Sabres Report: Buffalo Now Ryan’s Hope

By Ken McKenna

When discussions arise regarding college hockey programs in the Boston area, inevitably the two teams discussed are long-time rivals Boston College and Boston University. Both teams have rich hockey traditions dating back many years, with both programs having graduated several players to the NHL.

Often forgotten in these discussions is the hockey program at Northeastern University, a private school also located in Beantown, but a school with a much less storied hockey history than that of either BC or BU. Northeastern plays in the NCAA’s Hockey East Conference with their Boston-based rivals. But, unlike the more established programs of those other two schools, the Huskies are still in the process of building a program that will be competitive enough to recruit some of the better young talent coming out of high school.

This isn’t to say that Northeastern hasn’t graduated players to NHL duty, however. Two names of former Huskies that should be recognizable to most fans of the NHL are defensemen Dan McGillis of the Boston Bruins, and Jim Fahey of the San Jose Sharks. And, with the recent acquisition of Dallas prospect Mike Ryan, the Buffalo Sabres are hoping that they can train another Huskie for NHL duty.

Mike was acquired by the Sabres prior to the March 11th NHL trade deadline in the deal that sent Stu Barnes to the Stanley Cup-contending Dallas Stars. The Milton, MA native was originally a second round pick for Dallas in the 1999 NHL Draft, with Ryan having been considered one of the better prospects in the Stars’ system.

Ryan first made a name for himself as a high school player in the Boston area, where he starred for the Boston College High School team his final two years at that level. Mike was named to both the Boston Globe Dream Team and the Boston Herald Super Team, in recognition of his outstanding play in his senior season. NHL scouts certainly took notice of Ryan’s ability, with Dallas not wasting any time in selecting the young winger in the ’99 Draft.

The 99-00 season began a productive college career for Mike, a career that saw him total 113 points (63G, 50A) in 135 games for Northeastern. Ryan improved his point totals each year up through his junior season, with his performance in his junior year earning him a nomination for the Walter Brown Award, which is given to the best American-born college hockey player in New England.

The 2002-03 season was a difficult one for Mike and the Huskies, as they finished in the basement of the Hockey East conference. Ryan, who was NU’s captain this season, did lead his team in scoring, finishing with 32 points (18G, 14A) in 34 games. His point total placed him amongst the top 30 scorers in Hockey East, while his goal total tied him for 10th in the conference in that category. Mike was strong in other offensive categories, as well, including power play goals (3rd) and shots (6th).

At 6’1" and 191 pounds, Ryan certainly has the size to play in the NHL. Mike has shown that he has good offensive ability, but he is nevertheless somewhat of a raw prospect. While playing for a team in Hockey East was definitely a wise move for the winger, Ryan may have been better served by playing for a stronger program than the one at Northeastern.

Regardless of the pluses or minuses of his time at NU, Mike is now about to embark on his pro hockey career. His journey to the NHL will almost assuredly begin in the AHL with the Sabres’ farm team, the Rochester Americans. Once there, he can mold himself into a more NHL-ready player, particularly when it comes to defensive play, which is a part of Mike’s game that definitely needs some improvement.

Given the logjam on the Sabres’ depth chart at Mike’s position, there will be no rush to put him in a Buffalo uniform. In fact, with players like Miroslav Satan, Maxim Afinogenov and Ales Kotalik in front of Ryan, it’s difficult to say exactly when a roster spot might open up for him in Buffalo. Still, a team can never have enough good depth at any position, so the Sabres will gladly be patient with their newest prospect in the hope that Ryan develops into the top-6 winger that many have touted him to be.