Ryder and Puurula surging

By Chris Boucher
Most NHL prospects go through ups and downs throughout their development. Therefore timing becomes an important factor in developing players. The key to success is to play well when the opportunity arises. Grab the bull by the horns, as the cliché goes. Michael Ryder and Joni Puurula are both solid examples of players playing well at the right time.

Puurula is a goaltender who plays for HPK in the Finnish SM-Liga. The Montréal Canadiens drafted him in the 8th round (243rd overall) of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The native of Kokkola, Finland suffered from a virus through most of the 2001-02 season, appearing in his first SM-Liga regular season game on January 1st, 2002. He played 9 games from that point through to the end of the season; finishing with an 8-0-1 record, a 2.09 goals against average, and .912 save percentage.

Playing on a strong team with a veteran goalie in front of him, Puurula was expected to watch from the bench as starting goalie Mika Pietila carried the team through the playoffs. All that changed when Pietila went down with an injury. Puurula was thrust into his first SM-Liga playoff action, and looked like a seasoned veteran in the process. To date, he’s played in all 3 of the team’s playoff games. He has a 2-0 record, an incredible 0.80 GAA, and an impressive .964 save percentage; both his playoff save percentage and goals against average lead the league.

The 19-year old was named first star in the first playoff game he appeared in, and won the fair-play award in each of his other two appearances. If we look at the 5′11″, 185-lbs goalie’s entire season we see another impressive achievement. Counting the preseason Puurula has now played in 15 career SM-Liga games. Through those 15 games he has yet to be defeated. In fact he has a 13-0-2 record, a 1.85 GAA, and .924 save percentage through his short, but effective SM-Liga career.

Puurula’s play helped HPK to a 3 game sweep over Ilves in the first round of the playoffs. They now wait to see who their next opponent will be. That series will start on March 30th.

Michael Ryder’s pro career has been a perfect example of the chicken or egg theory. Which comes first? Ice time, or production? Ryder, chosen in the 8th round (216th overall) in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft has produced at every level he’s played. But it’s only in the last 11 games that he’s begun producing at the AHL level.

He played a total of 61 games with the Québec Citadelles last season. He saw little quality ice-time, and his production was limited to only 15 points (6-9-15). He ended up finishing the season with Tallahassee, where he contributed 9 points (4-5-9) in only 5 games.

Ryder began this season well. He was the team’s best player in the Hull prospects’ tournament, but was not invited to the Habs’ main training camp. He started the season in Quebec, but was a healthy scratch 5 games into the season. He hung around Québec for the next 20 games; seeing action in just 13 of them.

He was subsequently assigned to Mississippi of the ECHL, where he quickly established himself as the team’s best player. He played 20 ECHL games before being recalled to Québec. The soon-to-be 22-year-old left Mississippi with 27 points (14-13-27) in 20 games.

The Newfoundland native returned to the AHL on January 10th, and immediately played well. However, his play has jumped to a new level in the last 11 games. Through those 11 contests the versatile forward has produced an impressive 14 points (4-10-14). He’s now among the team leaders with a plus-14 rating, and has been particularly impressive since debuting on a line with Craig Darby and Eric Landry.

His recent offensive outburst has also placed Ryder among the most improved prospects in the Habs’ system. Statistically speaking Ryder is now the Habs’ fourth most improved prospect since last season. He’s raised his points-per-game average from 0.25 PPG last year to 0.53 PPG this season; an improvement of 0.28 PPG.

Although not among the Habs’ top 10 prospects, Ryder and Puurula are quickly moving up the depth chart. The chance to impress has been offered, and each seems to be rising to the occasion. They both have the proverbial bull by the horns. Hang on guys, this ride may end up in the NHL.

Another cliché anyone?