Stories behind NHL late bloomers Jakub Nakladal, Derek Ryan

Calgary Flames' Jakub Nakladal, left, and Carolina Hurricanes forward Derek Ryan, right. (AP photos)

Prior to Tuesday night, hockey fans might not have known who Jakub Nakladal or Derek Ryan were, but both players now have something somewhat unique in common.

Nakladal and Ryan each scored their first NHL goals and happened to be in their late-20s when they did. Not only that but both guys wear No. 33 and shoot right as well.

Ryan, 29, made his NHL debut with the Carolina Hurricanes and the forward sniped a nice wristshot by Cory Schneider.

Nakladal, 28, was skating in his 10th career game and scored the Calgary Flames’ lone goal against the Boston Bruins when he wired a one-timer past Tuukka Rask.

Neither took a conventional route to the NHL.

Ryan signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Hurricanes last summer after being named MVP of the Swedish Hockey League. The forward played three full seasons with the Spokane Chiefs in the Western Hockey League from 2004-2007 before spending four years at the University of Alberta. He then played three years in the Austrian League (one season with Szekeshfehervar Alba Volan HC and two with VSV EC) prior to signing with Orebro HK in Sweden in 2014. In 55 games with the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL this season Ryan has 17 goals and 25 assists. The Spokane, Wash., native has a history with current Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters, who was Ryan’s coach for his final two seasons with the Chiefs.

Meanwhile, Nakladal inked a one-year entry-level deal with the Flames last May following a strong performance with the Czech Republic team at the World Championship. The defenceman developed with Pardubice HC for the better part of six seasons in the Czech league before spending four years in the KHL, splitting his time there with three different teams. He spent last year with TPS Turku in Finland and in 35 games with the AHL’s Stockton Heat this season he has 15 points and 30 penalty minutes.

While it’s uncommon for an NHLer to be in his late-20s when he scores his first goal, Nakladal and Ryan weren’t close to setting any records.

If you were wondering, the oldest player to score his first NHL goal was Latvian hockey legend Helmuts Balderis who did so at age 37 with the Minnesota North Stars during the 1989-90 season. He’s also the oldest player ever drafted by an NHL team (he was 36). Balderis, a member of the IIHF International Hockey Hall of Fame, was on the Soviet Olympic team that was upset by the “Miracle On Ice” squad from the United States in 1980 and won a bronze medal at the 1976 Canada Cup.

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