I really didn't know a ton about Michael Ryder before this season. I remember him best as a former Canadien I rarely actually saw play. Then, through the Bruins Stanley Cup run in 2011, he was certainly very impressive at times. That being said, I knew even less about Damien Brunner; far less. I probably only watched about three Red Wings games all last year. Let me just say, I couldn't be more impressed with both players in the early going.
During the Islanders game on Friday, Michael Ryder scored his first goal as a Devil, and it involved a fortunate bounce and some great hands. I was instantly impressed with his release and shot, and it was the first time that I've seen him score a goal live. The shot was a thing of beauty and it was an immediate topic of conversation among a few of us at the game. Take a second to rewatch it right here before we continue, you won't be sorry you did.
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The fortuitous bounce put the puck in the right place, but it was the great hands of Ryder that corralled the bouncing puck and ripped it top shelf after a nifty little toe drag. Ryder's first goal as a Devil was really a beauty, and it left me wanting to see more. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long.
Ryder scored again in the game against Edmonton, and it was an even more impressive play and shot. Again, he snapped the puck top shelf, this time pretty much from right in front of the goaltender. It was an indefensible, perfect shot. Again, take a quick second and re-watch, it's worth it.
Here, Ryder showed again what great hands he has. I think another reason I loved this particular goal so much was because it was so great to see a Devil player skate in, and look shot first, which was the proper read on the play. The pass to Zajac was defensed, LaBarbara had the shooter, and #17 coolly skated in, read the play, and put the shot in a place no one could stop it. Bravo, sir, for not forcing the pass that wasn't there. I guess it's not the uniform number's fault after all.
When watching Michael Ryder skate, the words 'nifty little toe drag' frequently pop into my head. Fans are probably most familiar with the toe drag as David Clarkson's solitary non-Clarkaround 'move'. David could take a couple pointers from Ryder on how its done, beyond just not falling down at the end.
Saving the best for last, I've been most impressed with Damien Brunner so far this early season. He seems to be a tremendously skilled hockey player, and there are a few qualities about him that really seem exceptional, and are exceeding my expectations. John broke down Brunner's first goal of the year on Saturday. One of the things John mentioned about the play going right was Brunner's great positioning on his play. It seems like he has a strong ability to consistently get himself in good position. His second goal against the Islanders is an example of his ability to get into good position, but you can also see from the beginning of the clip how he uses his high skill level to create the play from behind the net.
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Okay, there are actually a lot of things that have exceeded my expectations on Brunner. Another great quality is that he seems to have a very high compete level. He has a great motor, and when there is a loose puck or an opportunity nearby, he is incredibly quick and persistent. This is also evident on the first goal of the season that he scored on Friday night.
A few other points I'd like to add to the Damien Brunner love fest: he is a very fast skater. He is outstanding at creating separation between himself and a defender. He is great at driving the net on a rush, and he seems to have a strong knack for getting his stick on the puck, accurately re-deflecting shots and passes. I am surprised what a good passer he is. He has the skills to help on the power play too, as he showed in scoring the Devils first power play goal of the year against Edmonton on Monday.
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Brunner really brings a certain sort of offensive skill set that the Devils were sorely missing last year.
It can't all be good right? Well, Brunner doesn't really chip in much on the defensive end. But, I don't think anyone expected him to really be a two way player. Rather then lament something he's not, I decided to focus in on the good stuff. There is one other negative thing I have noticed- Brunner likes to hook. He's pretty crafty about it a lot of the time, but he often has his stick in or around the hands of the opposition in the neutral zone. He frequently gets away with it, but we've already seen him get nabbed a few times in the pre-season and early season.
All in all, Brunner is just a good hockey player. It's hard to understand how he sat at home with no offers during the offseason after watching him play a few games. He seems much more like a driver of play rather than the passenger many feared him to be.
Yesterday was sort of an early season freak out day for a lot of the Devils fanbase. Mike got it right yesterday when he told everyone to just take it easy. Maybe sit the next couple of plays out. Be happy about the newbies. Cherish them. A few of them seem particularly fun to watch. Even Jagr is starting to do Jagr things again. I think I'm also going to like Rostislav Olesz. I liked what I saw in the pre-season, and just minutes ago while writing this post, I watched him fire a pinpoint pass onto Steve Bernier's stick for a great scoring chance in one of his first regular season shifts as a Devil. .
So, who's your favorite new guy(s)? Let me know who you like so far, and what you like about them. Celebrate your new friends.