To say that Michael Ryder is a well-traveled hockey player is to say that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is slightly biased for the owners in the present labor dispute. Ryder has more travel stickers on the side of his suitcase than most hockey players have missing teeth. Be that as it may, he has finally made it to the show and with 18 goals and 47 points in his first 63 games, it doesn’t look like he’s going to be returning to the leagues where players travel on buses any time soon.
The Habs winger was first noticed by the team while playing hockey for Hull in the QMJHL. In 1997-1998 he totaled 34 goals and 62 points in 69 games. Montreal liked what they saw from the young forward and drafted him in the eighth round that summer. He followed that up the next season with 44 goals and 87 points in 69 games. However it was his third campaign with the Olympique that cemented their interest when he put up 50 goals and 108 points in 63 games. From there it was on to the ECHL where he played for Tallahassee before being promoted to the AHL’s Quebec Citadelles where he scored six times and added nine assists in 61 games. The next year, 2001-2002, was spent back in the ECHL with Mississippi for 20 games before earning a mid-season promotion to the Citadelles once again where he totaled 11 goals and 28 points in 50 games.
Ryder followed the AHL team to Hamilton when Montreal moved their affiliation there in 2002-2003 and finally broke out with the Bulldogs. His first and only campaign in Copps Coliseum saw him put up 34 goals and 67 points in 69 games as well as 11 goals and 6 assists in 23 playoff games as the team went to the Calder Cup finals where they eventually lost to the Houston Aeros in seven games. It was on the strength of that performance that he found himself in the Habs training camp this past fall.
While Ryder brings a good bit of versatility to the game, playing all three forward positions, he seems to have found his niche on the right side with the Habs. The Newfoundland native’s game is predicated on his willingness to shoot from almost anywhere as his average of 2.6 shots per game can attest. Montreal writer Dan Linn points out that “He is a smart player on offense, and although he has a shoot first mentality, he can make solid passes.” While he is “not a set up camp in front of the net player,” he will “drive the net.” Defensively, “he shows a lot of hard work in all the zones, and seems to understand his role in his own end,” states Linn. One place where he can improve however is in skating. Linn comments that “His skating isn’t great, but good, and his overall speed is average.”
For the most part this season Ryder has been paired up with either Mike Ribeiro or Saku Koivu in the middle and various wingers on the left side. Earlier in the year it was the French center and during the middle part it was the team’s captain. The most successful line to date has been Ryder with Koivu and Jan Bulis, although lately he has been playing with Ribeiro and Pierre Dagenais and this seems to be working as well. The winger plays a regular shift on the powerplay but doesn’t see much action on the penalty kill, probably due to his lack of footspeed.
Ryder, who might remind some of Andrew Brunette and others of Ryan Smyth without the tip-ins, is off to a good start to date and might be a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. What he needs to do though is improve his footspeed and maintain his level of performance if he really is going to be a go-to guy for the Habs in the future.