Coach Shaun Clouston found himself in a difficult position when the 2017-18 WHL season began for the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Last season, his Tigers won 51 regular-season games and made it to the second round of the WHL Playoffs, but were now left without many of the forwards that they had heavily relied on the previous year.
Matt Bradley got traded to the Regina Pats. Chad Butcher graduated to the American Hockey League. John Dahlstrom headed back home to Sweden. Steven Owre graduated to the University of Alberta. Mason Shaw, a cornerstone candidate, sustained a serious knee injury in September.
Center Ryan Chyzowski became one of the solutions.
And the results so far have been very impressive.
The 17-year-old, centring Medicine Hat’s second line between Tyler Preziuso and Ryan Jevne, has 10 goals and 18 points. More importantly, however, he’s taken on an enhanced role in all situations for his team.
“We were pleasantly surprised,” Clouston said. “We believe in him as a player.
“That group, with Chyzowski, Preziuso and Jevne, were our fourth line last year. They’re getting tough matches, a lot of nights they’re going out against a team’s top line. If it’s not the top line, on the road, it’s probably the second line…tougher ‘D’, high-end guys. They’re doing a tremendous job for us.”
It hasn’t come easy, though.
“It’s been a little bit harder,” Chyzowski said. “I’m getting more relaxed and comfortable in the position I’m in, playing a little bit more power play, penalty kill. It’s been a lot more fun, though.”
It’s undoubted that Chyzowski’s ability to seamlessly transition into a bigger role has been influenced by his upbringing. He comes from quite a hockey family.
Dave Chyzowski, his father, played at a high level for nearly 20 years including a brief stint in the NHL. Uncles Barry and Ron played professionally in the minors and in Europe. Older brother Nick also plays in the WHL for the Kamloops Blazers.
“I’ve always been surrounded by hockey, even when I was young,” Ryan said. “Before I started playing hockey I was over in Europe with my dad. It’s something that they’ve been able to give me help and tips with. It obviously helps, mostly mentally.”
He’s gotten to go head-to-head against his big brother Nick a few times so far in the WHL, games that are, unsurprisingly, pretty special occasions. Their latest match came on Nov. 24, when Kamloops visited Medicine Hat.
“It’s been so much fun,” Ryan said. “They are games that I always look forward to. We’re pretty close brothers, so it’s always something special.”
So too is the season.
The youngest Chyzowski describes himself as a two-way forward with a good shot, while his coach praises his work ethic, tenacity and intelligence.
That versatile combination of attributes makes him an intriguing prospect heading into the 2018 NHL Draft in June.
However, among the advice passed down from his dad is to not get too caught up in the allure of the draft, and to remain vigilant in the pursuit of improvement.
“It’s a big year,” Ryan said.
“He told me not to worry about (the draft), not to think about it, but to obviously have in the back of my mind that you can’t really take a night off because there’s always people out there watching.
“It’s something I try not to think about, just try to get better and better as the season goes on.”
Medicine Hat is off to a good start to their season, but still have a long way to go to hit the 50-win plateau that they reached last year.
Chyzowski, knowing how important he now is to his club, is up to the challenge.
“I want to keep going up from here,” he continued. “I’m trying to work a little bit harder in the gym, get a little bit stronger and faster, and hopefully continue to gain confidence.”