BOSTON — Aside from the handful of highly-touted draftees in each NHL Entry Draft, most players share the same bond in working their way up the ranks through different Dub leagues until they reach the top.
And for the Boston Bruins third-round draft pick in last year’s 2009 draft, defenseman Ryan Button is willing to take the time to develop at the next level before setting his sights on the big NHL stage.
“Unless you’re a top-5 draft pick, unless you’re a Tyler Seguin or John Tavares or Sidney Crosby, the likes of you playing in your first year isn’t very realistic.” said Button after the Bruins’ rookies 2-1 OT victory last night over the New York Islanders at the TD Garden.
And at just 19 years of age, Button has his sights set for a more realistic goal: the AHL Providence Bruins
“Earning a spot this year’s probably not realistic, but I’m going to give it my best in main camp and hope for the best.” said the humbled Button. “There are still great players that have played in the AHL. Look at Duncan Keith for example. He just won a Stanley Cup and he’s by far their best player. “I watched all their games and he was absolutely outstanding and he played, I think, like two years in the AHL so I think most great players these days take a little bit of developing and grooming in the AHL and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. So, whatever it takes.”
The 19-year-old Edmonton, Alberta, Canada native has spent the past three seasons on the blue-line with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League (WHL). Button has quickly progressed since his rookie season — at age 16 when he posted 0-8-8, minus-20 in 58 games — into a solid two-way defenseman, whose averages have been better than a half-point-per-game over the past two season (11-59-70 in 137 games played).
Having just played against, and with, other great hockey players from around the world and in other Dub leagues, Button knows the talent pool is deep, and he’s going to have to work that much harder at his job.
“You get to the Western League [WHL] and you think you’ve almost made it and the talent gets that much better. Then you get to the pro ranks it’s like, ‘holy crap’. It’s the best player from ever team that you’re playing against and you’re trying to beat them out for spots.” Button said excitedly. “It’s a tough job to make but I guess it comes down to who wants it more….there’s a lot of good players out there.”
For the two games against the Islanders, Button posted an assist (on Caron’s first goal in Game 1), E-rating, 0 PIM, and 4 SOG. The 6’0″ defenseman didn’t rack up the points, but he played an integral part of the Bruins’ penalty kill units — which went a perfect 6-for-6 — by logging big minutes and blocking shots.
“The coaches gave us a little bit of an idea of what they wanted us to do. I think what it came down to was we wanted it more on the penalty kill.” he said. “But I think it’s evidence that we had a lot of guys blocking shots. At the end of the day to get a good PK in three days is probably not realistic, so it comes down to will and that’s what we had in this dressing room.”
What makes Button’s situation so unique, is that he’s used as a main anchor on his team’s [Raiders] top power play unit, and little time killing penalties. And while killing off the Bruins’ first penalty of the night — to fellow defenseman Matt Delahey — Button spent 1:41 on the ice, successfully killing the man-down.
“It’s kind of funny last year I hardly PK’d on my team. We had some other guys who were more defensive so they got that time and I got more power play time.” he said. “But I’ve killed [some] in the past.
“It’s not an easy thing to do but again as I said the whole blocking shots I think that’s what it really comes down to. Teams with good power plays are going to get shots and it just comes down to whether you’re willing to block them or not and that helps the penalty kill a lot.”
So for Button, this experience at rookie/training camp has been a great learning experience thus far. He’s not rushing this process and he’s certainly not putting too much pressure on himself. But in do-time, if Button can continue to grow as a solid two-way defender — which he has by playing in all special teams’ situations and blocking shots — then he’s definitely on the right path to the NHL.
“Maybe in a couple of years I’ll be playing back here, playing in front of these amazing fans. That would be a dream come true.”