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Why the Leafs should sign Derek Ryan

Because he’s a good depth centre who can play up the lineup, but there’s another reason, too.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The number three centre on the Toronto Maple Leafs is this guy:

Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but the last time I looked at the depth chart, the centre column had gotten pretty short:

  1. Auston Matthews
  2. Nazem Kadri
  3. Par Lindholm
  4. Miro Aaltonen
  5. Adam Brooks
  6. Frederik Gauthier
  7. Chris Mueller

It does start out very good. It just gets questionable really fast. The bottom three names will not play in the NHL next year, I don’t care what people will tell you about Frederik Gauthier having a great season. I’ll admit he’s having a great playoffs, and he at least has a game plan in the offensive zone now, but he’s not the Leafs’ next 4C.

Miro Aaltonen is a possibility, but his weaknesses haven’t evaporated as he’s been playing a top line offence-only role on the Marlies.

Par Lindholm is a possibility, but he’s not terribly different to Aaltonen. He’s always been a top guy, a goal scorer, and not the man who you put out to hold a lead or to check the other team’s sneaky fourth line full of speedy occasional scorers, or traditional fourth line full of hard hitters. Or Vegas, who have merged the two into a hybrid depth line we should all be more interested in than we are.

And that is where Derek Ryan comes in. He’s been where Aaltonen and Lindholm have been. He’s also been in the AHL and an NHL fourth line. And then he played a lot of third line centre this season with one of the fastest wingers in the NHL in Jeff Skinner.

Ryan knows how you get from where Aaltonen and Lindholm have been to where they want to go, and he’s a known quantity now who should move directly into an NHL roster spot on the Leafs, no question marks attached.

Derek Ryan, via Elite Prospects

Season Team League GP G A TP PIM Playoffs GP G A TP PIM
Season Team League GP G A TP PIM Playoffs GP G A TP PIM
2003-2004 Spokane Braves KIJHL - - - - -
Spokane Chiefs WHL 1 1 0 1 0 Playoffs 4 1 0 1 0
2004-2005 Spokane Chiefs WHL 71 14 32 46 39
2005-2006 Spokane Chiefs WHL 72 24 37 61 50
2006-2007 Spokane Chiefs WHL 72 28 31 59 50 Playoffs 6 3 2 5 2
Kalamazoo Wings UHL 3 0 2 2 0 Playoffs 13 4 1 5 8
2007-2008 Univ. of Alberta USports 28 11 14 25 20
2008-2009 Univ. of Alberta USports 25 16 19 35 16 Playoffs 5 1 6 7 2
2009-2010 Univ. of Alberta USports 28 14 25 39 30 Playoffs 5 0 2 2 0
2010-2011 Univ. of Alberta USports 28 17 30 47 18 Playoffs 4 4 5 9 0
2011-2012 Fehérvár AV19 EBEL 50 25 24 49 20 Playoffs 6 1 3 4 6
Fehérvár AV19 Hungary 0 0 0 0 0 Playoffs 5 3 7 10 2
2012-2013 Villacher SV EBEL 54 27 39 66 22 Playoffs 7 3 8 11 6
2013-2014 Villacher SV EBEL 54 38 46 84 50 Playoffs 9 2 14 16 6
Team USA International 3 0 0 0 0
USA Deutschland Cup 3 0 0 0 0
2014-2015 Örebro HK SHL 55 15 45 60 18 Playoffs 6 0 1 1 2
2015-2016 Carolina Hurricanes NHL 6 2 0 2 2
Charlotte Checkers AHL 70 23 32 55 24
2016-2017 Carolina Hurricanes NHL 67 11 18 29 22
Charlotte Checkers AHL 9 5 8 13 0
2017-2018 Carolina Hurricanes NHL 80 15 23 38 28
USA WC 10 4 3 7 0

Okay, Ryan’s been a lot of places, but where we want to start was his SHL season with Örebro in 2014/2015 after he’d finished rolling over the hapless goalies of the EBEL.

He rolled over some SHL goalies too. Maybe instead of scouting, teams should just text the goalies of Europe and ask them who they hate most. Ryan had 60 points in 55 games, led the SHL in points, and played happily on a top line that only saw offensive usage. Sound like anyone else we know?

This season, Par Lindholm had 47 points in 49 games, and finished fourth in the SHL in points. He played ... well, you know. Top line, yee haw, score goals, what’s our goalie’s name again?

Before the Leafs snapped him up last summer, Miro Aaltonen had 44 points in 59 games in the KHL, which was only good enough for 20th overall. The KHL is a tougher gig, unless you’re on SKA St. Petersburg who had four of the top five by points that year.

All three of these guys are listed at 5’11”, and Ryan is the slightest, but he’s also the man with the years of experience and the NHL credentials.

The cost for Aaltonen right now is unknown, as he’s an RFA, but Lindholm is signed at an ELC rate of $925,000.

Matt Cane’s contract predictor has Ryan at approximately $2.5 million for two years. At 31, but with lower status, he gives you the thing you can’t get with Tyler Bozak — a shorter term deal at a more affordable rate. You also get something else you don’t get with Tyler Bozak — shot suppression.

Ryan had almost the same Score and Venue Adjusted Corsi Agianst per 60 minutes as Patrice Bergeron this year. He was top 10 in the NHL for players with at least 800 minutes played. If you look at relative Corsi Against, he was top 70. Some of that is the same sort of usage favouring offensive starts that Bergeron himself gets, some better linemates than Ryan had in the previous season where he was merely team average, and the fact that the Carolina Hurricanes have excellent Corsi results all over their lineup. All numbers from Natural Stat Trick.

Ryan is a plausible third-line centre, or sometime replacement for William Nylander if he ends up in the spot as a trainee (yes, he will have to wear the yellow trainee jersey), and Ryan is the best mentor there is for the two other players potentially moving onto the Leafs roster.

He did not come over from the SHL and take the NHL by storm. He had a learning curve; he played in the AHL, and he improved and made himself a roster spot. He can skate, so he wouldn’t be an anchor on Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson, and he can score a few goals here and there.

He’s perfect for this job, let’s hire him!

Okay, one slight drawback is that he does not do PK, so he’s not the ideal fourth line centre. He’s not Tomas Plekanec. On the other hand, he doesn’t have his heart set on playing in Montréal, so the Leafs could more likely get him. He does play some power play, so he’s not just a depth even-strength player who has no other value.

Barring a better option like a fantasy signing or trade that pushes Nazem Kadri down a slot, or a surprise deal for the perfect 4C the Leafs haven’t found in the last three years, Ryan might be the best short-term solution to a the Leafs biggest depth problem.