Derek Ryan: A Deserving Masterton Trophy Nominee

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 year ago
Derek Ryan wasn’t projected to be an NHLer. He wasn’t drafted. When he was 19 years old, he scored 24 goals and 61 points in 72 games with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League. The next season he tallied 28-31-59. Solid, but not remarkable numbers for a 20-year-old in the WHL. He was recruited by the University of Alberta and played four years in Edmonton.  The NHL wasn’t part of his plan.
“It wasn’t even close to my radar,” said Ryan. “I wanted to be a pharmacist, and maybe if I went to Europe and had a decent career over there, that’d be great too.”
He got an education, but he still had a yearning to play professional hockey, and he signed in Austria. He played three years in Austria and then one year in Sweden, and even then, the NHL wasn’t a sure thing.
“Honestly, even in Europe, it was, ‘Okay great. I’ve carved out a great career over here. I’m making great money or having a great life.’ My son was born in Austria, and we lived a cool life over there. Why would I come back and try and make it in the NHL?”
But in the summer of 2015 the Carolina Hurricanes offered him a one-year, two-way contract. He was 28.
He credits his decision to give the NHL a try to his loving wife, Bonnie, and his agent.
“I was happy with the job that I had in Europe,” said Ryan. “I was carving out quite a career over there, and I didn’t want to come back. She was one of the main people in my life who said, ‘No, Derek. This is your chance to make it in the NHL, you know it’s now or never.’ Her and my agent were telling me that.
“I’m, pretty fortunate to have a wife who steered me correctly and supported me the whole way. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here.”
Bonnie encouraged him to give the NHL a try and he listened. He signed his one-year deal with the Hurricanes. He didn’t make the team out of training camp and spent the majority of the season in Amercian Hockey League with the Charlotte Checkers. He produced 23-32-55 in 70 games. But his dream came true when he was recalled to the Hurricanes and made his NHL debut March 1st, 2016, in New Jersey.
He scored a goal in his first NHL game, on his first shot in the second period. He’d play five more games that season. He signed another one-year, two-way contract with the Hurricanes in the summer of 2016. His base NHL salary was the same $600K, but his minor salary doubled from $150K to $300K. At 29 years of age, he still had to prove himself.
Ryan didn’t make the Hurricanes out of camp in the fall of 2016. He started in the AHL, again, and he played so well the Hurricanes had to take notice. He scored 13 points in nine games, and he was recalled to the Hurricanes on November 12th, 2016. He was seven weeks shy of his 30th birthday. He’s remained in the NHL ever since.
The Bill Masterton Memorial trophy is awarded to “A player who best exemplifies qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey. ” It is not a Comeback Player of the Year award. It is named after Bill Masterton, the only player in NHL history to die as a direct result of injuries suffered during a game.
Derek Ryan is the Edmonton Oilers 2023 nominee for the Bill Masterton trophy. It was voted on by the Edmonton chapter of Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Ryan’s path to the NHL is rare, but he’s shown incredible dedication to the game to remain in the NHL. He finished in the top-five best conditioned Oilers in preseason testing. He’s scored 13 goals for the third time in his career and he’s two shy of his career-high of 15 which he set in 2018. He described what he feels are his examples of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game.
“Well, I think my journey to the NHL is the epitome of that,” said Ryan. “It’s a motivational story for a lot of people, especially young kids.  I was told I was too small, wasn’t good enough in my draft year. Overlooked. I went to the U of A and I was way off the radar at that point. I got a job in Europe and just continued to grow my game.
“I wasn’t worried about making it to the NHL; I wasn’t worried about making it big. I was just worried about making small progress year after year. Getting better and building my game. Slowly but surely, I did that, in Austria, then Sweden, then the American Hockey League and then the NHL.”
“I just stuck with it,” he said. “Obviously, a lot of hard work in there. A lot of luck too — a lot of blessings. It’s great story of perseverance. I’m very fortunate to be where I am right now.”
This isn’t the first he’s been recognized for his commitment. Many have taken notice of his achievements and he’s been asked to talk about it.
“I get to tell my story a lot of times in church, or with youth groups and at hockey camps. It’s just it hits a special note with the youth, and it gives me a great appreciation for where I am now,” said Ryan.
At 36 years of age, he still very much enjoying the game. He’s soaking up every moment.
“A lot of guys come into the league at a young age,” said Ryan. I’m sure they appreciate the NHL because it’s every hockey player’s dream, but I have a special angle on all of it. I’ve stepped on every rung of the ladder, so I get to appreciate playing in the NHL even more.”
Tuesday in Colorado will be his 499th NHL regular season game, and on Thursday, in Edmonton v. San Jose, Ryan will skate in his 500th NHL game in the same city he started his university career 16 years prior. It has been quite the journey.
Game 500 will be special, and not just for him, but his entire family. Bonnie will be watching as will his son Zane (age nine) and daughter August (six) and many others. It allows him to share a powerful message to his children.
“I try and teach them that little by little every day, and they get to see it through what Dad does on a day-to-day basis,” said Ryan. “My message to them — and to all kids — is not to let people tell you what you can and can’t become. You work hard, you stick with it, and you don’t believe that it’s just going to just happen on its own. You have to will it yourself, and if you do that, you know you can become anything.
“I think my story is the embodiment of that.”

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