DETROIT — Had everything unfolded the way Bryan Murray intended, Bobby Ryan would have slotted in behind the most beloved Ottawa Senator of them all this season.
Instead, the rangy right-winger quickly became Daniel Alfredsson’s replacement after being acquired in a trade mere hours after the former captain signed with Detroit this summer. That left some awfully big skates to fill and Ryan himself has said that he would have preferred there to be a little more space between the transactions.
Murray, the Senators general manager, saw Ryan and Alfredsson as a perfect fit for the top two forward jobs on the right side. “That was the idea,” he told sportsnet.ca before Ottawa’s 6-1 victory over Detroit on Wednesday night.
It obviously never came to fruition.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that Ryan appears more than capable of filling the offensive hole left by Alfredsson’s departure immediately. Already a four-time 30-goal scorer at age 26, there is a belief around the Sens that Ryan is capable of hitting the 40-goal mark — something Alfredsson accomplished twice during his Hall of Fame career.
The trade that brought him over from Anaheim was in the works for months, but only got completed after Murray found out Alfredsson was leaving. He and Ducks counterpart Bob Murray had already agreed on a package that included prospects Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen when that news arrived and the Sens GM promptly sweetened the offer on the table.
“I guess it pushed me a little bit,” said Bryan Murray. “I was offering a second-round pick and Bob kept demanding a first. At the end of the day, when I knew Alfie had gone, I felt that I needed another piece.
“That’s why I did it.”
The move has yielded some early returns for the Senators. Even though Ryan feels like he’s still adjusting to life in the Eastern Conference, he bumped his goal total to six through nine games by scoring twice against the Red Wings on Wednesday night.
The first-period marker was the work of a pure goal-scorer, with Ryan ripping a wrist shot home off the post to give his team a 3-0 lead and chase Jimmy Howard from the net. He later beat Jonas Gustavsson by knocking in a rebound off the rush.
“He’s one of the best players in the league,” linemate Kyle Turris said of Ryan. “You see it in how big and strong he is, how he uses his size down low and his hands and his shot — everything is so good.”
In a perfect world, the Sens would love to have both Ryan and Alfredsson on the roster right now. It would certainly bring a bit more balance to their top six forward group.
The early season experiment of having Ryan play alongside centre Jason Spezza fizzled, and there has been a revolving door on the right side of the top line since. Cory Conacher and Milan Michalek, both left-handed shots, filled the position in the game against Detroit.
Ryan skated with Turris and winger Clarke MacArthur, but you’d have to think it’s only a matter of time before he gets another shot with Spezza. There is just too much potential for magic between the two to ignore.
What has been most encouraging for Ryan so far is the patience coach Paul MacLean has shown with him. On Wednesday morning, he recalled committing a turnover on a power play in the second game of the season against Toronto and thinking it might get him removed from that first unit. However, MacLean threw him right back out there the next time his team had a man advantage.
“I feel like they’re putting the trust in me,” said Ryan.
That’s only natural given the big role Ottawa envisions for him. It’s an opportunity Ryan never felt he had while being stuck behind Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim for the past few years.
Ryan bristles at any comparisons made between himself and the departed Sens captain. He turned down the chance to take Alfredsson’s old locker in the team’s dressing room and joked earlier this season that players would rather dress in “Storage Room B” than that particular spot.
As it turns out, Alfredsson was one of the first to learn that Ryan was likely to be joining Ottawa thanks to a conversation he had with Murray in late June. “I told him that I had that in the works,” said the GM.
They could have been teammates but will instead be forever linked by the faithful afternoon of July 5, 2013 — a day that shook the foundation of the Senators organization. Comparisons will be unavoidable as a result.
“We’re two completely different players,” said Ryan. “He’s leaving at a (time when) his career is winding down and I’m kind of entering that area where you start to figure yourself out as a player.”
The baton was passed where those two points intersected.