TRAVERSE CITY —Bobby Ryan kept his hopes up, even as the phone call he really wanted didn’t come and the off-season turned to the near-season.
He finally heard from the Detroit Red Wings just before the start of training camp, when he received a professional tryout invitation. Ryan, 34, joined the Wings last October, and though the experience was cut short by the pandemic and an injury, it left Ryan convinced the Wings were his ideal team.
“No place has felt this comfortable throughout my career,” he said Monday. “I hope it leads to good things going forward. I just have to take care of the on-ice stuff and then we can go from there.”
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It’s an interesting development, especially with Jakub Vrana’s status up in the air. A nagging shoulder injury flared up 10 minutes into practice Saturday, and the fact he was scheduled to see a specialist this week certainly isn’t a good sign. Ryan didn’t have great numbers last season — seven goals, seven assists in 33 games — but he knows how to get himself into scoring position and the Wings know what they have in the 6-foot-2, 208-pound right-handed forward.
“It definitely helps,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “I thought he played pretty good hockey for us last year. I know him as a person. We have the potential of starting the year without Vrana, and if that is the case, we’re going to need some guys with that offensive talent. So let’s make sure that we’re giving Bobby a good look. We’ll give him a good look in exhibition and go from there.”
Ryan skated in Tyler Bertuzzi’s spot with Dylan Larkin and Filip Zadina in Monday’s practice, because Bertuzzi was given a maintenance day. It looked like Ryan was a good fit with Zadina and Robby Fabbri at the start of last season, but that line didn’t last long because Fabbri and Zadina tested positive for COVID-19 in the opening week.
Ryan’s season ended in late March when he needed surgery for a torn triceps, but had a great start scoring four goals in his first three games. A former second-overall pick in 2006 NHL draft, Ryan was a good mentor alongside fellow veterans Sam Gagner and Marc Staal.
“I think those things will add to a decision that they will have to make,” Ryan said. “My body of work speaks for itself, however limited it may have been last year with 33 games and a couple injuries that kind of derailed the season. I like to think even though it was an injury that ended the year, we ended on a positive note with my conversations. I think they look at what they brought to the room and there is an experience level that not a lot of guys in the room have right now — myself, Stallsie and Gags maybe at the upper echelon of games played. Guys can rely on that, guys can bounce ideas off that.
“We talk about a mentor role, but I still think there is a place in the game for a guy to bridge that gap between coach and player, so all those little things I hope would add in. I think they realized, too, how much I wanted to be here and loved being here last year.”
With players essentially confined to their hotels when on the road, Ryan took up reading. He left off with “War and Peace” at the of the season and conceded he didn’t finish it. “I couldn’t,” he said, laughing. I tried it. I got a good amount of it. I just felt like it was homework. It’s still on the shelf and collection dust, but I will get back to it, I promise I will.”
Though there was disappointment not to be re-signed over the summer, Ryan bided his time rather than sign just for the sake of having a contract. That took patience.
“I hadn’t heard from the Wings all summer, in complete honesty,” he said. “There were some options out there early and some things that were intriguing, but nothing worth really looking into it. Then my phone rang Monday night as I was watching Monday night football and I was on a flight Tuesday morning. It was a no-guarantees PTO, I understood that. But there were a very few select places that I was holding out in the hopes they would call and this was obviously No. 1 for me, so I’m happy it did work out, even if it was short notice.
“It was the first opportunity that I wanted. Detroit was No. 1.”
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. 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 is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.