Due to a variety of circumstances, Canucks general manager Mike Gillis didn’t get to see all that much of Rick Rypien during the 2008-09 hockey season. But clearly he saw enough to know he wanted the feisty Coleman, AB product back in the fold. On Wednesday afternoon, Rypien became the second player scratched from Gillis’ off-season ‘to do’ list when he signed a two-year extension with the hockey club.
Long a favourite of head coach Alain Vigneault for his speed, aggression and penalty killing abilities, Rypien dressed for just 12 regular season games. But after a lengthy layoff due to injuries and a personal leave, the 25-year-old was a fixture in the Canucks playoff line-up suiting up for all 10 of the team’s post-season contests.
When healthy, Rypien has developed into a feared hitter who brings energy on every shift. Although not huge in stature at 5’11” and 170 pounds, Rypien knows how to throw his weight around and he’s demonstrated on a number of occasions he knows how to throw punches, too -- particularly lefts. Just ask Brandon Prust or Zack Stortini. Although they may take a while to get back to you because they’re likely still not sure what hit them.
Unfortunately for Rypien, his body hasn’t always been able to withstand the punishment it takes playing the robust style he brings to the rink. And to this point in his brief NHL career (a total of 41 regular season games over parts of four seasons), it’s injuries that have held him back. But if he can stay healthy, Rypien can play a valuable role for the Vancouver Canucks.
In his first taste of Stanley Cup playoff action this spring, Rypien took a regular shift on the Canucks fourth line with Ryan Johnson and Darcy Hordichuk. He picked up assists in two of the final three games he played. And in the other was responsible for one of the more memorable shifts of the Canucks playoff run registering four separate hits on Chicago players in the Blackhawks zone as he literally hit anything in a white uniform that moved.
Rypien has capably showed he’s both willing and able to play the rugged role of a fourth line grinder. But with the security of his new two year deal in hand, Rypien needs to start thinking about developing other areas of his game. It wasn’t that long ago that the offensive capabilities of a player like Alex Burrows were questioned. Now, perhaps it’s a stretch to expect Rick Rypien to develop into a 28-goal scorer at the NHL level. But he was a 22-goal scorer in his final year in junior in Regina and had nine goals in 49 games in his first year with the Manitoba Moose.
The teams that have progressed deepest in the playoffs this year have all shown an ability to get key offensive production from all four of their lines. The Vancouver Canucks should expect a little more offence from a player like Rypien -- and Rypien, himself, should want to improve that side of his game.
He scored two goals in his first two games this past season and the Canucks won all three of the games in which Rypien scored a goal (all three happened to be against Miikka Kiprussoff and the Calgary Flames). So clearly when he was able to chip in offensively, he was able to impact the end result. In all, Rypien suited up for 12 regular season games scoring three goals and picking up 19 penalty minutes. In the playoffs, he registered two helpers and spent 40 minutes in the penalty box.
A player that skates as well as Rypien does should be able to have some success offensively in today’s NHL. He possesses terrific speed that should be able to back-off defenders and perhaps taking a cue from a teammate like Ryan Kesler, Rypien has to start thinking about trying to beat defenders wide to create scoring chances or draw penalties – even while short-handed.
The transformation from grinder to goal-scorer isn’t going to happen overnight. But with the contract extension, it’s clear that Rypien figures in the Canucks’ plans moving forward. But now he has to show that he’s not content to simply be a fourth line guy. He certainly possesses the type of skill set that could help the Canucks as a versatile third-line winger capable of pushing double-digits in goal-scoring.
Rypien has proven he’s tough, he’s proven he’s fearless and he certainly can’t afford to lose sight of what got him to hockey’s highest level. And it would certainly be great to see how much more he’s capable of if he could just stay healthy for a full season.The Canucks are counting on that happening next year.