Panthers defenseman Mike Van Ryn and Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky fight for the puck along the boards in the Cats game at the Air Canada Centre (Graig Abel)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
Mike Van Ryn admits the past 18 months have been “mentally draining.”
The popular, Panther defenseman has had four wrist surgeries over the past 1 1/2 years, three on his right arm. But the seven-year veteran is finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Van Ryn, who has not played since Nov. 19 and underwent a third surgery on his right wrist Dec. 19, was cleared to begin shooting over the weekend and could return to the lineup by the middle of March.
“I’ll probably begin shooting pucks (this week),” Van Ryn said. “I’ve done a lot of (puck) handling and a little bit of passing. I’ll work on passing a little bit harder (this week) and one-touches and then move into shooting hard.
“My range of motion is really good, my strength is good, and I think I’ve really come a long way. I’ve been skating forever now (so) conditioning should be there as soon as I feel strong enough to shoot and take a little physical play.”
Van Ryn had 37 points in both 2005-06 and 2003-04. In 78 games last season he had 29 points. But Van Ryn’s last two seasons have clearly been compromised by injuries.
“We tried to do what we could to repair it and try to play this year,” said Van Ryn, who’s missed 43 games. “But there was a little more damage than we thought originally. We tried to do what we could, but there were five different things wrong and that’s what made it more complicated. We had to take it slow and make sure it was done right this time so I wouldn’t have to go through this again.”
The surgery in December was performed by Dr. Thomas Graham, a hand specialist and director of the Curtis National Hand Center. Graham has performed surgery on a number of athletes, including Chris Pronger.
“I think we got it right this time,” Van Ryn said. “Dr. Graham did a good job and I felt in good hands with him. It took a lot of time to figure out what was wrong. But it looks how it should now. It eases your mind.
“It hasn’t been easy. You go through lows, you question yourself. But you learn a lot from this, too. This time I’m a lot further ahead. I’m excited. I feel good about things and confident in the people working with me.”