|by: Clayton Hansler
Name: Ryan Sproul
Team: Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Hometown: Mississauga, Ontario
Stats: 33 games, 14 goals, 19 assists, 33 points
North American Ranking: 54
The United States of America has had many famous presidents through the years. Some made famous for less-than-honourable acts, others for their heroics. But none are more recognized than the country's 16th, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's long journey to presidency, which included eight lost elections, has since been regarded as a superb example of the power of self confidence.
Ryan Sproul of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds blueline, although not sporting a top hat or a beard, was forced to dig deep and find a similar confidence when it seemed the cards were stacked against him this past season.
"In Ryan Sproul's case," explained Greyhounds general manager Kyle Dubas, "[he] made the team out of camp, decided to go back to play with Vaughan, had school offers, then decided to come back up a couple weeks later… and then he had to work his way in through the lineup."
"Defensively he needed a lot work. Defensively at the beginning he turned the puck over a lot," said the GM in no uncertain terms.
Similarly as Sproul saw struggles in his defensive game, the offensive side was not working out too well for the Mississauga born defender. It took the rookie blueliner until November 19th, a total of 17 games, to register his first point, but with that assist sparked a change in Sproul.
"Ryan, early on, was new to the league and he didn't have as much confidence," shared Greyhounds coach Seamus Kotyk. "At the end of the year, everything was confidence and that's when you saw all of these goals and offensive statistics happen."
And the goals kept on coming for Sproul. In fact, from the start of the 2011 calendar year, Windsor Spitfires captain Ryan Ellis is the only OHL defenceman to score more goals (12) than Sproul (10). A feat that places the Greyhounds defender among the OHL's elite.
The offensive second half to Sproul's season even has some considering him a possible first round selection despite Central Scouting ranking the 6-foot-4 blueliner 54th among North American skaters.
"It's going to take a bit of a leap of faith," explained Dubas. "But at some point you have to be able to take a bit of risk and say 'look at this guy's potential, he's extremely tall and lanky, he's not even close to filling out his frame, has so much more room to grow in every regard' and even with all of that said, he's obviously put himself into a conversation as a potential first round pick. "
With the added confidence in his abilities, Sproul found himself taking on added responsibility including many shifts on the powerplay. The Greyhounds GM specifically highlighted Sproul's abilities when he stated, "Ryan is able to move laterally, distribute the puck and shoot the puck so he has that huge upside. And when you're that big, that improves your reach, you're able to find lanes better especially against faster and stronger and bigger guys at the NHL level it will be a huge benefit to him on the PP there as well."
Dubas outlined the many ways Sproul had improved through the season; minding the gaps, establishing his check, making sure the stick was in the proper lanes, but added without hesitation that there is still much for the towering rearguard to learn.
Though Sproul's confidence likely will not lead him to the formation of the Emancipation Proclamation like it did for Father Abraham, one can be sure that his ability to help his team will only increase.
"I think offensively a lot of things come when you have confidence," said Kotyk. And confidence is precisely what Sproul has found.