For a player who said he would have been satisfied with just playing college hockey in the hockey-crazed state of Minnesota a couple years back, it is safe to say that Anaheim Ducks prospect Ryan Carter far exceeded his initial expectations.
It’s equally hard for a non-Minnesotan to comprehend just what Carter was saying now that he was part of the Ducks first ever Stanley Cup squad. But before playing with the Ducks AHL affiliate during the 2006-07 regular season, and before signing a free-agent contract with Anaheim back in the summer of 2006, Carter was content just playing for Minnesota State – Mankato in the WCHA.
"Growing up in Minnesota, high school hockey is ‘the thing,’" he said. " It was high school, maybe some junior hockey, college and that was it. That is the way life was and that’s the way it is up there."
But after two successful seasons, NHL teams started to show interest in the winger. He steadily became one of the top players on the Mavericks and his game was starting to show potential beyond the collegiate ranks.
"Halfway through my sophomore year, I started getting phone calls and emails from organizations," he recalled. "I tried to ignore them as much as possible because I didn’t want to lose my focus. I wanted to focus on winning games."
At the conclusion of his second season where he scored 35 points (19 goals, 16 assists) in 39 games, he sat down and started to weigh his options.
"Ultimately it was something I wanted to do, and when it came down to it, it was a hard decision to make," he said about deciding whether or not to go pro. "I didn’t know if it was the right time or the wrong time. Had I gone back, I would have played an even bigger role but you never know how things could have worked out."
Realizing he was two years older than the typical sophomore at the time and he had quality exposure playing with MSU in the WCHA, he decided it was the right time to move on.
In the flock
Carter kicked off his pro career paying his dues with the Portland Pirates in the AHL, a season he admitted was a little rough at the start as he made the transition.
"The pro game is so much different form the college game, especially in the WCHA," he said. "We played on the bigger rinks and there were some rule changes. Moving from the bigger ice to the small ice it took some time to adjust."
Realizing he was going to have to up his game, Carter kept chipping away in hopes the puck would bounce in his favor.
"The AHL is a good league and there are a lot of good players there," he explained. "I would say it took me about after Christmas, a little into January to adjust. I started to figure it out and I started playing better and that’s when I started feeling comfortable."
Although Carter would finish off the season strong with 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in his first 76 professional games, the reality was that Portland wasn’t going to make it to the postseason.
"We knew that we weren’t going to make the playoffs in Portland but we still went out there and played hard," he said. "If you do what you’re supposed to do and you do it right, you’re going to get the opportunities."
And the opportunity he was referring to was a call-up to Anaheim as the playoffs remained in the balance for the Ducks. As the season ended for the Pirates, Carter along with fellow teammate and forward Drew Miller were dispatched to the west coast.
“We didn’t really know what our roles were going to be at the start, but it was exciting,” he said.
Once he settled in, he waited patiently for Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle to pencil him into the lineup.
"It just goes to show what a quality organization the Ducks are," he explained. "Even though we didn’t finish up as strong in Portland, they gave a few of us a chance."
Carter went on to see action in a total of four playoff match-ups — one of which was against the Ottawa Senators in Game 4. He was held pointless in all four contests but he wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.
“It’s good to be in a situation where you’re with a club that has a chance to do well in the playoffs,” he said. “You’re around those guys and you learn the ropes. It’s also exciting to know that they want you involved with that.”
When Carter hits the ice at the Ducks main training camp this week, he, like many other hopefuls he will be looking to secure a spot on the team’s roster. Yes, the same Ryan Carter who just some three months ago was part of the franchise-first Stanley Cup squad.
Even though he earned the right to have his named engraved on the Cup, he’s still not guaranteed a spot this season as the Ducks look to defend their title. He may have the inside track, but the Ducks roster is pretty tight and there are not a lot of vacancies for players like Carter to fall into.
“In all, I think it was a big experience thing and confidence thing,” he explained. “Now that you’ve gone through that, you know what to expect even in the most pressure-packed situations.”
Still young and developing at this level, if he’s going to make the team out of the gate, he’s going to have to fight his way through camp. But one factor the former Maverick carries with him unlike other hungry prospects is experience. Big-time experience.
“Coming into camp this year it’s easier to go out there prove yourself and play against world-class guys as your competition,” he said. “ You have to look at it as you’ve already been in the big situation already so heading into camp, it’s a bit easier and comfortable of a situation to be in.”
A two-way forward with a physical edge, Carter said he’s going to keep things simple.
“That’s what I’m going to try and do,” he said. “I’m not going to try to get pretty and stickhandle around everybody. I’m going to play up and down the ice, shoot the puck and finish checks. Hopefully that is what they’re looking for.
"It’s like General Manager Brian Burke has told us, ‘Stick with the girl you brought to the dance,’" he said. "Basically, play your game."
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.