For many, age ain’t nothing but a number. But for Plymouth Whalers’ forward Ryan Hartman, his date of birth — which found him five days too young to be drafted last year — played a key role to plotting a stop in the OHL en route to the NHL.
“In the U.S., because of my birthday [September 20th], I had to start school later, so I was an extra year back,” Hartman said. “Because of that I would have had to play an extra year in the USHL before I could have gone to college.
“Plymouth and the OHL seemed like the best place for me to be for my draft year.”
And the Whalers couldn’t be happier. Hartman has been ranked an A-level skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service and is currently projected as a first or second-round selection in next year’s NHL Draft.
Despite having a few months on most of the fellow members of his draft class, Hartman doesn’t feel it’s a great advantage.
“Maybe because I’m older, I’m a little bit more mature and have a little bit more experience,” he said. “But every player in this (draft) year is going to be playing their best — there may be an advantage but I don’t see it.”
The Whalers are currently missing a few players out of their roster and Hartman has stepped up to fill the void. A natural winger, Hartman is playing out of position at center — but his coach said he’s in no rush to return the West Dundee, IL native to his primary spot.
“He brings versatility to the team. He’s filled in at center, even though he’s a natural winger, and I think he’s done a great job,” explained Whalers’ president, general manager, and head coach Mike Vellucci. “He’s a natural power forward; he brings grit and sandpaper.
“I think eventually he’ll move back to the wing, but the reason he’s still [at center] is because he’s doing a better job than anyone else at that position.”
Vellucci added he feels the added experience can only help his young forward in the eyes of the scouts.
“I explain to all my young guys that it’s better to play everywhere,” Vellucci explained. “Then you can go to your coaches at the next level and say, ‘I play all three positions.’ It makes you more valuable.”
Hartman said he’s happy to help, but is still feeling his way through his new position — especially in his own end. “I’m still working on the defensive zone routes,” he explained. “There are differences — such as playing down low in the defensive zone — I’m still adjusting.”
The young forward won gold with Team USA at the IIHF WJC Under-18 tournament. He participated in the summer World Junior Championship camp for the Americans and has received an invite to the selection camp.
“Nothing’s promised — they still have to cut the roster to 26 guys,” Hartman said. “Outside of playing with Plymouth, my goal is to make Team USA and win gold.”
Hartman has already tasted international success — and today received a reminder of that milestone.
“I just got my ring [from the under-18] today — I definitely got chills when I saw it,” he said. “It was a great, life-changing experience.”
His OHL coach added that he’s seen the benefits of that experience translate into Hartman’s on-ice play.
“Confidence,” Vellucci said, emphatically. “He sees some of the elite Americans in those tournaments playing — and playing well — in this league and he knows he can do the same. And crowds and pressure certainly don’t bother him.”
Vellucci explained that Hartman can work on a couple of things while he’s in the OHL to improve his draft stock — one of which is endurance.
“Like everyone, he needs to get stronger and faster,” Vellucci said. “It’s good for him to play at this level and play in 68 games that mean something. I’ve had other kids come up from the league he was in the past two years and half-way through the season they’re tired out.”
Dealing with pressure is also part of the learning experience.
“Sure, you know the scouts are out there, but you just have to focus on the game and know what you want to do on the ice,” Hartman said. “It’s always going to be in the back of your mind, but as a hockey player you have to be able to put things in the back of your mind, while keeping others front of mind.”
And, as evidenced by CSS’s preliminary ranking, the scouts are taking notice. Hartman explained he’s pleased with the early ranking and will be putting in the effort to stay at that level — or improve.
“I don’t want to say that I expected it — I was really excited when I heard,” he said. “But I worked hard for it.”
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