Bobby Ryan, Jon Merrill explain why they picked Detroit Red Wings in free agency

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

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Bobby Ryan and Jon Merrill each had reasons to be thrilled Steve Yzerman wanted them to join the Detroit Red Wings

Ryan, a former No. 2 overall pick (Anaheim Ducks, 2005), is eager to prove he still belongs in the NHL. Merrill grew up in Michigan and played for the Wolverines; he jumped at the chance to play for the team he loved growing up. They are low-key, low-risk signings, fitting in with Yzerman’s plan to bolster the Wings while waiting for more prospects to further the rebuild. Each was signed for one year; Ryan for $1 million, Merrill for $925,000.

Ryan, 33, was bought out by the Ottawa Senators in September. Yzerman called this week, and convinced Ryan that Detroit would be a good fit. 

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“Part of it is a chance to regain my form, for sure,” Ryan said Friday. “There’s a bit of selfishness in that, but I think people understand that had a lot to do with why I picked Detroit.

“I selfishly have dreams of getting back to the Bobby Ryan I was early Ottawa/late Anaheim days, and I know that’s a tall order.”

Over the past year, Ryan has had time to heal, physically and emotionally. He was limited to 24 games in 2019-20, spending three months in an NHL assistance program for alcohol abuse. Ryan returned to the Senators’ lineup Feb. 25,  and recorded a hat trick one game later. He was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (for perseverance and dedication to hockey, as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association) after the season ended.

Ryan (6 feet 2 and about 200 pounds) should help the Wings offensively, slotting next to Dylan Larkin or Robby Fabbri. In possession of a big, right-handed shot, it’s hard to think Ryan won’t help the power play. In 833 games with Anaheim and Ottawa, Ryan has 254 goals (62 of them on power plays) and 301 assists. 

Merrill (6-3, 195) most recently played for Vegas, joining the Golden Knights after three seasons with New Jersey. Born in Oklahoma City, he grew up in Grand Blanc before moving to Brighton, where he attended high school. He played three seasons at Michigan, where he was teammates with Wings forward Luke Glendening. 

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All that time in Michigan led to a promise to himself Merrill was finally able to keep Friday. 

“As a kid, I always told myself if the opportunity to play for the Red Wings ever came up, I would jump at it,” he said. “So to see them calling right away today, it was an honor and a really easy decision for me.

“As a 13-year-old, I was one of the flag bearers in the playoffs, coming out of the tunnel and skating around with the flag. So tons of memories as a kid in a Red Wings jersey. It’s extremely exciting for me and my family.”

Merrill provides depth and experience (356 NHL games) on a team that cycled through 14 defensemen in 2019-20. 

“I like to pride myself on a good first pass coming out my zone and taking care of the puck and not turning it over and being really sound defensively,” he said. 

More: Free agency preview: Steve Yzerman can take advantage of market

“Just somebody that the team can rely on in critical situations to make good decisions. And hopefully as I play more and more the coach gains trust in me and I can gain more opportunities, as well as bring a little bit of leadership into he dressing room. I know they have a lot of good veteran players there but I’m hoping I can bring some difference into the dressing room and make it fun and really get things going this year.”

Yzerman has more holes to fill on his roster, including a goaltender. But he began free agency with signings that should help the Wings be more competitive.

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings will be published October 13 by Triumph Books. To order, go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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