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Garbutt having impressive impact after long path to NHL

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

It may have taken him a bit longer than usual to make it here, but that just makes it even sweeter for Ryan Garbutt.

Following his recall from AHL Texas on Feb. 17, the 26-year-old right winger has fit in well on Dallas’ fourth line, providing a major injection of fresh energy to the club in the 11 games he’s skated in.  

The gritty Garbutt even scored his first NHL goal Feb. 21 in Montreal, one that stood up as the game-winner, and has recorded a +1 plus/minus rating while averaging 8:50 of ice time.  He’s also delivered 35 hits for an impressive average of 3.2 per game, and taken 18 face-offs, going 7-11 on those draws.  

And when Steve Ott was forced out of the lineup during Thursday night’s 4-3 shootout win over San Jose, Garbutt was the one moved up to fill his spot on the second line alongside Jamie Benn and Adam Burish

With the expectations and responsibilities ratcheted up a notch, Garbutt fit in well, logging a season-high 12:46 of ice time, firing two shots on goal and delivering three hits.  He also played a key role, driving the net and occupying a defenseman, while Benn scored an important third-period goal that tied the game 2-2.

“I thought he played hard,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan.  “He kept his game simple and went to the net and that’s what we needed.  We needed that tonight.  I thought he did a good job of keeping his game simple.”

“He played good,” Benn added.  “He’s a good player, skates well, he’s really north-south, that’s what we need.  That’s how we’re playing the game right now, just moving the puck forward, chipping and going, and he was a good fit and played well tonight.”

Garbutt acknowledged he was happy for the opportunity, but remained even-keel enough to know he had to continue doing the things that got him to this point.

“It was a great experience for me,” said Garbutt, who also picked up his first NHL penalty, a first period roughing call.  “It’s pretty easy playing with Jamie, he’s a hard worker, really skilled with the puck and he’s always there to support you.  I was still just trying to do the same things I’m good at, not trying to get out of my comfort zone or anything.”

After never being drafted by an NHL team and actually playing a full season with Corpus Christi of the Central Hockey League (the same league that the local Allen Americans and Texas Brahmas play in) just two seasons ago in 2009-10, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Garbutt has come a long way fairly quickly and is determined to make the most of his first taste of the world’s top hockey league.

“It’s been almost surreal, I’ve been waiting a long time for this opportunity and when it comes, you have to take advantage of it,” said Garbutt, who signed with the Stars’ organization in September and compiled 16 goals and 33 points in 50 games at AHL Texas, while leading the squad with 96 penalty minutes, prior to his recall.  “It’s something I’ve just been trying to work hard at every day, I’ve been having fun with it and I’m just enjoying every day, having fun at the rink every day.  I’ve definitely been given a good opportunity here and I’m just trying to take advantage of it the best I can, just keep playing to my strengths and abilities and just keep playing smart on the ice and hopefully I can keep that going here.”

“I thought he’s given us some speed and energy on that fourth line,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said of his newest recruit.

As for his first goal, it could hardly have come at a more special place.  In his third game with the Stars, at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Garbutt, who grew up in Winnipeg but was a Canadiens fan, had his father in the stands when he rifled a lethal wrist shot from the left face-off circle over goaltender Carey Price’s shoulder just under the crossbar.

“That was awesome,” said Garbutt, who led the Stars with six shots on goal in that game.  “I felt like I’d been getting some chances the first couple of games and in Montreal, we had a good forecheck going there off the face-off and it just felt great to put it in the back of the net like that, and a lot of emotion came out.  Hopefully, I can start contributing a little more offensively, but keep working on my defensive game as well.” 

“I was pretty happy for him,” Gulutzan said of Garbutt that night. “His father’s here too, so what a great thing for a young player who has worked his way up from the minors, AA to AAA and now to the NHL, to score a goal here, what a thrill.  And he’s played well for us.”

In addition to the goal in Montreal, Garbutt helped set up a goal for linemate Tomas Vincour in a 3-1 win in Edmonton last Friday by driving to the net, and with 17 shots on goal, Garbutt has closely followed Gulutzan’s mantra of directing pucks to the net whenever possible. 

“I’m just doing what the coaches are telling me, just funneling pucks at the net and using my linemates out there. They make it easier for me, just trying to move my feet and put pucks towards the net and things have been going pretty well.”

Following four years at Brown University, a Division I college not usually known for producing NHLers (count Vancouver’s Aaron Volpatti and Flyers rookie Harry Zolnierczyk among his former teammates to make the big time), Garbutt turned pro in 2009-10 and wound up in Corpus Christi, where he scored 22 goals and 50 points in 64 games, while amassing 204 penalty minutes.

“I had a couple of opportunities to try out for AHL teams and I decided to try out for the Manitoba Moose, in my hometown, and they had a full roster in camp,” Garbutt recounted.  “But it ended up that the GM for the Moose had a good friend coaching down in Corpus Christi and he said he’d been happy to have me, and I played a full season there and just worked on my game every day I was there.”

He took a step up in 2010-11, playing 10 games for ECHL Gwinnett, scoring 10 goals and 17 points, but spent the majority of the season with AHL Chicago, where he totaled 19 goals and 37 points in 65 contests.

And this season, he continued to work on his game at AHL Texas while he watched other forwards such as Vincour, Francis Wathier and Matt Fraser, get promoted ahead of him before his chance finally came.

“It’s just if you have fun doing what you’re doing, good things can happen,” said Garbutt, whose best season at Brown came in his junior year when he recorded 12 goals and 23 points in 29 games.  “I was definitely happy for all the guys going up, happy they got the opportunity and really cheering for them to do well.  We’ve had a lot of good players down in Austin this year, the guys who have been called up definitely deserved it and it’s one of those things where I just look at it, if you just keep working hard down there, you’re probably going to get your chance.  You just got to bide your time.”

With each step up the pro hockey ladder, Garbutt has had to make some adjustments to his game, not the least of which is facing off against bigger, stronger, faster opponents.

“I’ve been trying to adapt to the style of play,” admitted Garbutt.  “It’s a little bit different from playing down in the AHL.  The speed is definitely a step up, everyone’s a lot smarter with the puck, you just get to open spots, the puck just finds your stick and it’s definitely been a step up.  I’ve been happy with how I’ve adjusted so far, hopefully I can keep getting better and do stuff to help the team try and win.”

He’s also had to deal with a fairly significant reduction in ice time, after seeing action on the second line, as well as the power play and penalty killing units, in Texas.

“When I worked my way up to the AHL last year, it’s something I dealt with at the start of the year,” said Garbutt.  “I’m not opposed to playing fourth-line minutes and working hard whenever I get the chance.  You just have to be ready whenever the coach taps you on the back.  It doesn’t matter how many minutes you’re playing, you have to be productive when you’re out there.” 

He has certainly done that so far, and after he was left off the Texas Stars’ ‘Clear Day’ roster, which did include Vincour’s name, it appears likely that he’ll remain in Dallas for the rest of the season because only players on that list can play AHL games the rest of the season. 

“I’m just trying to improve each game and just trying to adjust every game I can, just keep doing the simple things out there,” said Garbutt.  “Every night is a challenge and when you’re playing good teams, you have to be ready to go every night, especially a guy like me.  I just got to work to keep my place in the lineup. I feel like if I keep working hard, keep getting chances, it means I’m playing well.”

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