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Hard-working Callahan found way to NHL

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
The journey from youth hockey to the NHL is a long one. Only a tiny fraction of kids who start out with dreams of playing at the game's highest level actually get there. Each of the roughly 700 current NHL players has his own, unique story about the road to hockey's top league, and for Rangers fans, none are more interesting than those involving current Blueshirts.

Road to the Rangers on, takes readers back in time, giving them a sense of what players went through to make it. Hear the player's story in his own words, in his own voice, as he looks back at all the years leading up to his first NHL game. Get a feel for each player's personality as he talks about unpublicized moments that helped him realize the dream of every young hockey player.

Girardi | Dubinsky | Boyle | Staal

Ryan Callahan Ryan Callahan
Each year, the top pro hockey prospects come together at the NHL Entry Draft's host city to learn which team will claim their rights. Not all prospects come to the draft, but those ranked in the Central Scouting top 100 are almost always there, even many who have to come from Europe for such as special moment.

In June 2004, Ryan Callahan was one of those hot draft prospects after a strong season in his draft-eligible year with the Ontario Hockey League's Guelph Storm. He had seemingly emerged from nowhere to score 36 goals in 68 games with Guelph. Not ranked on the Central Scouting midterm report in January, Callahan was No. 77 by season's end. The projection was that he could go as high as the third round at the June 26, 2004, draft in Raleigh, N.C.

Given his surge in the rankings, Callahan and his parents thought about taking a trip to Raleigh from their home in Rochester, N.Y., to be there for the draft. But they ultimately decided to skip the event. The Callahans weren't sure how high Ryan would be drafted, and they were worried that the experience of waiting a long time for his name to be called might be too stressful, if not disappointing.

In his first year of eligibility for the NHL draft 12 months earlier, Callahan hadn't been taken at all. At 19, he was a year older than most of the kids who actually went to Raleigh. He had another reason for worrying about his luck. In 2001, when he was eligible for the OHL draft at age 16, he nearly missed the cut completely -- going to Guelph in the 15th and final round. As far as interest from college recruiters went, there was practially none at all.

So when the Rangers announced that Callahan was their fourth-round pick, No. 127 overall, Callahan was home in Rochester and unvailable to pose with the other draftees who had made the trip to North Carolina, even though some of those players were ranked much lower and also selected after Callahan.

Ironically, the teen who wasn't even in Raleigh would become the very first of the Rangers 13 draft picks from 2004 to play in the NHL. On Dec. 1, 2006, in Buffalo -- just down the road from his hometown -- Callahan skated for the Rangers in an overtime shootout loss to the Sabres. He was eventually returned to Hartford and did not get his permanent call-up to the NHL until March 16, 2007. He returned in a big way, however, scoring two goals in an unforgettable 7-0 St. Patrick's Day victory over Boston at Madison Square Garden.

Nearly 200 NHL games later, Callahan is the Blueshirts' alternate captain at age 24 and a player repeatedly praised by the coaching staff for his maturity and understanding of what it means to be a professional. Blueshirts fans love Callahan, too, for his relentless work ethic, aggressive style of play and complete lack of fear. These are part of his makeup not just as a player, but as a person, and were even noticed by the scouts who prepared a report for Central Scouting more than five years ago.

"Most of his points came from his drive and determination in going to prime scoring areas in the offensive zone," the 2004 report read. " ...He will not be intimidated when confronted in a tough, physical game.

There's no question those scouts were watching the player that skates for the Rangers today.

Between his draft year and his NHL debut, Callahan represented Team USA at the 2005 World Junior Championships, had a 52-goal season as an overage player for Guelph in 2005-06 and then scored 35 goals in 55 points with Hartford in 2006-07.

Callahan had been given the option to join the Wolf Pack in 2005, but chose to remain in the OHL for an overage season he dominated with his 52 goals and 84 points in 62 games. He said that difficult decision to remain in Guelph one extra year before turning pro is one of the best moves he has made as a hockey player.

Here is Callahan's story, in his own words:

Click on the links below to hear Callahan (Windows Media Player is required)
PART 1: Early life in hockey, NHL dreams and developing his work ethic.
PART 2: The path to major-junior hockey and entering the OHL with Guelph.
PART 3: Playing in Guelph and starting to be noticed by NHL scouts.
PART 4: Memories of draft day and being taken by the Rangers in 2004.
PART 5: Playing one extra junior season, then entering the pro game.
PART 6: Getting called up to the NHL and playing in his first NHL game.

Ryan Callahan Ryan Callahan Ryan Callahan
Playing in the '05 World Junior tourney.
With Guelph during the 2005-06 season.
A member of the Wolf Pack in 2006-07.
Ryan Callahan Ryan Callahan
Between two greats in his first game at MSG on Dec. 19, 2006.
Scoring first NHL goal against Boston on St. Patrick's Day, 2007.
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