Claude Julien coached Michael Ryder for three years in juniors with the Hull Olympiques (1997-00), one season with the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs (2002-03) and for parts of another two seasons with the Montreal Canadiens. During that span, Ryder scored 128 goals for Julien at Hull; 34 goals in his season in Hamilton and 55 goals in the two seasons they were together in Montreal.
Now they are hoping for more of the same with the Boston Bruins.
"He's a sharpshooter," Julien said Wednesday, in explaining why he lobbied General Manager Peter Chiarelli so hard to sign Ryder, A 28-year-old unrestricted free agent. Ryder, from Newfoundland, has scored 99 goals and added 108 assists in 314 NHL games.
He scored 30 goals in both 2005-06 and 2006-07, but fell out of favor with Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau last season, when he played only 70 games and scored 14 goals.
"It was a tough year for me, stats-wise," Ryder said. "The team did well and I was happy to be part of it. Now, I'll get a chance to play for a team that shows confidence in me and trusts me to be on the ice when I need to be. I'm excited to be here and I can't wait until the season begins."
The Bruins and Canadiens met in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it took seven games for the Canadiens, the Northeast Division winners, to eliminate the Bruins, the No. 8 Eastern Conference qualifier. Ryder thought the Bruins were a much improved team over the course of the season and liked what he saw.
"(My decision) had a lot to do with the playoffs," Ryder said. "They definitely showed they can play. We were favored, but it was tough. The Bruins' style of play seems like a good fit for me. I thought this would be the best thing for me. They want somebody to shoot the puck and I think I can fit that role pretty well."
Julien said Ryder is extremely strong along the boards, cycles well and protects the puck well enough to come out from behind the net to take shots.
"He's gotten better in all the areas which are his forte," Julien said. "One thing he has always done well is he's very good at winning battles along the boards and stepping out into the slot area. He protects the puck very well and he has a great release. Michael has gotten a lot stronger and he can be very physical. He's capable of throwing his weight around and that's why he is a good fit for us. We worked really hard last year in the offensive zone and created chances but I thought one problem was that we weren't getting enough opportunities. He can increase our goal output."
"I haven't talked to the coach or general manager about what line I'm playing on," Ryder said, "but they're going to give me an opportunity to play on the power play. I didn't get to play there that much last year. They see me in that role."
"He's a shooter and the slot area is good for him," Julien said. "I also think he can do well from the half-wall, from where he can take steps toward the net and use that quick release of his. You give him the puck anywhere in the slot and he'll give your team an opportunity to score. That's where he excels the most. You'll see a lot of opportunities for Michael come from that area."
Ryder's durability can't be overlooked. He missed only two games in his first three NHL seasons and sat out only two games last year due to injury. It's been like that since juniors.
"Good genetics," Ryder said with a laugh. "I train well and I know my body, so I know what to work on. I had a herniated disk the year after the lockout."
He played with the injury all season, missed one game and scored 30 goals. That's the kind of work ethic that gets respect from teammates and coaches.
"For some guys, not getting hurt means not getting involved," Julien said. "Michael does get involved. He's in the corners, throwing his weight around. He's taking hits. He is a very durable player and that has been one of the keys for him. He has been able to stay in the lineup. I can tell you he has had some injuries that he just played through."
The signings Tuesday of right wingers Ryder and Blake Wheeler may mean that Glen Murray won't be wearing the Bruins' uniform when the season starts. The Bruins also have Chuck Kobasew and Shawn Thornton at the position and Phil Kessel, sometimes a center, also saw action on the right wing.
"Offensively, Glen is a guy who is a natural goal scorer," Julien said. "So is Michael. What people have to understand is that Michael Ryder doesn't just score goals. He can play in the other areas. He's capable of playing a physical game and he takes care of his own end. He takes those responsibilities very seriously. Michael is a player who can do a lot more than just score goals.
"We need more goals and Michael will provide that. ... We've gotten that from Glen Murray, as well."