Last week Ryan Graves, the Rangers 20 year old prospect playing in his rookie pro season with the Hartford Wolf Pack in the American Hockey League, was selected to play in the 2016 AHL All Star Game, the lone Wolf Pack representative and one of only two rookies selected from the Eastern Conference.
The 6-foot-5 defenseman is tied for the goal-scoring lead among Wolf Pack blueliners with three so far this season and his 11 points are third among Hartford defensemen. Graves also has picked up 27 penalty minutes in 37 games played and has been extremely solid and poised, according to assistant coach Jeff Beukeboom, in his own end of the ice.
Graves, who was the Rangers fourth round pick (110th overall) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, chatted recently with BlueshirtsUnited.com's Jim Cerny about the All Star honor and his first professional season in Hartford.
BSU: First off Ryan, congratulation on being selected to the AHL All Star Game. What was your initial reaction when you heard the news?
Graves: I was pretty excited and honored to be selected. Obviously I was a little surprised, as well. You never know that something like this is going to happen, but I'm excited and looking forward to the experience.
BSU: What are your expectations for when you arrive for the All Star weekend?
Graves: I'm not really sure how it's going to go. I'm going to go with an open mind and just look to have some fun. There's a skills competition which is always fun, then there's a different format this year with the three-on-three and four-on-four during the game, so I'm sure it'll be exciting for the fans and fun for the players, too.
BSU: Can we expect a breakaway goal from Ryan Graves during the three-on-three?
Graves: (laughing) That would be great if that happened, but I wouldn't count on it!
BSU: You're halfway through your first pro season, so where do you think your game is at compared to when you came to training camp right out of junior this past fall?
Graves: Obviously I want to keep growing and improving as a player as the season goes along. I keep working hard during the season; and there's also a learning curve for me in this league. I'm playing against bigger, faster guys, so I have to try and adjust. We have a pretty young team here in Hartford this year so there are guys in the same situation as me, and we're just trying to get used to it all, learning what it takes to be a good pro.
BSU: Last year your offensive numbers took a big jump from where they had been previously (Graves scored 15 goals in 50 regular season games in the QMJHL and another seven in the post-season). What was the biggest difference for you offensively last season?
Graves: I guess when you are older, it was my fourth year in the league, you tend to have more success and try more things; but really it was a combination of two things. The year before (in 2013-14) I played with a really offensively-minded team in Val-d'Or and I learned a lot from some of the really talented offensive defensemen we had on that team. Then last year (2014-15) playing in Quebec City for (head coach) Philippe Boucher (former NHL defenseman who recorded 300 career points) he helped me a lot. He played in the NHL for a lot of years, was a power play guy who had a lot of points himself. He helped me with technique and my shot and things like when to shoot, where to shoot. He was a huge help to me.
BSU: Do you think your success, both offensively and defensively, plus your great playoff run last spring and the chance to play in the Memorial Cup, all of that really boosted your confidence and set you up for a solid rookie pro season this year?
Graves: Yeah for sure. A big part of hockey is confidence and playing with confidence, and not just confidence in your ability to score points, but confidence in all aspects of your game. It comes from a combination of working hard and experiences like that long playoff run which really helped me grow as a player.