Ryan Fitzgerald knew he had some big skates to fill when he first laced them up as a youngster.
His father, Tom, logged over 1000 career games in the National Hockey League — 71 of those with the Boston Bruins in 2005-06 — and is cousins with former NHLer Keith Tkachuk and his son Matthew (of the Calgary Flames), as well as current New York Ranger Kevin Hayes and his older brother Jimmy (former Bruin, current Devil). Ryan’s younger brother Casey is currently a star at Boston College, while his cousin, Brady Tkachuk, skates for Boston University and is expected to be selected in the first round of this summer’s NHL draft.
But Fitzgerald is focused on writing his own story, with the latest chapter being written in his first full season with the Providence Bruins.
Fitzgerald, the Bruins’ fourth-round pick in 2013, received his first taste of the professional game after a four-year career at Boston College when he joined Providence during the end of last season. In eight regular season games, the center notched two assists during the P-Bruins late-season stretch. As Providence made its playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals, Fitzgerald chipped in with five points (one goal, four assists) in 13 games.
Through Feb. 18 of this season, the 23-year-old, who was born in Florida but grew up in North Reading and led Malden Catholic to the first two of their four consecutive Super 8 State Championships from 2011-2014, is sixth on the P-Bruins with 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists) in 42 games. He had himself a solid three-game weekend from Feb. 16-18, netting two goals against the Springfield Thunderbirds as Providence took two of three to remain in third place in the Atlantic Division.
Despite the solid numbers, there is much more that needs to be done for Fitzgerald to crack the lineup — especially when the Bruins are already loaded with young, talented forwards.
“I think I just need to keep progressing,” he said after Providence’s 1-0 shootout win over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Feb. 16. “It’s obviously a process, and it’s my first full year. I think every weekend I come to this rink I need to make progress, and then the cards will lay themselves out.”
If there’s one important mantra Fitzgerald understands, it’s that success certainly doesn’t come overnight. His father spent a large chunk of his first four professional seasons in the American Hockey League with the Springfield Indians and the Capital District Islanders before embarking on a long NHL career.
Fitzgerald is shaping up to be a player of his father’s same style. Very skilled offensively, he tends to see some time on the power-play, occasionally rotating back to the point. He’s also the type of player that will swarm the net and look for loose pucks — evidenced by how he scored on Sunday, picking up a rebound from a Jeremy Lauzon shot.
Listed at 5-foot-9 and 175 lbs, Fitzgerald can certainly afford to pack on some extra weight, especially if he wants to be more effective in the corners. But his speed and overall offensive ability remain noteworthy strengths, and have been his bread and butter since high school days.
Fitzgerald is now hoping he can translate the offensive success to both the neutral and the defensive zone. On top of that, he wants to limit his mistakes while continuing to make the adjustment from college to the professional ranks.
“I think as you jump into the season, you kind of learn how to play the game the right way, where to be — the little things that in college, you might not have realized stuff like that. D-zone, O-zone, just being in the right spot,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s not a whole lot of mistakes in this game. I just think [being] able to do the little things is big at this level.”
There is much that Fitzgerald can work on, but he is on the path to a possible NHL future. If and when he does reach that point, it will be a path that he paved in his own way, creating his own legacy.
The best part: He could do it for a team he grew up watching.
“It’s pretty cool,” Fitzgerald said of playing in the Bruins’ system. “Not many people can say that they’re doing what I’m doing, growing up in this area and playing down here [in Providence]. So it’s definitely special, and it’s an honor to be a part of this organization.”