Over the last three seasons, Derek Ryan has seen his fair share of the Battle of Alberta as a member of the Calgary Flames. Entering the 2021-2022 season, he’ll be dropping the flame on his crest for an oil drop. The Flames opted not to re-sign the savvy veteran, and instead, the Edmonton Oilers scooped him up on a two-year contract.
The Oilers have long-coveted a dependable right-shot centre, someone to play behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. For a short stint, it looked like Ryan Strome was going to fit the bill — until he was infamously traded for Ryan Spooner — by then-general manager Peter Chiarelli. Last season, many believed Kyle Turris would be the answer, but he struggled early and wasn’t able to gain momentum.
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The 34-year-old Ryan may be on the latter half of his career, but he will be a suitable stopgap option as a third-line centre until Ryan Mcleod or someone else emerges as a better option. With a plus-minus of +36 over the past three seasons with the Flames, he’ll be counted on to provide stability in the bottom-six for their provincial rival.
Ryan Will Help With Important Faceoffs
Faceoffs are a very important part of the game — It helps with possession, and it can lead to and prevent goals. The Oilers won 50.4 percent of their faceoffs last season, with Draisaitl leading the way with a 55.7 faceoff percentage (FO%). However, the Oilers have lacked a dependable right-handed centre to win important draws on the right side.
A prime example of that is from last season’s playoff round against the Winnipeg Jets. In Game 3, the Oilers had given up a three-goal lead, and the game went into overtime (OT). In OT, the faceoff was to the right of Mike Smith. Jujhar Khaira, a left-handed shot, was assigned the task of winning the draw, but he was beaten cleanly. The faceoff loss led to a Jets goal, with them winning the game and pulling ahead 3-0 in the series.
In those pivotal moments — with the game on the line and the faceoff on the right side — that’s where Ryan’s skillset will be very important. A right-handed shot, he’ll have an advantage being on his strong side. With an admirable 55 percent FO% in his NHL career, the Oilers will have the benefit of deploying Ryan in those particular situations.
Familiarity & Chemistry
After four seasons playing with the University of Alberta Golden Bears and a short stint in Europe, Ryan’s first crack at the NHL was with the Carolina Hurricanes. While early projections anticipate Ryan to centre the third line between newly acquired forward Warren Foegele and Zack Kassian — he and Foegele are quite familiar with one another.
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The two played together as members of the Hurricanes organization, and in fact, it was Ryan who assisted on Foegele’s first NHL goal. On playing on a line with Foegele, Ryan mentioned:
“I feel like a player like myself — who can carry the puck through the middle — can get him the puck, let him take it to the net, and kind of create offence that way, create energy and spark for the boys on the bench.”
(From “Derek Ryan Q&A : Reliving the University of Alberta Days, Joining the Oilers and Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy”, The Athletic, 9/24/21)
Having familiarity and chemistry, especially with two new players, is a bonus, and it will help the team to have a good start. On top of that, Ryan can have an impact on Kailer Yamamoto’s success this season. Both players are from Spokane, Washington, and have trained together for years. Yamamoto has stated that Ryan has had a big influence on his career, saying, “he’s pretty much like my second dad. I work out with him; I skate with him. I look up to him a lot.”
There’s adversity in the grind of an 82-game season, and the presence of Ryan and his ability to provide mentorship for Yamamoto — who at times struggled last season — will be a huge advantage.
Ryan Will Produce in the Bottom-Six
Over the past few seasons, the Oilers have tried various players in the third-line centre role. From Jujhar Khaira, Gaeten Haas and Riley Sheahan, they all were unable to provide offense on a consistent basis. While Ryan won’t take your breath away with highlight-reel plays, he’s proven to be able to provide a touch of offense, as his career 0.43 points per game (P/G) would suggest.
“They’ve needed some depth in their bottom-six for sure. And I think I’ve proven over my five years here in the NHL that I can provide that. I can provide a solid two-way, depth centreman, winning faceoffs, great PK guy. I can play second PP unit if the opportunity is there. I can contribute five-on-five, putting up points if it’s possible and also being responsible defensively”
(From “Derek Ryan Q&A: Reliving the University of Alberta Days, Joining the Oilers and Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy”, The Athletic, 9/24/21)
Again, Ryan won’t be an offensive dynamo, but he’s shown an ability to put up points over the course of his career. Having a third line that can generate offense will be important in tight-checking games — especially when McDavid or Draisaitl are having the odd night off on the scoreboard.
Ryan is just one of few players that have swapped jerseys between the Alberta teams in recent memory. While Calgary decided not to bring back the centreman, Edmonton looks like the perfect team to accommodate his skillset and intangibles. The two teams will face each other for the first installment of the Battle of Alberta on Oct. 16, 2021 at Rogers Place.