Take a quick look at the top-10 goal scorers in the NHL as of Thursday evening, and you might notice a rather surprising name residing in the No. 9 spot with 35 goals -- Dallas Stars forward Michael Ryder, having already set a new personal best in goals scored.
And this seems like it's not getting enough attention, as he's been a big part of the Stars and their quest to end what has been a three-year playoff drought.
The Stars signed Ryder away from the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins over the summer, inking him to a two-year deal worth $3.5 million per season. For this year he's been one of the most productive free agent pickups a team managed to sign over the summer.
He's always been a pretty decent goal-scorer throughout his career, but he's never had a season that approached this level of production. Over the previous two seasons, for example, he scored a grand total of just 36 goals. With five games remaining in the regular season he is only one goal away from matching that number this season alone.
Twice in his career, both as a member of the Montreal Canadiens during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, he's scored 30 goals, and if you look back at those performances you notice that he loaded up on power play goals, scoring 18 and 17 during those seasons on the man advantage. This year he only has seven on the power play, and has already blown away his previous best for even strength goals.
It's been a pretty remarkable season for the veteran winger, and I decided to go back and look at every goal Ryder has scored this season to see how (and why) he's been able to have so much success.
A couple of thoughts and observations...
1) He's always around the net. For much of the season, Ryder has been playing on a line with Mike Ribeiro and Loui Eriksson, which is a pretty good situation for any winger with a reasonable level of talent. He's also done a lot of dirty work around the net, banging in rebounds and getting deflections, scoring 29 of his 35 goals below the faceoff dots, with eight goals coming on deflections or rebounds that he's managed to bang home.
2) He's hoarding Dallas' empty net goals. Four of Ryder's goals this season have come with an empty net. The rest of the Stars have combined for only seven, with no other player scoring more than one.
This is interesting because prior to this season Ryder had never scored an empty net goal in his career. One of the things that stands out about his stat line this season is the fact he's currently putting up a shooting percentage of over 17 percent, which is well ahead of his career average and any number that he's put up over any previous individual season. If you remove the four empty net goals it comes back down a bit closer to his normal career average.
The fact he has four this season is certainly a boost to his numbers, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and it may even speak to the role he plays in Dallas and the level of trust the coaching staff has with him on the ice. It's probably a good sign when a coach trusts a player so much that he consistently puts him on the ice in the final minute of a one or two goal game (typically the only time your opponent will pull its goalie) to protect a lead and secure a win.
3) Quite simply, he still has an excellent shot. When Ryder gets some open space in the slot, or on an odd-man rush, and has an opportunity to get off a quick wrist shot, he's pretty dangerous and it's been on display quite often this season.
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