Derek Ryan’s journey to the NHL is an admirable one, and his current success with the Carolina Hurricanes signals a change in the hockey club’s culture.
The doctor is in. Derek Ryan had his second career multi-goal game last night against the St. Louis Blues. He started the scoring only 69 seconds into the game with a surgical wrist shot and then sealed it late in the 3rd period. The Carolina Hurricanes were propelled by Ryan and his line to a 4-2 victory.
Derek Ryan has been a pleasant surprise for the Carolina Hurricanes this season. Besides chipping in offense, Ryan has shown that Carolina’s team culture is becoming more positive than with previous years. There has finally been a change in the Hurricanes narrative and Ryan is a big part of it.
When Ron Francis took over the team, he mentioned altering the team’s identity. Specifically, he said he wanted big bodies who can skate. That formula has shown itself in the draft, but not as much in the team just yet. Instead, behind the scenes, Francis has totally reversed course in regards to the front office culture of the franchise.
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The thing that has noticeably changed with the Hurricanes is the quality of their player acquisitions. Before Francis, every year, Jim Rutherford would sign a free agent or two with very little upside, hoping that he could fill in a hole that those guys would never be able to do. Think of an Anthony Stewart, an Alexei Ponikarovsky, or a Tomas Kaberle. None of these players were the right fit.
For years, like players were thrown out there in a Canes uniform, providing the team with little return. In many cases, these players were asking for more money than they probably deserved and couldn’t get it anywhere else but Carolina. Or they saw Carolina as a last result. Seriously, so many players ended their NHL careers with a tough final season in Carolina. This began to change though with Francis at the helm and Ryan is a great example of that culture shift.
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Ryan could have gone to any NHL team. As the most valuable player of the Swedish Hockey League in 2015, he had options a plenty in North America. He selected Carolina. A lot of that has to do with Bill Peters being his old junior hockey coach, but lot also has to do with Francis pitching the club and area well. This hasn’t been the only surprise free agent acquisition either. Andrew Poturalski, the Charlotte Checkers highest scoring player at the moment, was another coveted free agent that picked Carolina after his brilliant career at the University of New Hampshire.
It is not just that these players are now seeking out Carolina as a real option, but they are also being successful in their new situations. As said, Poturalski is leading the Checkers in scoring, the free agent signings of Lee Stempniak and Viktor Stalberg have been exceptional offseason moves, and of course Derek Ryan is a stud right now. You’d probably be surprised to know he leads the Canes in scoring since early December.
In the league, there is so much talk about a ‘winning culture’. It’s hard to pin down what that is. Chicago has it. Pittsburgh has it. How do you get it? If there was an answer to that question, everyone would have a winning culture. For the Canes, they look like their getting there. While the team is still looking for more wins, the culture in the front office and locker room is changing rapidly.
Gone is story of overrated free agents and less than prudent signings. Carolina is writing a new narrative; The Derek Ryan Story. It’s a great tale about how if players want to be successful, they can with the Hurricanes. Now that’s a story worth reading. Derek Ryan has come in and injected Carolina with new life. That’s just what the doctor ordered.