There has been a recent re-emergence of gritty, American leaders marching their teams deep into the playoffs. Last year alone three of the four teams in the Conference Finals were lead by tough, hard-nosed U.S. countrymen: Dustin Brown (LAK); Ryan Callahan (NYR); Zach Parise (NJD).
That’s not to say there aren’t many Canadian captains with the same two-way mindset, such as current Flyers captain Claude Giroux. Giroux exemplifies a plethora of characteristics that former Flyers captain and current team Senior Vice President Bobby Clarke possessed when he led the Broad Street Bullies to back-to-back Stanley Cup victories in the 1970’s. The will to win defines how these captains play the game, which is shared by a young American named Ryan Hartman.
The name says it all with this West Dundee, Ill. native. He plays the game the way it was meant to be played. Every time he steps on the ice he goes 100% and he does it for the team. Hartman is the epitome of a team player, who would do anything for his teammates and for the win. He plays with the spunk that’s become associated with blue-collar American hockey players. This generation of homegrown talent couples the mucker and grinder qualities with a high level of offensive skill. Hartman has put up 60 points in 56 games this season with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League. This is quite an impressive total in itself, but when you think about the long, journeyed season Hartman has traveled through, the numbers stand out even more.
Back in September Hartman played in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game with some of the highest-touted American talent in the country. The gritty Whaler displayed his confident and tenacious style of hockey in front of NHL scouts, setting the tone for his draft-eligible campaign.
In the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Halifax, Hartman dropped the mitts with Windsor Spitfires’ forward Kerby Rychel. Despite being uncommon in a showcase game, that fight marks the second straight year a Plymouth player got in a tilt. Last year Tom Wilson (WSH 16th overall ’12) dropped the gloves with Saskatoon Blades’ defenseman Dalton Thrower (MTL 51st overall ’12).
Wilson returned to Plymouth in January after a stint in the Washington Capitals’ camp. The first-round selection isn’t the only talented teammate Hartman has been able to learn from and hone his craft. Hartman’s teammate on Team USA during the World Junior Championship in Russia, Vincent Trocheck (FLA 64th overall ’11) was acquired from the Saginaw Spirit midway through this season and is arguably the best player in the OHL currently. Rickard Rakell (ANA 30th overall ’11) was sent back to Plymouth from Anaheim after a four-game stint.
Stefan Noesen (OTT 21st overall ’11), Mitchell Heard (COL 41st overall ‘12), and Austin Levi (CAR 85th overall ’10) are all early draftees who can only help Hartman prepare and continue to mature. Garrett Meurs (COL 123rd overall ’11), Connor Carrick (WSH 137th overall ’12), Cody Payne (BOS 145th overall ’12), and Gianluca Curcuruto (CBJ 182nd overall ’12) provide depth and experience for the Whalers.
Not only has Hartman earned invaluable knowledge in his rookie season with Plymouth, but he also won a gold medal in the WJC in Ufa, Russia. Hartman was a bubble player entering camp, but was not deterred at all and impressed the coaches with his will to win. In competition the Whaler played on a line with Cornell University’s Cole Bardreau (free agent) and Blake Pietila (NJD 129th overall ’11). These three meshed instantly, providing the American squad with a highly talented energy line, willing to do the dirty work in order to generate opportunities. Hartman shined on the international stage, displaying his non-stop motor and using it to generate speed on the rush and to draw penalties.
Hartman has seen his stock consistently rise as scouts get a closer look at him against major junior competition, as well as the best in the world at his age-level. In my opinion, the young American passed each test with flying colors and is exactly the type of player I would pick to personify my team’s style of play.
He ranked 25th among North American skaters in the mid-term NHL Central Scouting rankings for the 2013 NHL draft. Hartman is the terrific mix of grit and skill, blending 60 points with 120 penalty minutes in his first year. His plus-29 rating is also a telltale sign of his responsibility in all three zones and the defensive awareness he plays with on the ice.
For those Flyers fans wishing the front office could pull a player out of the days of the Bullies, Ryan Hartman is the closest you can get. He brings an old-school style to the modern rate of play and will only continue to flourish after a full season in Plymouth.
Note: The aforementioned linemate, Cole Bardreau was passed over in last year’s draft, and despite missing the remainder of this season with a neck fracture, remains a quality free agent option. If the Flyers are in the mid-to-late first-round range and the top defensive prospects are off the board, I would make a very strong case for Hartman and then pursue his Team USA linemate.