A few weeks ago you might remember there was some controversy over a comment Bobby Ryan made to the OC Register about breaking away from Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and stepping up in the absence of Teemu Selanne. While I don't want to open that wound again, I have been thinking about it more as the season winds down and we're entering full blown summer mode. The question I have isn't whether he should or should not have made the comment nor if his comment was valid, but can he actually do it?
For the record, I didn't mind his comments. To me they showed an awareness of the situation and a welcomed candor that we don't usually hear from hockey players. Also, before I go any further, I want to be 100% clear that I'm not trying to bash Bobby. Regardless of any negative things I may discuss going forward; I think that Bobby is a huge part of this team, getting rid of him would be a gigantic step backwards for the franchise. Right now the Ducks' only option to succeed in a post-Teemu world is to trust in Bobby. Still, I think the question needs to be asked.
Bobby is a winger and a shooter. Ideally, I would prefer to build a line around a playmaking center. Getzlaf, Sidney Crosby and Joe Thornton would be three extreme examples of the prototypical player to build a line around. They're players who make their line mates better when they're at their best. As it stands now, the Ducks' second line is built around a finishing winger (no pun intended) in Teemu, so in theory it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to have Bobby lead his own line. However, there are some key differences in playing style between Bobby and Teemu.
This isn't a question of whether or not Bobby can "replace" Teemu, but comparing their styles is important. I consider Teemu a player who makes his line mates better - not in the same way that the aforementioned playmaking centers do - but by using his speed and vision to put himself in positions to score, allowing his line mates to rack up assists and therefore have success as a line. Think about all the players Teemu has had "chemistry" with over his career: Paul Kariya, Andy McDonald, Saku Koivu. The only one who didn't have his peak years with Teemu was Koivu, and that's easily attributed to the fact that they're both nearing the twilight of their careers.
Bobby, on the other hand, is more of a one on one player, as is evidenced by his career highlight reel: The Legwand Double Deke, the Spin-o-rama Hat Trick goal against the Kings, and countless others where he makes his patented move flying up the left wing cutting across the crease and delaying to slam it home on his forehand side. That kind of thing is great to watch - when it works. But for every time he wows us with his terminal case of dangleitis, there are at least three or four times he gets shut down by a defender basically standing still. His "try, try again' mentality is definitely admirable, but it doesn't really help anyone else succeed.
And that brings us to the true question at the root of Bobby's ability to lead his own line: Is his one on one style of play the result of not having an opportunity to build true chemistry with a line mate, having played most of his career with Getzlaf and Perry, or is it the reason why he's become a third wheel on that line? Honestly, we don't know yet. He's never been given the opportunity to prove one way or the other.
There is a very long summer ahead of the Ducks, in which they can, and hopefully will, make moves in free agency and/or via trade to recover from the loss of Teemu (and Koivu?). As it stands now though, his options for line mates next season appear to be Kyle Palmieri, Emerson Etem, Nick Bonino, and/or Peter Holland.
If Holland and Palmieri get their chance next year with Bobby, he'll be in a similar situation to what he has with Perry and Getzlaf. Tossing Bobby on a line with two guys who have forged chemistry in the American League puts him right back where he started, except with two younger, less proven players and less ice time. As Eric Stephens pointed out yesterday, Bobby is getting the chance to test the water with Bonino and Palmieri/Devante Smith-Pelly down the stretch, but a full season will be a different story.
Building a line of kids around Bobby will force him into further uncharted territory in terms of leadership. Living in the shadow of Getzlaf, Perry, Selanne, Koivu, and even Scott Niedermayer, Bobby has never had to show his leadership on this team. Having it thrust upon him as he's trying to become the go-to-guy on the ice is a lot to manage, just ask Getzy how it's turned out for him.
Maybe Bobby is that guy. Maybe he is ready for the next step in his career. Maybe it's just me, not being able to see a kid (one year younger than me) grow up right in front of my eyes. After all, in my family he has always been, and will always be known as "Baby" Bobby Ryan. He is on the verge of his fourth straight 30 goal season without ever having a place to call his own on the team. He's earned the opportunity. This is his time, now he needs to listen to Herb Brooks and that little kid from You Tube, "go out there and take it!"