By Matt Mackinder –
Ryan Hartman may play for the Plymouth Whalers, but his Whalers’ jersey is one of four he’s worn this season.
Back in September, Hartman played in the inaugural CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo, N.Y., then suited up for the gold medal-winning United States team at the World Junior Championship in Russia and then donned yet another uniform in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game last month in Halifax, N.S.
Combine that with the grinding OHL schedule and it begs the question if Hartman has time to sleep.
“Yeah, it’s been pretty hectic for sure,” said the 18-year-old Chicago-area native. “There has been a lot of travel, even in the OHL. I like it, though, because I’m a guy that likes playing games whenever I can. When we went to Russia, it took a few days to really get adjusted to the time difference. This season, you pretty much take advantage of any time you can rest. There is always something going on and always something to play for.”
Ranked 25th among North American skaters in the mid-term NHL Central Scouting rankings for June’s NHL draft, Hartman has seen his stock rise consistently this season and many draft experts feel he could squeak into the first round.
TSN scout and former NHL general manager Craig Button gave his assessment on Hartman recently on TSN.ca.
“He knows how to play but one way – whatever it takes to win,” Button said. “He competes, has an edge, can be chippy and dirty, but he plays within the confines of discipline. He will target key players on the opposition’s side. He’s smart with the puck, can make very good plays and has confidence with the puck. He will drive the net with or without the puck and he pays a price to play. Good skater who has very good game awareness as to what needs to happen to help his team win. Overall, a player who is no fun to play against.”
Playing for team USA at the World Junior event over Christmas and New Year’s was a chance Hartman saw and ultimately, grabbed the chance.
“I knew I was a bubble guy and had to go to the camp and prove myself,” Hartman said. “The only expectation I had for myself was to make the team. I knew I wasn’t going to be a top-six guy and I had to fill a role as a bottom-six guy, but my line with (Michigan Tech’s) Blake Pietila and (Cornell University’s) Cole Bardreau had a good deal of chemistry and we played well together.
“We knew to win the whole thing that after losing to Canada and Russia that we had to win out. Once we beat Canada in the semifinals, that was really the gold-medal game for us. When we were up 2-1 against Sweden in the finals and then (new Whalers’ teammate Vince) Trocheck blocked a shot, took a pass and had the empty net, the bench just erupted. I wouldn’t have known if he missed the net or not. There’s no way to describe a feeling like that. You don’t get a chance that often, two maybe three times, to play at the World Juniors and to beat the best from other countries is an experience I will always remember.”
Once Hartman came home from Russia, he played a couple games for the Whalers before going to Halifax on Jan. 16 to have NHL scouts yet again critique and dissect his game.
“Halifax was very similar to Buffalo,” said Hartman. “I just went out there, played my game, tried to not do anything too fancy and to show the scouts how I play.”
And for the second year in a row, a Whaler was involved in a fight at the Top Prospects game (Tom Wilson dropped the gloves in 2012 with Dalton Thrower from the Western Hockey League’s Saskatoon Blades) as Hartman and Windsor Spitfires’ forward Kerby Rychel each earned five-minute majors. The two also sparred eight days later in Windsor.
“I think I’m developing some kind of a rivalry with Rychel, but that’s the kind of hockey I like to play,” Hartman explained. “In Halifax, he came after me looking to spark his team and I was ready to go.”
With only a handful of weeks left in the OHL’s regular season, Plymouth is looking to finish first in the West Division. The Whalers and Sarnia Sting have been neck-and-neck the past couple weeks.
“We know that every point is important and we can’t afford to give away any points by blowing third-period leads or losing in overtime,” said Hartman. “I know in the past, Plymouth missed out on first place by a couple points and we don’t need that to happen this year. We got Wilson (Washington) and (Stefan) Noesen (Ottawa) back from NHL training camps and Mitchell Heard back from Colorado, so that was a big boost for us. (Rickard) Rakell is still with Anaheim, so if he stays there, that’s great for him and if he comes back here, that’s great for us. We won’t settle for anything less than two points each time out and we just want to stay ahead of Sarnia.
“There is a good attitude in the room and all these guys have the will to win.”