Kerby is the son of Warren Rychel, a journeyman NHL player who was more enforcer than anything else. He swung by the Leafs for one season, playing a small number of games, but was soon on his way to the Colorado Avalanche in 1996, where he didn't play much but did win the Stanley Cup.
Kerby is a very different sort of player. He is more a Max Domi to his father's Tie Domi. But how close he can ever get to Max Domi's on-ice performance in the NHL is very much in question.
Rychel was taken 19th overall in the 2013 draft by Columbus. He'd had a good career in the OHL for the Windsor Spitfires, where he finished his draft year eighth in points and with a nearly identical stat line to Domi who was with the London Knights. He had a handful more points than Boone Jenner who had been drafted two years previously by Columbus.
The Windsor Spitfires were not a good team, finishing out of the playoffs, and Rychel was their only real goal scoring threat. Warren Rychel was the general manager of the team.
The following year, after Kerby had attended the Columbus development camp, Warren traded his son to the Guelph Storm, the team that finished first in their conference, won the OHL championship but lost the Memorial Cup in the final game.
Kerby's points in the OHL were consistent with his past years, and he was the top playoff scorer for Guelph. Any thoughts that he was just the only good player on a bad Spitfires team had been put to rest.
He played in the World Junior Tournament in 2014 in the midst of his winning season and went pointless in seven games for a Team Canada that flamed out of the medal rounds and finished fourth.
The 2014-2015 season dawned, and Rychel, a high draft pick entering his draft + 2 year, may well have expected to crack the NHL lineup for the Blue Jackets. His twin from junior hockey, Max Domi, drafted a few spots ahead of him by the Arizona Coyotes, went back to the London Knights for another year. Rychel, born just a few months earlier was eligible for the AHL.
He played a few games for Columbus and spent the rest of the season with the Springfield Falcons. The Falcons were a bubble team that just barely missed the playoffs that year. They also had a lot of parity at the top of their scoring chart with several players putting up good solid number, Rychel amongst them. He had the highest points per game rate of any rookie on the team, and nearly the highest overall.
You can't call that AHL year anything but a success, and he would be forgiven for wondering why he'd never got a call up to the NHL when Columbus had been very bad that year, struggling with injuries and a losing skid that they only righted with the last few games of the season.
Again, when last season got underway, now his draft + 3 year, Rychel had to expect an opportunity to earn a full time NHL spot.
Over in Arizona, Domi now fresh out of junior hockey, made a case for an NHL job in training camp and never looked back. He played well all season for the Coyotes, had a very excitingly high shooting percentage that got him noticed, and he ended the year on Team Canada at the World Championships.
In Columbus, Rychel struggled. The whole team struggled, first through epic bad luck in goal and in scoring goals, and then through the upheaval of a coaching change.
He played 32 games in the NHL and 37 for the Blue Jackets new AHL team, the Lake Erie Monsters. He made the drive between Cleveland and Columbus seven times.
The results are very interesting:
In the NHL he finished fourth on the team in Primary Points per 60 minutes. Third, if you knock Oliver Bjorkstrand's small 12-game sample off the top. Remember that name, though, it's important.
His shooting percentage was not the exciting 11 percent Domi was riding to fame. It was 6.3 percent. But don't be swayed by just points or chalk up the wear and tear on his tires to that shooting percentage. His Corsi percentage was very low. The best you can say about it is he wasn't as bad as David Clarkson.
Some of his results, are of course, down to usage. He played a lot of minutes with Gregory Campbell, who is one of those players who makes you wonder what he's doing in the NHL.
Some of it is Rychel himself. With slightly better players like William Karlsson, his offensive production and his Corsi improved, but not enough to get him out of the bottom six. It's easy to assume his shooting pecentage is the answer as to why he fell out of favour, or never climbed into it, but his relative Corsi numbers that account for teammate quality are still negative, meaning he was below average on a team with some very poor players.
Meanwhile in the AHL, he had only six goals in his 37 games, but he had a lot of assists, and his points per game were very high, higher than the man of the year for Lake Erie, Bjorkstrand. Rychel was shooting at a high rate, but had a shooting percentage just over six again. Plus, it's just hard to create a great looking stat line in less than 40 games.
In the playoffs where Bjorkstrand, Lukas Sedlak and Daniel Zaar cast very long shadows with excellent performances on the way to winning the Calder Cup, Rychel was hard to see. His shot rate dipped, he scored only one goal, and he struggled like the entire Marlies team did against the defensively strong Hershey Bears in the final round.
Rychel just never clicked in Columbus. He never gained any coach's trust, was never played with the best linemates, or even just good linemates, and he was bounced between the AHL and the NHL in a way that's more reminiscent of a fourth line grinder than a skilled scorer who spent most of junior hockey as the best player on his team.
He also never seized his chance and created his own opportunity, and yet if you look deeper at his results there is some room for optimism. Even when mired with the bottom six or the defensively hopeless, he played well. The skill shone through. And this account of the famous recent confrontation between his father, his agent and the team seems to indicate that his father wasn't wrong about his son's usage:
The frustration prompted a trade request by Rychel’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, last summer, but it reached a boiling point at the annual prospect’s tournament in Traverse City, Mich., last September. (Overhardt has had a few clashes with the Blue Jackets, including a contract fight involving former Jackets center Ryan Johansen in 2014.)
Overhardt and Warren Rychel, Kerby’s father, arranged a meeting with Kekalainen and other Blue Jackets’ front-office types after Rychel was scheduled to open the tournament on as a bottom-six forward.
The meeting got animated and heated in plain view of fans. Afterward, the forward lines were changed, with Rychel listed in the top six. He was a dominating player in the tournament, which the Blue Jackets' prospects won for a second straight year.
Sometimes proving you're right doesn't endear you to anyone, however. The Blue Jackets tried to trade him at the deadline. It just took this long for the deal to get done.
Moving to the Leafs, Rychel will not be the best player on any team in the organization. And if Bjorkstrand and Brandon Saad overshadowed him in Ohio, he's got to contend now with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander catching everyone's eyes. And there are a lot of young wingers in the Leafs system that want a chance to steal his spotlight. Both Kasperi Kapanen and Tobias Lindberg usually play on the left side. He'll have to work hard for every scrap of ice time.
And he seems to understand that very well.
#Leafs Rychel: "I need to have a huge summer and get ready. I'm still young but my window is closing, to an extent. I need to get going."— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) 25 June 2016
Training camp isn't very far off, and Rychel, like the rest of the Leafs, will get a chance to show where he belongs in the lineup.
NHL statistics in the article are from Puckalitics and Corsica Hockey and are all five on five only.