By Matt Calamia
The last eight months have been one learning experience after another for 18-year-old Ryan Graves. After being taken by the Rangers in the fourth-round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft last June, Graves spent a week at Prospect Camp before returning to Nova Scotia to train. He then took part in the Traverse City prospect tournament and then spent a time in the team's training camp, where he skated alongside NHLers like Dan Girardi and Rick Nash.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound defenseman also saw the business side of the sport earlier this year when he was traded by Charlottetown of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to Val-d'OR, a change that he said has paid off thus far.
Earlier this month, Graves spoke with BlueshirtsUnited.com's Matt Calamia about his year and what lies ahead.
BSU: Can you put into words what last summer was like for you?
RG: “It was a pretty crazy couple months. I went to New Jersey for the draft, which was a really long day. I didn’t get drafted until 10 or 11 pm. [The Rangers] had their booth up in the skybox. I didn’t get back to my hotel until about 1 or 2 in the morning. I couldn’t sleep.
“We had the development camp the very next day, [then after that] I went home to Nova Scotia for a week or so" before returning to New York late in the summer.
BSU: Was it surreal going up against NHL players that you've watched growing up?
RG: “That was indescribable. At the end of practice I was paired with Dan Girardi. You grow up watching him on TV. That was pretty crazy. I was never playing with him and I didn’t want to mess up. It was so cool. In the moment you’re not really taking it in, but looking back it was definitely one of my favorite moments from camp.”
BSU: Has the way you approach your game now in juniors changed since you’ve been drafted?
RG: “I wouldn’t say my mindset has changed. Last year, my main goal was to have a good year, have a consistent year and hopefully get drafted.” This year “I came in with a lot of confidence. Mainly, I just want to win and develop and forward my career."
BSU: You were traded earlier in the year from Charlottetown to Val-d’Or. What was that experience like?
RG: “We had a good team [in Charlottetown] but we weren’t really performing. For me, I wasn’t going to be around any more when they were going to be good. I decided it was better for my career to be on a winning team.
“It was a business decision for sure, but it was also emotional. I had been at Charlottetown since I was 16. The coaches helped me develop and change my lifestyle. I got myself in shape and developed into a player there. It was kind of tough to leave but at the end of the day, it’s all about hockey.”
BSU: Looking at the numbers players put up in the QMJHL, how difficult is it for a shutdown defenseman like yourself?
RG: “For me, it’s a different game from when I was in Charlottetown to [Val-d’Or]. It’s a challenge night in and night out [to play strong defense]. It’s a different mentality here. It’s kind of a more offense team. I’m a shutdown defenseman and the only one on the team. There’s definitely some top-end forwards, but that’s my job [to shut them down].”
BSU: We’re still a few months out, but how important is this upcoming summer for you?
RG: “The first year, you’re in there feeling your way and seeing what it’s all about, but the second year you know what it’s all about. You want to make an impression.”