By Tina Comeau
While the big talk in Nova Scotia leading up to the 2013 NHL draft is the story of Cole Harbour’s Nathan MacKinnon and whether he, or Seth Jones from the U.S., will go first overall in the draft on Sunday, another story could be written at the draft involving a Yarmouth hockey player.
Ryan Graves, 18, will be in New Jersey on Sunday, June 30, for the NHL draft. Graves has played the past two seasons as a defenseman with the QMJHL’s PEI Rocket (the team has since changed its name to the Charlottetown Islanders)
As a draft prospect, Graves is ranked 116th overall in North American skaters.
The draft gets underway at 3:30 p.m. Atlantic time on Sunday and will be televised on TSN. (Note: Halifax Moosehead's Nathan MacKinnon did indeed go first overall, drafted by the Colorado Avalanche. His teammate Jonathan Drouin went third overall to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Seth Jones went fourth over to the Nashville Predators. Finnish Centre Aleksander Barkov went second overall to the Florida Panthers.)
(Note to readers: Ryan Graves was drafted by the New York Rangers during the 19th pick of the fourth round, which was 110th overall. Read the story here.)
Speaking to the Yarmouth Vanguard over the telephone from New Jersey on Saturday evening, June 29, Graves admitted he was "kind of nervous" about the following day's draft.
"I just hope to get drafted," he said, saying in the end it wouldn't matter to him what team he would get the opportunity to play for. He said he's been receiving a lot of support from family and friends in the days leading up to the NHL draft.
Yarmouth already has ties to the NHL through Jody Shelley. Shelley played minor hockey in Yarmouth after moving here as a teenager. Following his major midget career and playing some university hockey and then playing in the AHL, Shelley was signed on as a free agent by the Calgary Flames in 1998, although he never played for the team. Two years after that he was signed as a free agent with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He’s since also played for the San Hose Sharks, the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers.
Graves played hockey in the Yarmouth County Minor Hockey Association up to bantam AAA. After this he moved on to play major midget hockey with the Canadian Tire South Shore Mustangs where, during the 2010-2011 season, he was named the major midget league’s top rookie defenceman. He was also the top rookie of his own Mustangs team. He’s played on U16 and U17 teams at the Canada Winter Games and while he was in midget he played as an affiliate on a few occasions with the Yarmouth Junior A Mariners.
In June 2011 – the same year he was named Yarmouth County's youth athlete of the year – he was picked 9th overall in the first round of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) draft. The 6’04” defenseman was the PEI Rocket’s first draft pick. That year the number one Q draft pick was a player with a familiar name – Cole Harbour forward Nathan MacKinnon who was drafted by Baie-Comeau.
Asked by this newspaper, at the time of his QMJHL draft, about his future hockey aspirations, Graves said he hoped to play pro. Asked if he thought one day he might end up being drafted in the NHL, he smiled and said, “I couldn’t say. I’d like to, but I’d have to step it up a lot.”
Asked on Saturday evening if he feels he has stepped up his game over the past two years playing in the QMJHL, Graves said he feels he has. He says he's worked hard both on and off the ice, noting he had put a lot of work in his off-ice conditioning in addition to his play on the ice.
Asked if he has any advice to offer to other hockey players from Yarmouth who hope one day to find themselves following in his shoes – or his skates – Graves said you just need to be prepared to work hard both at and away from the rink, and you also have to be open to opportunities to play elsewhere as well.
During his 2012-2013 regular season with the PEI Rocket, Graves posted 16 points with three goals and 13 assists in 68 games. The previous season he had nine points in the regular season with two goals and seven assists in 62 games.
This past season Graves’ team was eliminated by Val-D’Or in the first round of playoffs, although the team didn't go out without a fight, pushing Game 6 to triple overtime before falling short four games to two in the best-of-seven game series.
Afterwards Graves came back to Yarmouth, where he finished out his high school education at YCMHS.
This past Thursday he was a graduating member of the Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School's Class of 2013. He wasn’t present for the ceremony, however, instead receiving his diploma in absentia.