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Ryan ready for top-six spot with Ducks

by John Kreiser

Bobby Ryan is ready to be more than just the answer to a trivia question.

Ryan forever will be remembered as the player taken after Pittsburgh selected Sidney Crosby with the first pick of the 2005 Entry Draft. But while Crosby has gone on to superstardom, the Ducks still are waiting for Ryan to become a full-time NHL player.

They're hoping that wait is over.

Ryan, now 21, is being counted on to fill a top-six forward slot as the Ducks work to regain the Stanley Cup they won in 2007. Ryan actually scored the Ducks' first goal last season, but ended up with just 5 goals and 10 points in 23 games. He wound up spending much of the season in the American Hockey League, where he was a point-a-game player for the Portland Pirates. But it was his playoff performance, when he scored 20 points in 16 games, which really impressed team management.

"Bobby is huge to our future," Anaheim Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Bob Murray said. "He's had a little growing up to do, but he's gotten there now. There's been a lot of time and effort spent on him.

"His playoffs were outstanding. He turned the corner and carried the team on his back. He's ready to play in the NHL."

One point in Ryan's favor is that, for the first time, the Ducks have a place for him. Unlike Crosby, who went to a rebuilding team, Ryan was taken by a club that was ready to win -- meaning that earning a full-time job was a lot tougher.

"I think a lot of times when people say, 'Why haven't you been a regular in the last two years?'" said Ryan. "I just look at them and say, 'Where the heck was I going to play?' Where were they going to put me that I was really going to get to contribute?

"It's a very professional organization, where if you're a young guy coming in, the older guys take you under their wing. I'm sure not every organization can say that about their veterans. I've been blessed so far to have a good group and a good coaching staff that's made me feel comfortable. This year, hopefully, I get to put a little bit of a base around my career."

Todd Bertuzzi's departure to Calgary leaves a top-six forward spot ready and waiting for Ryan. And with one of the NHL's weakest offenses, they'll need Ryan to produce offensively the way he did in last spring's AHL playoffs.

They're confident he's ready.

"He'll score goals," said Murray. "On the power play, he's outstanding. Those are all huge things in today's game. He's still a little gangly, but power forwards can take some time. He still hasn't grown into his body. He's taken a little more time, but guys like that often do."

Here's a look at some other Pacific Division players being counted on by their teams for big things:

Sean Avery, Dallas Stars -- Les Jackson and Brett Hull, the Stars' co-GMs, decided their business-like team needed a little more of an edge. Not long after free agency opened July 1, they got all the edge they could have wanted by signing left wing Sean Avery away from the New York Rangers.

Controversy has followed Avery, one of the NHL's best talkers, throughout his career, from Detroit to Los Angeles to New York. But the Rangers were a much more successful team with him in the lineup -- 50-26-16 when he played, 9-13-3 when he didn't.

"His skill keeps improving every year," Hull said after signing Avery. "He is feisty and tenacious. Sean has the ability to score and make plays and he is fearless. I think he's a very good complement to Brenden Morrow. We like our team, but the thing I think we were lacking was a little bit of sandpaper and some grit, and we also improved our skill level with Sean."

Avery can drive opponents crazy with his yapping, but he's also fast, skilled and has some scoring touch. Despite missing 25 games with injuries and not getting a lot of power-play time (1:31 per game), Avery had 15 goals and 33 points in just 57 games, along with 154 penalty minutes. In eight playoff games, he had 4 goals, 7 points and 6 penalty minutes.

"He made the Rangers a much better team," Hull said. "In talking to some of the guys on that team, they are very sorry to see him go. He's a great teammate -- he'll do anything for the team. He'll do anything to win."

Jack Johnson, Los Angeles Kings -- Like their Southern California rivals, the Kings are counting on a high pick from the 2005 Draft to play a major role this season.

After the Penguins picked Crosby and the Ducks took Ryan, the Carolina Hurricanes tabbed defenseman Johnson, a one-time teammate of Crosby's at Minnesota prep school Shattuck-St. Mary's, with the third selection. Johnson, who was headed for the University of Michigan, was regarded as the best defenseman in the draft.

But when Johnson opted to play a second season at Michigan, the Hurricanes dealt Johnson to Los Angeles for more immediate help. Johnson turned pro the following spring and played his first full NHL season in 2007-08, scoring 3 goals and 11 points while averaging more than 21 minutes per game before a fractured right foot ended his season prematurely.

Johnson says the foot is healed and that he's eager to take on the extra responsibility that will come with the offseason departures of veteran defensemen Rob Blake and Lubomir Visnovsky.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge of trying to lead the defensive core," Johnson told Inside The Kings. "The challenge here, trying to help lead a NHL team, is something I look forward to. With all of our captains gone, it's time to turn it over to the young guys, with the full youth movement."

Olli Jokinen, Phoenix Coyotes -- The Coyotes have had the greatest center in hockey history on the bench for the past three seasons. Wayne Gretzky is a coach, not a player, and Phoenix has spent its three seasons since his hiring looking for a No. 1 center.

The wait may be over.

In June, the Coyotes sent defensemen Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard to Florida for Jokinen, who will be counted on to provide the kind of offense the Coyotes haven't had in the middle.

Jokinen had 34 goals and 71 points last season -- and that was a down season after 89- and 91 point performances in the previous two.

"For us to be able to come up with a No. 1 center, an all-star, a big body to go against (San Jose's Joe) Thornton and the bigger centers in our division and conference, I just think we got better," Coyotes GM Don Maloney said after making the trade. "Obviously we gave up Keith Ballard, who's a good young player, and Nick Boynton, a solid defenseman, but we just thought this was too good a player to pass up, and now the work's going to be to get more defensive prospects."

Jokinen also takes some pressure off highly touted prospect Kyle Turris, who will be able to get used to the NHL as something other than a No. 1 center. Gretzky knows landing a real No. 1 center is a big boost to his team's playoff hopes.

"At the end of the day we really needed a big centerman," Gretzky said. "We needed a guy that had a presence up front who could play 80 games with Shane Doan ... and have a big solid line."

Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks -- The Sharks made the biggest deadline-day deal last February when they acquired All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell from Buffalo. Campbell had 19 points in 20 games as a Shark and was a key to the late-season surge that carried San Jose to the Pacific Division title.

But Campbell didn't have a great postseason and left for Chicago as a free agent. With a renewed need for an offensive defenseman, the traded for Dan Boyle from Tampa Bay.

The Sharks are counting on Boyle to produce offensively. They also wanted the presence that the lead defenseman from the 2004 Stanley Cup-winning Lightning can bring.

"Dan is one of the elite offensive-minded defensemen in the League today," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said after making the trade. "Being able to acquire an elite player in his prime that has won a Stanley Cup will help this organization get to where we want to go."

Boyle, who turned 32 on July 12, put up 25 points (4-21-25) in 37 games last season. He missed 36 games following surgery to repair a wrist injury suffered during the preseason. This season, he'll play a role similar to the one Campbell did during his short stay, including running the power play.

"He'll be the quarterback for our power play for a long time," Wilson said. "You can hope and wait for people to develop into that role, but he's done it and we expect him to do it here for a long time -- starting now."


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