An argument can be made that the player most positively impacted by the coaching change for the Edmonton Oilers is Derek Ryan. We’ve seen him put in a position to succeed on the wing which takes the pressure off of him playing down the middle.
As his opportunities offensively grow, so does his confidence which is extremely important for a player that had a sub-par beginning to his career in Edmonton. Ryan and his linemates are working great together and it has given Jay Woodcroft the effective third line and depth scoring that every team needs to be successful, while also being able to evenly distribute the minutes.
Ryan’s elevated play couldn’t come at a better time, as the Oilers are right in the thick of the playoff race in a tight division and conference. Part of the reason for the turnaround could be put on Woodcroft, but it comes down to the player in the end. Maybe he needed a different voice or perspective to get his mind back to the type of player he was, or a look with new linemates and not on the fourth line playing inconsistent minutes.
Success of the Third Line
Since Woodcroft has taken over as head coach, he has run 11 forwards and seven defencemen for the nine games he’s been behind the bench. That has given the deeper lineup with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins a chance to run their own lines and allow the Oilers to have a scoring threat on the ice at almost all times.
Instead of loading up the top two lines, the Oilers have been able to play the third line almost just as much and keep them as engaged. The newly formed third line immediately put in work, as the five-on-five production increased and the wins started coming.
It took the line a game to get going, but it was followed up by production from each of them for the following three games. Ryan recorded a goal and three assists in the following three games. It has also done wonders for the goals for and against that he is on the ice for at even strength, playing at a plus-seven in the past nine games after having the worst plus/minus on the team at minus-12 before that. It’s crucial to not only be effective in producing points, but also in keeping pucks from going in your own net when on the ice.
Confidence Level of Ryan Through the Roof
Despite Nugent-Hopkins being out of the lineup due to an injury and Warren Foegele elevated to the top line, Ryan has had two impressive games against very tough opponents. He scored the first hat trick of his career and was the oldest player in Oilers history at the time of his first hat trick (35y, 59d). He is also the eighth oldest player in NHL history at the time of his first hat trick. He then followed that performance against the Florida Panthers up with the lone goal in their game vs the Carolina Hurricanes. Not only did he score his fourth goal in two days, but Ryan also hit the post and had a breakaway while continuing to be all over the ice. He has been the story the past two games for the Oilers and looks to continue the recent success when it’s needed the most.
Woodcroft has given him even more of a chance, as Ryan was given time on the first power-play unit in the absence of McDavid in the first, Nugent-Hopkins, and Jesse Puljujarvi. I used to question why Ryan was being given power play time in the first half of the season when he had scored four goals in the first 47 games, but he has matched that total in the past two games.
Ryan used to be a player that shot the puck a bit more, and the points used to follow. In his final year playing for the Calgary Flames and this year in Edmonton, he has averaged less than a shot per game. Over the past four games, his confidence in his shooting ability has grown, recording 10 shots in total and at least two per game. It’s not unrealistic to think he can score 15 to 20 goals this season at the rate he is going and the position he is in to succeed. His career highs were 15 goals and 38 points. It would give him a better chance to put up those numbers if Nugent-Hopkins was healthy and Foegele was also on his line, but he will and has made due in the two games with the lines all shuffled up.
There may not be a time in Ryan’s career where he was more confident with his game and with the puck. He has the work ethic and ability to finish, and he has never had as good of a line and opportunity as he has in Edmonton with Nugent-Hopkins and Foegele. Ryan’s 17.4 shooting percentage may be unsustainable for a career, but he may be able to keep it up for the remaining 29 games.
As the only right-shot centerman on the team, it gives the Oilers options not only on the third line but also the team. His winning percentage in the draw is also stellar at 57.9 percent. He can kill penalties and is reliable defensively.
Ryan Took the Long Route to the NHL
It took Ryan until he was 29 years old to finally play a game in the NHL, suiting up for the Hurricanes in 2015-16. He played in six different leagues over 13 years before getting into six games of NHL action, scoring two goals.
His career started with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League (WHL) where he played three full seasons. His offensive numbers weren’t the greatest, which didn’t get him the attention in the draft. He jumped over to the Kalamazoo Wings of the United Hockey League for the playoffs in the final year the league was running.
Ryan then opted to go to university at the University of Alberta, playing for four years and started to make a name for himself. Unfortunately for him, universities in the U.S. get more attention when it comes to hockey, so after his four years, he went overseas to play in Austria for three years and then the Swedish Hockey League for one. That finally earned him the attention he needed after playing at well over a point per game in his final three seasons to earn him a contract with the Hurricanes where he also impressed for the Charlotte Checkers.
Despite putting up over a point per game numbers in some of the other leagues, Ryan is in the best and most competitive league in the world right now showing what he can bring when he’s a confident player.
This is the sixth consecutive season Ryan is an NHL-regular and having already worked hard on his defensive game when his offensive numbers weren’t there, now that the production has picked up, he is worth every bit of the $1.25 million he’s being paid.
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Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
You can find more of his work here.