The newest member of the New York Rangers organization wasted no time reporting for duty on Thursday.Ryan Callahan
, a 21-year-old right wing named the Ontario Hockey League's top overage player in 2005-06, agreed to his first NHL contract with the Blueshirts on Wednesday afternoon. By that evening, he was on his way to Portland, Maine, to join the Hartford Wolf Pack for the American Hockey League's Atlantic Division Finals.
On Thursday, Callahan practiced with the Wolf Pack in preparation for tonight's Game 5 of the series against the Portland Pirates, which is currently tied 2-2. Although he is not expected to play in Game 5 tonight at Cumberland County Civic Arena, Callahan could see action later in the series or the next round of the playoffs.
An OHL All-Star and captain of the Guelph Storm, Callahan has been one of the Rangers' brightest prospects for the past two seasons. A native of Rochester, N.Y., Ryan was drafted by the Blueshirts with their fourth-round pick in the talent-rich 2004 NHL Entry Draft, which could go down in history as one of the team's best ever. Callahan is already the sixth member of that draft class to sign.
Callahan completed his four-year OHL career as Guelph's all-time career goals leader with 130, breaking NHL star Jeff O'Neill's previous record of 120 and also surpassing Todd Bertuzzi's career total of 116 goals. His remarkable 2005-06 season began with a natural hat trick in his first game back from the Rangers' training camp and included three more hat tricks and 13 total multi-goal games.
With 52 goals, Callahan placed fourth in the OHL in scoring in 2005-06. He also tied for sixth in the league's playoff scoring race with 24 points in 13 games. As a 20-year-old overage junior, he was eligible for the Leo Lalonde Trophy, which he won despite missing the first eight games of the regular-season. He was also recognized in the 2005-06 OHL Western Conference Coaches Poll, finishing in the top three for the "Smartest Player," "Most Dangerous in the Goal Area" and the "Best Defensive Forward."
Callahan entered the OHL in 2002 after playing junior hockey with the Buffalo Lightning and the Rochester Junior B Americans. Initially, he considered going the college route but when the opportunity to play major junior arose, he jumped at the chance to go to Canada.
"I just thought it would be the right experience for me," Callahan said. "I definitely had a great time in Guelph, so I was really happy with my decision."
In addition to his years in major junior, Callahan played on Team USA in the 2005 World Junior Championships in North Dakota and Minnesota. He scored a goal and had two assists in helping the U.S. finish fourth overall in that tournament. One of his World Junior teammates was fellow Rangers prospect and 2004 draftee Al Montoya.
In Hartford, Callahan rejoins Montoya, currently out with an injury, as well as former Guelph teammates Dan Girardi
and Ryan MacDonald, who recently signed an amateur tryout contract with the Wolf Pack. With so many familiar faces, Callahan said he feels right at home in his new surroundings.
"I've met a lot of guys from playing in Guelph and from training camp last fall," said Callahan. "I'm coming into an environment where I think I know a lot of the people. The hardest part now is that the speed of the game is going to be changed so much for me. Now I'm going to be playing against men. I haven't been on the ice in a week and a half, so I'll just try to get back in playing shape and take it from there."
Signing his new contract was a thrill for Callahan, who said he was looking forward to this moment ever since the Rangers called his name at the 2004 draft in Raleigh, N.C.
"I always liked the Rangers, being from New York state," Callahan said. "So when I got drafted by them I was very excited. It's such a classy organization and it's an honor to be part of it."