All signs point to Rangers prospect Ryan Gropp making the jump to the professional ranks this upcoming season after a standout campaign with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League.
“I think I’m ready. 100 percent I can make that jump,” Gropp said in a recent telephone interview with BlueshirtsUnited.com from his home in Kamloops, British Columbia.
Looking at Gropp’s numbers over the last 11 months since he was taken 41st overall in the 2015 NHL Draft it’s easy to see why the youngster feels that way.
Gropp, 19, posted 34 goals and 36 assists for 70 points in 66 games for the Thunderbirds, all of which were career-bests. He had 12 power play goals and six game-winning goals.
But that isn’t what Gropp is most pleased with. The stats are nice, but the winger said he was happy with how he grew his game in areas that won’t show up on the scoresheet.
“I was really happy with how the season went,” Gropp admitted. “I really grew as a player. I became more of a two-way player, a more responsible player.
“That was the biggest thing for me,” Gropp said of last season. “I wanted to improve my two-way play and my play in my own zone.” He added that he focused on his back checking and being hard on pucks along the boards.
The 6-foot-2, 189-pounder exploded down the stretch for Seattle. From January 9 through the end of the season, Gropp had eight multi-point games, including one four-point performance that included a hat trick, as well as two separate seven-plus game point streaks. Gropp posted 20 points in a 13-game span from February 8 through March 5.
Gropp, though, suffered broken ribs and missed the opening-round and most of the second of the WHL playoffs, something he used as a learning experience.
“It was hard. It was different,” Gropp recalled. “I broke my ribs. It was tough.” The forward said that he got to view the game from a different angle and see things he wouldn’t have on the ice. “It really gave me some time to reflect on my game and how the game was going.”
Gropp picked up right where he left off once he returned to action late in the second-round against Everett, notching a goal and an assist in his return on April 15. Gropp would register six goals — including two game-winners — and nine points in 11 postseason games, helping the Thunderbirds reach the WHL championship.
“I think obviously if you can show that you can produce in the playoffs, it’s a big upside for you,” Gropp said. “If you can show you can produce at the toughest time of the year, it can really boost you as a player and show you’re a player and you really want to make a difference.”
With the playoffs — and potentially his junior career — behind him, Gropp said he’ll use the summer to train and get stronger for what he hopes is a professional career starting in September with training camp.
If it is the pro ranks, Gropp said he isn’t complacent just being another player, but rather wants to make an impact right from the start.
“I want to make an impact at the next level,” Gropp said, adding the only way to do that is a strong summer of training. “I definitely want to make that jump as soon as I can.”
Gropp said this summer is a big moment in his career, one that he doesn’t want to waste.
“Me being able to make the jump to pro hockey is huge,” Gropp said. “You don’t want to miss that opportunity. You want to be as ready as possible.”