Bobby Ryan (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
Back in his Anaheim Ducks days, he was the young American. But on an Ottawa team glistening with players new to the pro ranks, Ryan is now one of the veterans that answer the questions.
Last season, the Ottawa Senators shocked the hockey world by going on a miracle run to snatch a playoff spot. This year, the big "shock" was captain Erik Karlsson trimming off his famous locks of hair.
"We were like, 'who the heck is this guy and where did he come from?' " said right winger Bobby Ryan. "He did it very subtle and didn't tell anyone."
Ryan has a passing interest in hair these days, as a spokesman for Head and Shoulders shampoo's "Shoulders of Greatness" campaign. The big and skilled winger will stick up for his own flow - "My personal feelings are that I have a pretty good head of hair," he said - but his play on the ice is what really does the talking.
When Ryan was with the Anaheim Ducks, he was always the young guy, often paired with dynamic duo Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. A 2013 trade landed him in Ottawa and now a fully integrated veteran at the age of 28, his role with the Sens is evolving.
"Instead of asking questions, I'm the guy being asked the questions," he said, "It's been a learning curve."
Ryan has found that younger players will come up to him quietly, asking about when they should show up for certain team functions and responsibilities. With players such as Mika Zibanejad, Cody Ceci, Mark Stone and Curtis Lazar coming into their own, the Sens have to juggle a lot of young careers. Ryan and Karlsson do their parts, while coach Dave Cameron - who spurred last season's post-season push in part by trusting the kids more - has been a big positive as well.
"He's got youthful energy that he instills in the team," Ryan said. "And he's extremely approachable. That's key for our young guys."
So far this season, Ottawa is humming along nicely. the Sens sit second in the Atlantic Division and Ryan has been a driver lately, racking up five points in four games before getting shut out in his most recent contest, against Montreal. The fact the team doesn't have to win like, 20 games in a row right now helps too, as fun as last year's run was.
"There's more of a calmness to the group," Ryan said. "You're not looking at what four or five other teams are doing all the time. Every time we lost a shootout, you'd think 'I hope that's not the point that's the difference.' "
Still, the galvanizing effect that the second half had on the team was immediate - and not limited to goalie Andrew Hammond becoming a household name. Losing to Montreal in the first round, as hard-fought as the series was, only heightened the experience.
"At the exit meetings, nobody wanted to leave," Ryan said. "It was an incredible high and then it was pulled out from underneath us."
Luckily, those feisty Sens have time on their side. Ryan, Karlsson, all the kids; they've got plenty of high-end hockey left in them. Should Ottawa maintain its position in the standings throughout the season, the Senators will find themselves in a much more tenable spot come playoff time. And an Ottawa team with a little more jet fuel in the tank could be dangerous.