TORONTO- Leafs prospect and current Toronto Marlies forward Kenny Ryan is 11 games into his first professional season of hockey and to this point he would say it has gone just as planned.
“It’s going well so far,” he said after Tuesday’s skate at the MasterCard Centre. “Obviously it’s a big transition for me coming from juniors but for the most part I’ve done well.”
In 2009, the Leafs drafted the 20 year old native of Franklin, Michigan in the second round, 50th overall.
At the time, he was 18, had completed his stay with the U.S National Under-18 Team and was committed to attend Boston College.
He even suited up in an exhibition game with them before the season started in the fall, but that October he made a choice that stunned the school; it also helped to fast-track his career.
“The U.S. National program is only a two year program,” Ryan said. “After that I was committed to Boston College but I decided to go to Windsor. That was a long discussion and process but it was probably one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Instead of taking the college path to the pros, the young American crossed the border from Detroit to Windsor and suited up with the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires.
“I don’t know if I’d be this far along in my career right now if it wasn’t for the opportunities I had there,” said Ryan with confidence before adding, “It prepared me. Playing I think it was 68 games in a junior season, playoffs, game sevens, all those scenarios in juniors are great.”
On top of everything Ryan mentioned about the benefits of coming north, playing with the Spitfires also gave him an opportunity to learn another position. And, now being a duel player, Ryan is making the most of it with injuries at both positions for the Marlies.
“I played my junior career at centre but I grew up playing wing,” said Ryan about one of the biggest changes he had to make at the junior level. “I think I’m pretty good at both of them now and can hold my own, at least. Right now wherever I can play the most is where I will play. Biggest thing for me right now is getting in the line up and being an impact player, doing what I can to play as much in the games and get more ice time.”
While starting the season in and out of the line up, recently Ryan has suited up in seven consecutive games. One by one he’s starting to scratch off first’s from the to-do list; first goal, first penalty, first fight etc.
The Marlies could have sent Ryan back to the OHL as an over-ager, like they did with Jamie Devane, but they have kept him a quarter of the way into the season because they feel he is ready for pro hockey from his experiences with the Spitfires.
It isn’t that college doesn’t work but, unlike junior, you need to balance athletics with academics while only playing 30-35 game seasons. Plus, if you wanted to graduate, you would be 22 before ever getting to play pro.
“College hockey is great and a lot of benefits come from it,” said Ryan. “But, it’s not for everyone and for me personally, that was a decision I made and I’ve never looked back on it.”