Despite missing the first five weeks of the NHL season due to salary-cap issues, Anaheim Ducks
forward Bobby Ryan
has moved to the head of the 2008-09 rookie class with 17 goals. Ryan is also second among rookies in total scoring with 34 points, four points behind Chicago Blackhawks
forward Kris Versteeg
Ryan is tied for fifth among NHL rookies with a plus-11 rating, and second on the Ducks only to veteran defenseman Steve Montador
's plus-12. Ryan has eight power-play goals, tops among NHL rookies, and two game-winners, tied for third among league newcomers.
His 15 power-play points are tied with St. Louis' Patrik Berglund
for the NHL rookie lead. He also leads NHL rookies with a 19.1 shooting percentage. His 89 shots rank third.
Ryan was named the NHL Rookie of the Month for January after he scored 11 goals, tying him for the League lead with veteran Mike Cammalleri
of the Calgary Flames
. It's the first time an NHL rookie has scored 11 goals in a month since Alexander Ovechkin did it in March 2006.
Ryan was the second pick of the 2005 Entry Draft, behind only Sidney Crosby
. Unlike Crosby, who went directly to the NHL that fall and was runner-up to Ovechkin for the Calder Trophy, Ryan spent two more seasons with the Ontario Hockey League's Owen Sound Attack, and most of the last three seasons with the Portland Pirates in the AHL.
He split last season between the Pirates and the Ducks, playing in 23 NHL games with five goals and five assists. He started this season with the AHL Iowa Chops, where he had nine goals and 10 assists in 14 games before being called up on Nov. 16.
The Ducks knew Ryan belonged in the NHL from the start of the season, but they couldn't fit his salary onto their roster, so he went to Iowa. Ryan said team management was honest about the reasons for his return to the AHL, even if he didn't like it.
"It's tough. Obviously, it was emotional," Ryan said. "The conversation was, 'You're good enough to play at this level, you've kind of made the team, but our hands are tied.' So it was certainly tough. I didn't know whether I was coming back into this organization or going to be moved. They told me they would move me if it came down to that.
"But I was just happy that I came back up in the latest circumstances. Obviously it's tough when a guy goes down, but I guess it's the business side and you roll with it. And it's been great ever since."
Ryan said that while it was disappointing to return to the AHL, he had an obligation to his coaches, teammates and fans there, as well as the parent club.
"I think there's two ways you can look at the situation when it happens," he said. "It would have been easy to sulk and complain or maybe not even report. But at the same time, I had friends on that team, so I was fine going down and putting in the time and the work.
"I had a relationship with the coaches previously, as well. So I knew they would help me by doing everything in their power to get me back to the National Hockey League and I kept my word and they kept theirs. And it was healthy the whole time."
If people weren't sure Ryan was ready in October, there's no doubt now. He has failed to register a point in only seven of his 35 games and has had only five games in which he was a minus player. He's had a lot of success playing on a line with Ryan Getzlaf
"I think a lot had to do with Getzlaf," Ryan said. "I filled in on the power play and with Teemu (Selanne) out as well, I was the guy they were looking forward to getting the shot. With those guys, not just Getzlaf, but Scottie (Niedermayer) and (Chris) Pronger pushing the puck out there, it's easy to get open and finish off one-timers, that's for sure. They all make it easy on you.
"But it's been nice. Obviously those guys are back. Somewhat the role changes a little bit, but I'm excited about the rest of the way in."
Since it had been three years since Ryan was drafted and Crosby had starred for three years in the NHL, taking his team to the Stanley Cup Final, some people thought Ryan might become a trivia question: Who was drafted No. 2 behind Crosby? But he never compared himself to Crosby and thought the pressure on Crosby took pressure off him.
"Everybody's going into that draft kind of knew who was going No. 1," Ryan said. "It was nice for all of us to kind of fly under the radar and not have to deal with as much publicity, I guess, as you would in normal circumstances.
"Sidney certainly deserved all the accolades at that time and still does to this day. It was nice. I was able to keep my anonymity through the whole time and squeeze in the No. 2 spot unnoticed."
Ryan said increased success has drawn increased notice and pressure from other teams. He was banged up pretty good Monday in Anaheim's 3-2 home victory against the Buffalo Sabres
"I've certainly noticed that, over the last four or five games, that's for sure," he said. "But I think last night was more being in the wrong place at the wrong time, three or four times in a row.
"I seemed to skate right into the pile-up a couple times and came out on the worst end of it. But I certainly don't think it was anybody's intention, by any means. (My knee is) a little swollen today. So it will go down, I'm sure, eventually over the next two days. We've got plenty of time before we play again. I'll be making the trip with the team and the trainers will be on top of it."