Saturday, September 05, 2015

Signed to a PTO, Here are a Dozen Things to Know About an Intriguing Ryan Wilson

This week, the Flames announced that 28-year-old Ryan Wilson had been signed to a professional try-out and will attend Calgary's main training camp.

It wasn't an announcement accompanied by much fanfare and not surprisingly given how his career has gone lately. If you're not that familiar with Wilson, it's understandable considering he's barely played the last three seasons. In fact, the general sentiment from fans after the PTO was announced was "why?", given all the bodies on the blue-line right now with the recent additions via trade, free agency and the draft.

However, dig a little deeper and there is a reason to be intrigued about the calibre of player the Flames could potentially have in the native of Windsor, Ontario, who shoots left and is listed at 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds.

Dozen Things to Know about Ryan Wilson

1. Scoring Star in the OHL

He was the OHL's top-scoring defenceman his final two seasons with the Sarnia Sting. Now it came during his 19 and 20-year-old seasons so it's not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison with some of his counterparts but nonetheless, he was at the top of some pretty good company. In fact, all of the notables below were NHL first round picks.


1. Ryan Wilson, 58 gm, 7-64-71

Other notables:

3. Michael Del Zotto, 64 gm, 16-47-63
4. Ryan Ellis, 63 gm, 15-48-63
5. Zach Bogosian, 60 gm, 11-50-61
7. Alex Pietrangelo, 60 gm, 13-40-53
9. Drew Doughty, 58 gm, 13-37-50
14. PK Subban, 58 gm, 8-39-47


1. Ryan Wilson, 68 gm, 17-58-75

Other notables:

2. Drew Doughty, 67 gm, 21-53-74
6. Michael Del Zotto, 64 gm, 10-47-57
7. PK Subban, 68 gm, 15-41-56
8. Jakub Kindl, 54 gm, 11-44-55
12. Alex Pietrangelo, 59 gm, 7-45-52

2. Leadership Material

After spending time as alternate captain during his three seasons with the Toronto St. Michael's Majors, he moved to Sarnia for his final two seasons in the OHL where he wore the 'C' as team captain both years.

On that Sarnia team both seasons was Steven Stamkos, who after the second year in 2007-08, was drafted 1st overall in the NHL draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

3. Several Tools in the Toolbox

In both the 2006-07 and 2007-08 OHL coaches polls, Wilson was recognized in three categories in the Western Conference. Listed is his rankings during those two seasons respectively:
  • Best Body Checker (3rd, 1st)
  • Hardest Shot (3rd, 3rd)
  • Best Offensive Defenceman (3rd, 3rd)

Those are some diverse categories so to be recognized in all three is testament to a player that has a range of abilities. Being acknowledged for two straight seasons makes it extra impressive.

4. Bird-Dogged by One of the Best

It was Tom Webster, longtime amateur scout for the Flames and also a native of Windsor, who recommended to Flames GM at the time, Darryl Sutter, that he sign Wilson after his overage season. Of course, this is a guy who has had some pretty notable successes in the past when it comes to identifying young defencemen.

Webster, who retired last year, was also the guy that recommended the Flames sign Mark Giordano. The drafting (or 'theft') of TJ Brodie in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL Draft is said to be another coup that Webster played a big role in.

5. OHL Career Book-ended by Tragedy

"He worked his whole life for me to play hockey and was so excited. He wanted me to succeed so much. He worked overtime to pay for hockey and do everything he could to make that happen."

That was Wilson speaking in this piece from 2011 from Denver Post's Mike Chambers. He was talking about his father Gary, who died of a heart attack at age 43. Wilson was only 16 years old at the time and was just about to begin his OHL career.

To make matters worse, just after his final season with Sarnia, his stepfather Barry Hall, only 45, died of cancer. Obviously two pretty big losses for a young man to deal with and overcome.

6. Was Ultimately the Top Prospect on Quad City

Wilson played less than a full season in the Flames organization and all of the time he did spend here came with Calgary's AHL affiliate in Quad City.

Looking back on that team coached by Ryan McGill, Wilson ended up having the best NHL career of all of them. That was back in the era of the fledgling Flames trying to win in the current and that philosophy -- trading away draft picks and making poor choices with the draft picks they kept -- resulted in some very lean years in terms of prospects with that 2008-09 Quad City roster a reflection of that.

Kris Chucko, Matt Pelech, Leland Irving, John Armstrong, Cam Cunning and Adam Cracknell were the 'hot' young prospects if you will. Also in the mix were older journeymen like David Van Der Gulik, Carsen Germyn, Warren Peters and Jamie Lundmark.

Man, those were some ugly times developmentally for the Flames.

7. Dealt for Leopold, The Sequel

The Flames were going for it that season so at the trade deadline in 2009, they packaged up Wilson, defenceman Lawrence Nycholat and their 2nd round draft pick in that June's draft and sent them to Colorado in exchange for Jordan Leopold, 28, who returned to Calgary for a second stint.

But it didn't work out. In a 4-5 match-up in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Flames were unable to topple the Chicago Blackhawks, getting eliminated in six games. Of course, that ended up being the last time Calgary made the playoffs prior to last year.

Wilson finished that season with the Av's AHL affiliate in Lake Erie and began the next season there as well but was only there for just over a week before he was recalled to the NHL for good.

8. Will Fight When It's Right

It's been a long time since Wilson's last NHL fight, having not taken a major in the last three years. But you sense that's more a by-product of him not playing much.

In his first three NHL seasons, his gloves were on the ice a lot with 13 scraps on his fight card over that period. I've linked to every one below and what you'll find is he's not one of those guys guilty of staged fights. In most of them, it's either him sticking up for a teammate that just got walloped or it's him answering the bell after he crushed an opponent (and he does this a lot, see point No. 9 below) and the player wants a piece of him.

This list is in chronological order beginning at the start of his career.

9. Hits Like Stevens

If you're old enough to remember Scott Stevens in his prime, I doubt there will ever be someone that hits with that type of ferocity ever again. He was absolutely deadly.

That said, you do see shades of Stevens when you see Wilson step up and crunch guys. The form, the technique, the open-ice hit is not something you see a lot of any more but Wilson has delivered some punishing ones and all of them clean. He's never received an NHL suspension.

Here's a handful I was able to dig up on YouTube. These are in addition to the ones above on Moreau, Brodziak and Oshie.

10. Earned a Big Payday

His first three seasons in the NHL were pretty solid for Wilson. In addition to establishing himself as a physical force and fierce hitter, he compiled some decent offensive totals as well with 58 points (7 goals, 51 assists) in 187 games.

Regarded at the time as a top-four calibre d-man with the Avs behind Erik Johnson and Jan Hejda, he signed a new 3-year/$6.75 million deal in June 2012, which worked out to an annual average value of $2.25 million, which for some perspective, was $125,000 more than Brodie's AAV on his second contract.

11. Teammate of D.J.

The one guy that should know Wilson better than anyone is David Jones, who was teammates with Wilson in Colorado for four seasons including those first three very effective years.

On the flip side, Wilson was also a witness to Jones' three best offensive seasons of his NHL career when from 2009-10 through 2011-12, Jones racked up 57 goals in 172 games.

Maybe they're each other's good luck charm.

12. Oft-Injured is an Understatement

The main story line with Wilson is his ugly injury history, especially lately. He has missed 165 games due to injuries over his six NHL seasons, 132 of those absences coming in the past three years.

Here's the breakdown of games missed:
  • 2014-15 - 76 games (head 1, shoulder 75)
  • 2013-14 - 20 games (knee 4, back 16)
  • 2012-13 - 36 games (ankle 15, re-injured ankle 4, re-injured ankle 17)
  • 2011-12 - 17 games (head 13, groin 2, flu 1, torso 1)
  • 2010-11 - 9 games (leg 5, knee 4)
  • 2009-10 - 7 games (head 2, head 5)

With all his injuries and his struggles to stay on the ice, Wilson began to fall out of favour with new Avs coach Patrick Roy in 2013-14. Roy questioned his conditioning at times and at one point that year shipped Wilson to Lake Erie on a 14-day conditioning stint. Later in the year, Wilson ended up in Roy's doghouse and was a scratch for 23 of 26 games that included one stretch of 17 straight games in the press box.

Legit Shot at Making the NHL Roster

Make no mistake, there is genuine opportunity for Wilson to make the 2014-15 Flames as a veteran defenceman and third pairing option.

The Flames do have six veterans that are already locks in Giordano, Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland, but you need at least seven on your roster.

Ladislav Smid is the obvious top candidate to be No. 7 given he's back skating but there's still no certainty as to when -- or even if -- he'll be cleared for contact. A second neck operation in a span of five years is a significant deal and his long-term health overall -- and as a young father -- will certainly have to be a consideration. You sense that at minimum, Smid won't be ready to start the season.

When it comes to prospects, there's Tyler Wotherspoon but you'd rather he be playing big minutes in the AHL then be sitting as the extra guy in the NHL. That same philosophy applies to others like Kenney Morrison, Ryan Culkin and Brett Kulak.

There's 27-year-old Czech Jakub Nakladal but he's playing in North America for the first time and some adjustment time may be necessary as he gets familiar with the smaller ice surface. Plus, we're not sure how good he is.

Final Thoughts

Wilson on a PTO is ideal for the Flames. If he's 100 percent and in talking with Rob Kerr on Friday on Sportsnet960 radio, he declared he was, he could end up being a nice value signing that gives Calgary depth and additional options should none of the aforementioned candidates prove to be ready to step into the NHL.

Even if a guy like Wotherspoon does have a great camp and earns a spot on the roster or puts himself at the top of the line to be called up, it's still not a bad idea to add some veteran depth because injuries on the blue-line are going to happen and when it does, how quickly do you want to be dipping into those guys that are not quite ready yet.

He's an intriguing candidate to bring in and a nice fall-back option for the team as there is no obligation to keep him should he not play well or should others in the organization win NHL jobs. It's the kind of flexibility that Calgary would not have had if they had committed instead to a one-year contract with a guy like David Schlemko.

The one scenario even better than low risk/high reward, is no risk/high reward and that is how I dould describe this move. He's a reclamation project, for sure, but he's only 28. We'll see how this story unfolds in the next month.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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  1. High points in OHL, but could be a result of Stamkos, much like the 3rd guy in the Perry/Getzlaf or Sedin/Sedin lines gets inflated point totals. Stamkos is a boon for points. Good to see, though, that the injuries look to be broad, and don't seem to be a recurring issue (like a bad groin, etc) . Thanks again for a great post; love and look forward to your readings.

    1. You can bet Stamkos was a huge part of those point totals and surely played into him going undrafted. Given the calibre of the Flames top-end on the blue-line, could he be a useful part on the bottom pairing, maybe even give Calgary the ability to move Kris Russell if they cannot agree to a deal with the pending UFA, I guess we'll see.