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Derek Ryan: Enjoying a Larger Role

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Photo credit:Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
9 months ago
It is clear Derek Ryan is relishing his new position on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Ryan has four points in four games since being moved to the right wing along side Nugent-Hopkins and Warren Foegele. That line has had instant chemistry and they’ve combined for 11 points at 5×5 in four games.
Ryan is 35 years of age. He was 29 when he made his NHL debut March 1st, 2016. After a solid, but not spectacular, three-year WHL career he played four seasons at the University of Alberta and four in Europe before he signed a two-way contract with the Carolina Hurricanes on June 15th, 2015. He scored 55 points in 70 AHL games before getting a late-season recall and realized his NHL dream playing six games He signed another one-year, two-way deal that summer and cleared waivers when he was reassigned to the AHL. He scored 13 points in nine AHL games to start that season before being recalled on November 11th. He’s remained in the NHL ever since.
He skated in his 389th NHL game last night. Very few players are NHL rookies at 29, and Ryan has had to believe in himself along his journey to the NHL when no one else did. He is a proud player and I appreciate his honesty.
Last night he shared his thoughts on a few topics about the Oilers recent success and it was clear where he stands.
It started when he was asked about the contributions from numerous players over the past four games.
“I can speak for myself, I can’t speak for the whole group,” said Ryan. “But it feels like we feel that everyone is getting a chance and opportunity to provide help. Obviously, we can’t rely on Connor and Leon to do everything. We need support for those guys, and for everyone in the top six. I think it’s good for myself to just get some confidence built up, to play more, get more opportunity offensively. I think that’s helped.”
It is important to note Ryan is speaking for himself. He is getting more opportunities and has had instant success.
He was asked if his confidence is from getting opportunities or how he is playing.
“For sure a bit of both,” he replied. “It was just hard earlier in the year when you’re not playing much, you’re sitting on the bench and it’s pretty hard when you’re sitting there for 15, 20 minutes and you’re expected to go out there and contribute. I don’t know, older legs, maybe it’s just me. But it’s hard. Those legs get stagnant and you don’t have the confidence to make a play. When the puck’s going in, or you’re making plays and the line is scoring, that confidence kind of snowballs and helps with the game as well. But I think it’s a combination of both.”
Ryan also added he felt it isn’t just him who needed more opportunity, but that he never had a conversation with Woodcroft about his role.
“I didn’t have that conversation, but I think it’s evident in how he’s running the bench that he wanted to get the nine, 10, 11 guys in the forward group going more. I know it’s something I’ve talked with guys in the bottom-six — we needed that, or we felt like we needed that. I can’t speak for Woody, but I feel it’s been pretty clear by how he’s run the bench,” said Ryan.

CHANGES FOR THE TEAM…

It isn’t a surprise he’s happy about new opportunities, but he also spoke about other changes for the overall team.
“We’re just so much more detailed than we were earlier in the year. Everyone is on the same page,” said Ryan. “We’ve been working on certain things we struggled on earlier in the year: track reads, defensive zone structure, where guys are supposed to be, supporting each other. It just felt like earlier in the year guys were panicky, didn’t know where to go. I think it’s been a lot more clear and evident lately that that structure coming into our D-zone and transitioning into the neutral zone is just so huge. All the teams we’ve played lately, they create so much offence through that transition. I think that’s been big for us in the structure and detail is just evident.”
Ryan outlines it isn’t necessarily a completely different system, although how they check is different. Maybe Woodcroft presents it differently, or more clearly, but so far the results have been significantly better. The only thing I will disagree with is that the Islanders, Sharks, Kings, and Ducks are teams who are good at creating offence through transition. All four of them ranked between 20th-29th in offence.
The Islanders were 26th in rush chances and 29th in quality chances.
San Jose was 28th in chances off the rush and 23rd in quality chances.
LA was 16th in rush chances and 19th in quality chances.
Anaheim was 13th in rush chances and 30th in quality chances.
Edmonton did a great job limiting these teams with chances off the rush, but the next five games will be a better litmus test to see how much the Oilers have improved. Winnipeg, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Florida have more skill and present more danger off the rush.
But that is nitpicking. I do agree with Ryan’s premise the team is playing with more structure. They weren’t bleeding chances off the rush or odd-man rushes regularly the past four games.

SUPPORTING #97 and #29

Dec 31, 2021; Newark, New Jersey, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) talk during overtime of their game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Edmonton has the two most dangerous offensive players in the game in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but they need more support. Ryan believes they have players who can provide that support.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t feel you can win the Stanley Cup with two guys,” said Ryan. “That’s the beautiful thing about hockey. You can’t have just the best player and win. You have to have the best team. I feel guys have created some confidence, gotten more opportunity. Those guys (McDavid and Draisaitl) are amazing, we can speak to that all day, but we need to be there to support them and we also need the opportunity to do so.”
Ryan is bang on that you need depth, and contributing depth, to win in the playoffs. It has been lacking in Edmonton for quite some time. Ryan’s comments read like he believes it is more about giving current guys more opportunity rather than not having players. (You can see a breakdown of TOI for players under Tippett and Woodcroft down below.)
It is clear Ryan felt the previous coaching staff wasn’t giving enough players an opportunity to contribute.
Last night in the third period when the Oilers got a power play the second unit started. Evander Kane scored earlier in the game while on the second unit. We’ve discussed on the Nation and in my articles the need to have the second unit start for awhile, and it did not go unnoticed.
“Oh yeah, we noticed it — or I at least noticed it,” said Ryan.  “This is the first team I’ve been on where that’s not a regular occurrence. So I think that’s a good thing for the guys to give them more opportunity. They had a goal…so that’s maybe the first goal all year from the second unit and they haven’t gotten much opportunity on that, so I think that’s huge. We talk about the playoffs here, latter half of the season, it’s huge to have not just one unit stay out there for two minutes. It’s both units going and that also gives Connor and Leon a chance to rest, Nuge too, all those guys on the top unit. It’s tough when they’re out for two minutes then are expected to be out again the shift after, the second shift after. It drags on you, so that’s important to have two units that can play and contribute.”
Hard to argue with his reasoning. And for accuracy sake it wasn’t the first goal for the second unit. Warren Foegele has one and Zack Kassian has two, but one of his came with Draisaitl still on the ice. But Ryan’s point about fatigue is one we’ve discussed and written about in the past. There is also the competition factor. If the second unit starts the power play suddenly the first unit is more attentive. Right now the first unit is struggling to finish. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a great look last night, but hit Gibson right in the chest. Last year he buries that. I think the first unit will be lethal again, but Jay Woodcroft sent them a message that they won’t be starting every PP. It is a good message.
“Putting them on to start the power play was to empower them after they did some good things earlier,” Woodcroft said when discussing the decision. It was the right message and overdue.
It is difficult to find any fault with the Oilers early success under Woodcroft. They are 4-0. Woodcroft is tied for the sixth best longest winning streak to start a coaching career in NHL history. Geoff Ward owns the record when he started 7-0 with Calgary in 2019-20. Patrick Roy (Colorado, 2013-14), Mario Tremblay (Montreal 1995-96) each were 6-0 and Marc Crawford (Quebec, 1994-95) and Bep Guildolin (Boston, 1972-73) each were 5-0.

WHO IS PLAYING MORE?

Ryan mentioned he felt Woodcroft was looking to get forwards #9-11 more involved. Is that the case? It is only four games, so I realize it is a small sample size, but it is all we have to go on right now. Here are the total minutes/game for players under Tippett and now under Woodcroft.
TIPPETTWoodcroft
PlayerGPTOI/GPTOITOI/GPCHANGE
Draisaitl4422:48422:15-0:33
McDavid4322:33420:40-1:53
RNH3720:15419:58-0:17
Kane518:56418:24-0:32
Hyman3818:45419:59+1:14
Puljujarvi4216:57413:35-3:22**
Yamamoto4416:22416:25+0:03
Foegele4413:35411:48-1:47
Kassian3512:5100:00NA
McLeod3311:22411:52+0:30
Ryan4010:57414:05+3:08
Sceviour3010:0700:00NA
Shore279:2424:42-4:42
Turris228:4800:00NA
Perlini218:3800:00NA
Benson198:3727:35-1:02
No forward has benefitted more from the coaching change the Ryan. And I think it is important to point out that multiple times he said he can only speak for himself. He’s playing 3:22 more per game. He’s in the game more and he feels better. It makes sense. It is interesting to note that Warren Foegele is playing 1:47 less than he was under Tippett, but he’s been much more productive through four games. Again, small sample size, but something to monitor.
McDavid is down almost two minutes. Puljujarvi says he is down 3:22, but that is due to him leaving with an injury last night. He was on pace to play 16 minutes and if we go by that in four games he’d average 15:35. So he’s still down 1:22 at that rate.
Draisaitl is down 30 seconds, not a significant difference, and that’s because he is playing on the PK more. Hyman is up 1:14, RNH is basically the same, and so is Kailer Yamamoto. Ryan McLeod is up 30 seconds, but Tyler Benson is down 1:02 and Devin Shore has seen the biggest drop at 4:42.
If we look at the bottom six players, only Ryan is up significantly, while McLeod has an extra 30 seconds. But Foegele is down 1:47, Benson 1:02 and Shore 4:42. And that doesn’t include how there isn’t a 12th forward dressed. Brendan Perlini has yet to play under Woodcroft, but I suspect you will see him get a look this weekend.
Ryan is accurate in his views on the team being more structured, and creating healthy competition by starting the second power play unit, but he’s really the only one in the bottom six who has had a significant increase in ice time thus far, and I think he was very smart in mentioning twice that he was only talking for himself. The change has helped his game, and it has helped the Oilers as the new third line has been very productive early on.
Edmonton won four games in the previous seven days over teams they should beat. That is a great start for Woodcroft, but the next few weeks the quality of competition increases and we’ll see how the Oilers new structure, renewed confidence and internal competition holds up.

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