YARMOUTH, N.S. – Hockey is never far from Ryan Graves’ mind during the summer.
In Digby he recently took part in the Maritime NHL’ers for Kids event that raises money to help remove financial barriers when it comes to youth playing hockey.
Recently he signed a one-year entry level contract for the upcoming season with the Colorado Avalanche NHL organization.
And in Charlottetown, PEI, where the Yarmouth native now resides – and where he once played major junior hockey in the QMJHL – the 6’5” defenseman is training and preparing for the hockey season ahead, waiting to see where he’ll land.
Graves is a member of the 2013 NHL draft class, when he was drafted in the fourth round, 110th overall, by the New York Rangers. Although he went deep in the Rangers pre-season training camps on more than one occasion, he spent his hockey career with that NHL organization playing on its AHL team, the Hartford Wolf Pack.
Last season Graves was traded to the Colorado Avalanche NHL franchise where he played out the remainder of the 2017-2018 hockey season with their AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage.
Graves, 23, embraced the trade as a way to start out fresh again, as he continues to hope to crack his first NHL roster.
Being signed to a one-year contract, he says, is a bit of NHL housekeeping.
“Essentially it’s kind of like the same thing as the previous deal I was on. It’s an entry level. Everyone is kind of on a similar contract where after that it’s like year-to-year, or as many years as they want to hire you. You have your money you make in the NHL or your salary you make in the AHL,” he explains.
But while a routine type of contract, it was also a big deal. After all, they could have chosen not to have signed a contract with Graves at all.
During this past hockey season, Graves played 57 games with the Wolfpack where he four goals and seven assists and he played 21 games with the Rampage where he had a goal and six assists.
“I got my feet wet last year, but it’ll be nice to really settle in with a new team,” he says, referring to the trade. “It’s different when you’re coming in halfway through the year with a team.
“It’ll be nice to go to Colorado and battle for a spot,” he adds. “Wherever I end up, I’ll end up and try to do my best there. But it’ll be less hectic than last year so I’m looking forward to it.”
PREPARING FOR THE SEASON
In preparation for the Avalanche training camp in September, Graves is spending five to six days a week in the gym. He’s skating two or three times a week and says the frequency of this will increase this month.
“We get into the more intensive stuff,” he says.
Asked if he’s discouraged that he hasn’t had the chance yet to prove himself on an NHL roster, he says, “It's discouraging at times, but you’ve just got to keep trying.”
“It would have been nice to get my chance in New York, but things didn’t work out. Basically you can’t look back, you just have to look forward and I’m hoping I get an opportunity in Colorado, and if and when I get that opportunity I’ll make the best of it.”
Asked how his game has changed since he was first drafted, Graves says of course there’s the basics – getting stronger, bigger and faster with age.
“But the thing that’s changed the most for me is the mental side of the game where you’re more confident, you try to become more consistent. Going with the game and learning how to adjust to things and take on different situations,” he says. “I guess that’s why it’s nice to have veteran people on every team – and not that I’m old, but it’ll be my fourth year, I’ve been around for a while so you can kind of lean on your own experiences and you grow in that sense.”
THROUGH THE YEARS
It’s been a long time since the days Graves would travel from one end of the province to the other as a kid, leaving Yarmouth in the early morning hours to play competitive rep hockey at rinks throughout the province when he wasn’t playing at home. Yarmouth, after all, is anything but a central location when it comes to hockey.
After playing major midget with the South Shore Mustangs in Bridgewater, his time with the QMJHL – playing in Charlottetown and then with two Quebec teams – took him even further away from his hockey roots, but he’s never left them behind.
And the support that he gets from family, friends and his community in Yarmouth continues to overwhelm him.
He couldn’t be more appreciative.
“It’s so true. People in the Yarmouth area so supportive and it’s great to hear the encouragement,” he says. “I’m thankful to be from Yarmouth. It’s a great community and the people are so nice. They’re always great.”
Asked if at times he pauses to think about the situation he’s in – about the opportunities the game of hockey has presented to him in recent years following the work he’s put in on and off of the ice – he says it is unbelievable at times.
“I’m fortunate to be able to do what I do. I’m thankful for it – we all are, everyone that gets to play this game for a living,” he says. “You get to see parts of the world. It's a game that I grew up playing, I grew up loving, so it’s great to get to go to the rink every day and enjoy it.”
“Even when you have a bad day you say to yourself, this is what I love to do and there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT RYAN GRAVES
1. Ryan Graves was a fourth-round draft pick, 110th overall, by the New York Rangers in June 2013.
2. While playing major junior in the QMJHL, Graves played in the Memorial Cup two straight years. In his second showing with the Quebec Remparts he earned all-star honours.
3. Graves grew up playing minor hockey in Yarmouth. In his last minor hockey year with bantam AAA he was the league’s top defenceman.
4. In his 2015-16 rookie year with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, Graves led the team’s defencemen in goals with nine goals. He also had 12 assists.
5. He was traded from the New York Rangers to the Colorado Avalanche in February 2018.
NOW THAT'S A SHOT
What did Montreal Canadien P.K. Subban, Pittsburgh Penguin Evgeni Malkin and Dallas Star Tyler Seguin all have in common in the final round of 2016 NHL all-star hardest shot competition?
None of their shots were as hard as the 103.4-mile-per-hour blast that Yarmouth’s Ryan Graves fired off to win the 2016 AHL’s all-star hardest shot competition.
At the NHL event, Subban’s shot was 102.3 mph, Malkin’s was 97 and Seguin’s was 95. In fact, had Graves fired his shot in the NHL all-star competition, he would have finished third – just nudged out by Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose shot was 103.9.