When it came to his OHL draft year, Ryan Foss was apparently an unlisted number. But after working his way onto the Windsor Spitfires’ roster, in less than a year he’s worked himself into the top 100 North American players for the 2014 NHL Draft.
Foss was ranked 99th by Central Scouting in its latest release, a vindication of sorts for the 6’2”, 170-pound center.
“Obviously, it was pretty heartbreaking at the time. But I used it as motivation and I just wanted to prove people wrong,” he said. “It was just getting into the gym, doing anything I could do to get better and obviously it paid off.
“Going into my draft, I thought I was going to get drafted, but things happen and it didn’t work out. I would have liked to get drafted, but I was a late bloomer, so that’s probably part of the reason why.”
Foss allowed himself a moment to enjoy the experience, but said his focus is on the Windsor Spitfires and their first-round playoff matchup with the Memorial Cup-host London Knights.
“It feels pretty good. Going from not getting drafted [in the OHL] to being on NHL Central Scouting’s list is a pretty good feeling,” he said. “I haven’t really got too caught up in all of that with the season still going on, as I’m trying to focus on that. But it’s definitely something I look at and I take pride in.”
Interest brought him to Windsor, but it was the opportunities caused by major trades and injuries that have helped Foss get noticed.
“I had been in contact with [Windsor] before. They wanted me to come to their rookie camp. I went to that camp and it went well, so after that they wanted me to come to the main camp. I went and obviously I made the team,” he said. “This organization has had a lot of change this year with the injuries and stuff. I’ve just been grateful for the opportunities I’ve received.
“I think I’ve done a good job of taking advantage of those opportunities when I’ve been given the chance and that’s something I hope to continue to do in the playoffs.”
In his first year in the OHL, Foss has been a solid contributor. In 58 regular-season games he scored 13 goals and added 19 assists. He said that being inserted on a line with some veteran leaders has helped his development this year.
“Playing with both [Brady] Vail and Johnny [Ben Johnson] — they’re both excellent players and they’ve been drafted by the NHL, so they’ve been helping me out a lot,” he said .”They’re always getting to the right spot, playing well, and giving me tips, so it’s helped a lot.”
Some of that assistance has spread to advice during this hectic draft-eligible year. But Foss said he hasn’t wanted to bring up the topic too much.
“I have [spoken with them] a bit, but not too much because we’re all still trying to focus on the season,” he explained. “But I definitely have spoken to them and you try to go into it with open eyes. If things aren’t working out or the pucks aren’t going your way, you try to stay positive and everything will work out.”
Being in an organization like Windsor, with head coach Bob Boughner and GM Warren Rychel both having NHL experience, has been something Foss said he truly appreciates.
“The coaches and front office here are great. They prepare you for the next level,” he said. “They treat you as a professional, but they’re also there as coaches to help you out — not just in hockey, but even if you’re having troubles somewhere else. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
Several Spitfires are draft-eligible and teammate Josh Ho-Sang is frequently cited as being amongst the elite. As a result, Foss knows there are scouts watching his every move, but he said he tries to block that out.
“Obviously you know [scouts] are there, but what I try to do — and probably what most people try to do — is put it out of your mind and focus on what I can do,” he said. “I can only play my game and that’s the best way I know that will help me the most.”
Foss spent last year with the Blyth Academy and he said that his experience with that noted hockey factory has helped him adjust to the rigors of the OHL season.
“That was really good. We were on the ice every day, working out, practicing, playing a lot of games, so it got me pretty prepared for this OHL schedule,” he said, adding that he’s currently a Grade 12 student in Windsor. “You learn how to balance school and hockey at the same time. During the season it can feel like a grind at times, but you’re doing something you love to do, so it’s not that hard to get through it.”
The biggest change in jumping to the OHL, Foss explained, is the quality and size of the players in the league.
“It’s the speed and size of the guys out there. You always have to be ready and aware out there,” he said. “The crowd atmosphere is different, but that’s not too hard to adjust to. The size and speed are the biggest challenges.”
And while in some cases you have 16- and 17-year-old boys playing against 19- and 20-year-old men, Foss explained that once you get on the ice, none of that matters.
“Once you’re on the ice you don’t think about it as much,” he said. “When you’re going into a corner, you’re focusing on winning the battles for the puck — you’re not thinking about how much bigger or older that guy is than you.”
Foss said he is focused on helping Windsor enjoy a long playoff run (although they are currently down 2-0 to the London Knights), but once the off-season starts he wants to put in the work to get bigger and better in all aspects of the game.
“I want to get better at everything, but specifically I want to put on some weight so it’s a little easier to go into those corners and dig those pucks out,” he said. “I’d like to get a bit faster and work on my shot, too — just really get better at everything.
“When the season’s over, I have a skating coach and a strength and conditioning coach that I’ll work with to improve those parts of my game.”
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