going to Windsor was definitely a personal decision with my family. If you're not going to college, playing juniors, I think it's very beneficial. You're playing a lot more games, you're playing against guys who are going to be playing pro hockey next year, whether it's the NHL or the AHL. You learn a lot more about the game, how it gets faster as you go up levels. It's really exciting to be here [in London]."

Transitioning to the rigorous demands of the junior hockey schedule wasn't easy for the 6-foot, 204-pound Ryan.

"I think last year, I came a little bit late," he said. "I was probably 16 games late into the season. I think I still ended up playing right around 80 games. We went all the way to the Memorial Cup. It was a great experience. I think in college you play right around 40 games, 45 depending on what kind of team you have, and it wears on your body a lot [making the transition to pro hockey]. The first month or two that I was on Windsor, I really had to learn how to treat my body after games and what to do on off-days because I wasn't used to that type of schedule."

With plenty of change in the air -- following the departure of Taylor Hall to the Edmonton Oilers and leading scorer Justin Shugg to the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors -- Ryan is expected to play a greater role in Windsor this season.

"He puts high expectations on himself which is great," Jim Hughes, the Leafs' director of player development said. "He's physically strong and he expects to have big year in Windsor this year. I suspect he'll get some special-team time on the power play, penalty kill, more so than he had last year and he's up for that challenge."

"They had an unbelievable '90 birth year that was there for four years," Ryan adds, "and with all those guys leaving its going to give the '91, '92 birth years a lot of opportunity to play a lot and be successful. That's very exciting to be able to step into that role and hopefully things will go well. You're given an opportunity and you want to play well."

Ryan credits his experience with the USNDT as a crucial step forward in his development.

"I played there for two years and probably one of the best decisions I made was to go play there," he says of the program which also housed fellow Leafs rookie Jerry D'Amigo. "It's unbelievable the training they have on and off the ice. You're going to school with the guys you play hockey with. You're traveling all around the world playing other countries for World Championships."

Long-time Red Wing Darren McCarty was the apple of Ryan's childhood hockey eye, but more recently Ryan points to fellow American and current Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler, no surprise when you consider Kesler's acumen at both ends of the rink.

"I admire how he plays a lot," Ryan says. "He can put some points up, but also he's probably one of the most reliable guys in the NHL [as a] two-way player. That's the kind of player that I want to be someday."

The Leafs should hope so.



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