It’s too early to perhaps rubber stamp a destination for Ryker Evans. The 21-year old defenseman, now in his third Seattle Kraken training camp grown from time and experience, has perhaps seen the goal posts move through time – but in a positive direction.
Quite simply, over the last two years split between the Western Hockey League in Regina and the American Hockey League in Coachella Valley, the mission was meant to gain experience in an NHL environment. That mission now is to become a full-time part of an NHL environment. By many indicators, Evans is swiftly moving toward his time, and arrival of his welcome ticket to “the show.”
“We had some pace in practice today,” said Evans.
He got a taste of it on Wednesday at Kraken Community Iceplex. Evans, who has switched jersey numbers to 39 while yielding his old number 41 to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, suited up with a majority of the Kraken regular roster, grouped into one half of practice, and the other half containing a large majority of players previously in the minor leagues and the major junior level. Seven defensemen in the group Evans skated with had NHL experience. Evans was the only one in the group without any of it.
Whether you want to read into that or not, the hard facts suggest exponential growth in his numbers, and a ripening of his game. Evans came as advertised in the AHL last season, shaking up the league with a 44 point campaign in 71 games and was electric in the Calder Cup Playoffs, with a dynamite 26 points in 26 games while entering game seven as the Firebirds leading scorer in the Finals.
Where he fits in now is a matter, perhaps, of impressing the Kraken coaching staff and brass to the point where keeping him off the roster is unthinkable. With the signing of Brian Dumoulin, it’s not inconceivable that Evans starts this season again in the AHL. But there is a growing case of Evans – who has looked impressive since the start of camp – becoming more comfortable with the demands of an NHL game. He said it himself, referencing a high level of confidence coming off a full season in the AHL.
“Yeah, honestly, I think a lot of it came from last year,” Evans said. “Just learning a lot about the game – Dan (Byslma) really kind of hammered down on system stuff and allowed me to realize how we want to play up here in Seattle. So, when I'm out there, everything is coming natural. I’m not thinking.”
Head coach Dave Hakstol traveled for the road trip side of Monday’s split squad, and deployed Evans more than anybody else in the game. The Kraken won 5-3, with Evans earning 23:18 of ice time with an assist on Kailer Yamamoto’s third period insurance goal.
“He let the game settle down after the first couple of shifts,” said Hakstol. “I was impressed with the things that he did on the offensive blueline. His poise, his ability to walk the line, his ability to create some time and space up there - that was pretty apparent throughout the game. As he went through the game, the rest of the package kind of settled down in. Maybe the game seemed to slow down for him, a little bit.”
All that’s left for Evans – who is now patiently playing the waiting game – is to capitalize when the door opens. He said the mission for this season is simple.
“Take advantage of the opportunities at hand,” Evans told 93.3 KJR-FM. “There’s going to be some that come my way - just taking advantage of all of them.”