YARMOUTH, N.S. – It took five hours for Ryan Graves’ name to be called during the NHL draft of 2013 and then five years before he finally got to play in his first official NHL game.
But for Graves and his family it’s the experience – not the wait – that they’re focusing on now.
“It’s been surreal,” he told the Tri-County Vanguard in a phone interview from Denver. “It's been awesome for myself and awesome for my family.”
Graves, who hails from Yarmouth, N.S., played his first official NHL game with the Colorado Avalanche on Dec. 27 against the Vegas Golden Knights and since then the defenseman – who was recalled by Colorado to fill in for an injured player – has been on the Av’s roster for games against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks.
Colorado didn’t get a win in those games, losing all games by one goal – including twice in overtime and in the game versus the Sharks after coming back from a 4-1 deficit for a 5-4 final.
Still for Graves, each time he has laced up his skates he’s done so with attitude of enjoying the moment, while helping his team.
“It’s been really enjoyable,” he said when asked about his NHL experience. “I’m just trying to take it in, do what I can to help the team and also put my best foot forward and give my best effort to try to help the team.”
On Friday evening, Jan. 4, Graves played in his fifth NHL game – this time against the team that first drafted him, the New York Rangers. Not only did Graves experience his first NHL win with the Avalanche, but he also scored his first career NHL goal, unassisted, in the third period. Perhaps the only thing bigger than the moment for him was his smile that followed.
Graves' goal was the 6th goal in a 6-1 win by the Avalanche over the Rangers. Talking to reporters in the dressing room after the game he said it was a moment he had dreamed of all his life – scoring his first NHL goal.
In 2013 Graves had been a fourth-round draft pick of the New York Rangers in the NHL entry draft – going 110th overall among 211 draft picks that year. He was just 18 and playing major junior when he was drafted. In these last four hockey seasons he’s played in the AHL with affiliate teams of the Rangers and Avalanche. The Colorado Avalanche picked up Graves in a trade during the 2017-2018 season.
During his NHL debut and the games he’s played since, Graves said he’s just tried to keep it simple. It’s an approach that seems to be working as he’s recorded shots on goal, blocked shots and delivered a highlight-worthy hit in the game against the Blackhawks.
“You just stick to your own game, try not to do too much. For me, that’s making a good first pass, defending well, that’s the keys,” he said. “It’s just playing my own game and trying to improve, trying to keep it simple and doing what I can to help.”
Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar has been pleased with Graves’ performance. In a video interview with reporters, posted to Avalanche TV on Jan. 1, when asked about Graves Bednar had said, “He’s been surprisingly good for me, I think, in a bunch of different ways – physical when it presents itself, but not running out of his way to finish checks . . . just smart contact.
“Good stick in the D-zone . . . Breaks up passes with his stick, gets in shooting lanes, we’ve seen him block shots. Really good at a lot of little different things from a defending standpoint,” Bednar told the reporters. “And then also, I just think his timing on the offensive zone blueline to kind of step into holes and get his shots off, he’s really steady.”
Bednar said Graves perhaps hasn’t been mistake-free, but he hadn’t made any big mistakes, describing his play as “steady, confident, simple and effective.”
“We loved what we saw from him in development camp to training camp, the speed, and felt that we needed some time for him to develop and to go up the road,” said Bednar. “What we’ve seen from him in the American Hockey League is he’s an impact player, he drives offence with his work and his tenaciousness. He’s on pucks, he’s able to steal pucks, he uses his speed to get to the net.”
Bednar said Graves had contributed to setting up some scoring chances for the Avalanche in some of the NHL games he’s played in since Dec. 27.
Asked about the difference from playing AHL and NHL, Graves said it’s a big jump.
“At the end of the day it’s still the same game I’ve been playing all my life, but it’s faster, you have to make decisions quicker, guys are better with their sticks. If you see an option it closes off a lot quicker. You have to trust where people are going to be, and you have to move it more quickly and if you second guess it sometimes things close off and you get yourself in trouble,” he said. “The game moves a lot faster, so you have to be on your toes, make sure you’re thinking clearly and know your options before you get the puck.”
On short notice, and by no means simple travel from Point A to Point B, Graves’ mother Monica Brennan, his dad Ron Graves and Ryan’s girlfriend Clare Casey were all able to catch flights to Las Vegas to be in the stands for his first NHL game. This along with the support he’s been receiving from his hometown of Yarmouth, N.S. has meant a lot to Graves.
“People from home are always very supportive,” he said. “It’s awesome to know that people are keeping tabs and people are supportive and they’re happy for me. It feels nice and I’m thankful for it.”
Meanwhile, asked what his biggest takeaway has been of his NHL experience –that he’s waited a long time for and dreamed about even longer than that – he said it’s all about adjusting to this level of hockey.
“It’s a quicker game so it’s been an adjustment for me to move quicker, to trust where people are going to be, to keep my game simple and not try to do too much, and not get carried away with the moment,” he said. “I’m trying to take it in and enjoy it. It’s a special time for me and a special time for my family. It’s been an enjoyable experience and I’m trying to make the best of it.”