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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane native Derek Ryan reaches milestone 500th NHL game in second season with Edmonton

Los Angeles’ Quinton Byfield, left, and Edmonton’s Derek Ryan battle for a loose puck during Game 6 of their Western Conference series April 29 in Los Angeles.  (Tribune News Service)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

The prospect of playing 500 regular-season games in the National Hockey League did not seem all that likely for Derek Ryan, considering the trajectory of his career.

Undrafted during his time with the Spokane Chiefs from 2004 to 2007, Ryan played collegiately in Canada and professionally in Europe until he finally made his NHL debut in 2016.

Even achieving the feat this season – his second with the Edmonton Oilers – required him to play 80 games, his most since 2018-19, but it got him to precisely 500.

It may have been his most effective season.

“Once you get into the NHL, you play for your first couple of games and you solidify yourself at 50 or 60,” Ryan said last week after watching his 9-year-old son play hockey in Vancouver, British Columbia. “Then you look to 100, then 200. Every hundred seems like a big milestone.

“(Since I) started when I was 29, (that) made it a little extra special for myself, my family and everyone who helped me get (to 500).”

The 36-year-old Ryan, whose Oilers lost in the second round of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs to the Vegas Golden Knights, is the 13th former Chiefs player to play at least 500 games in the NHL. Among Spokane natives, he trails only Tyler Johnson, whose 671 games rank seventh on that list, and whose jersey number hangs from the rafters at Spokane Arena.

Ray Whitney, whose number is also retired, is the franchise leader with 1,330 career games played in the NHL.

In addition to his regular-season total, Ryan has also played 41 playoff games, including 11 this year as a teammate of fellow Spokane native Kailer Yamamoto.

Yamamoto (244 regular-season NHL games) is under contract one more year with the Oilers. Ryan’s two-year deal is up, but he said he hopes to be back with the Oilers next year because he likes the community and the team’s potential.

“Most importantly now at this point in my career, I want to win,” said Ryan, the oldest player on the Oilers roster this season. “I feel like Edmonton is building toward something special.”

Ryan’s 13 goals ranked seventh and his 20 points 14th for Edmonton, a supporting role on a team that features Connor McDavid (64 goals, 153 points) and Leon Draisaitl (52 and 128).

In his NHL career, Ryan has scored 76 goals and assisted on 115.

But the forward’s mark on the team this year – as ever in his career – went beyond scoring.

To be a player in your 30s, Ryan said, you need to be multidimensional, able to play well on defense, understand schemes and forecheck effectively.

“You have to have a lot of different facets to your game,” he said.

That has earned him the respect of teammates and coaches.

“He blocked shots and made a lot of really good reads on the penalty kill when there were breakdowns,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said of Ryan in a May article in The Athletic. “He’s an unsung hero for our team. The playoffs (are) when you see those. Every little play gets magnified, and he made a lot of really good ones.”

Off the ice, too, Ryan has made his mark. For the second time in his career, he was nominated this year for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded annually by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association to “the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.”

“It’s awesome,” Ryan said of the nomination.

“The journey I’ve had to where I’ve been, I love sharing that journey. I think it’s a motivational story for kids striving to be a hockey player but (also) to be anything they want, to aspire to reach their dreams.”

Ryan said he and his family will return to their offseason home in Spokane this summer. He will train as usual with Johnson, Yamamoto and other local players like Bear Hughes and then, he hopes, he’ll be a part of the Oilers again next season.

And who knows? Maybe he’ll play another year after that.

“I consider myself a low-mileage 36-year-old,” Ryan said. “I feel like I’ve taken care of my body. I still feel physically fit and fine.”

After playing 500 games, Ryan said, “I guess now I can look to 600.”