For the 24th player on our annual Top 25 Under 25 series, the Silver Seven writers elevated Eric Gryba. The physically domineering defenceman, standing at around 6'4 and 220 lbs, is best defined as a defensive shutdown player. His best offensive campaign in his short career was when he put up twenty points in seventy-three games last season in Binghamton. Gryba was miscast as a top-two defender in Binghamton last season. Certainly, Gryba can man the point with some degree of competence and can unload a blistering cannon, but Gryba's numbers were inflated last season, playing on occasion in a role that is not best suited to his game.
Defenseman / Ottawa Senators
April 14, 1988 (Age 24)
Eric Gryba didn't make this list last season. For whatever reasons, the esteemed group of writers here at Silver Seven did not see fit to include Gryba among the Top 25 of those Under 25 (perhaps if Amelia had been on staff then, in her wisdom, she might have persuaded us to include him. Nobody can say.) The third-round pick was hardly considered to be among the more elite of Senators prospects and his style is far from flashy. Still, his stock has risen over the past year, stemming from an increased role with the Binghamton Senators, as well as the praise Tim Murray and others have offered him.
Seeing as Gryba didn't crack this ranking last season, you may not know much about his career. When the Senators drafted Gryba at the 68th overall spot in the 2006 entry draft, they surely had to know he was going to be a project. The defender out of the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers (I've been a Gamblers fan since day one) had put up 205 penalty minutes through 56 games and only fifteen points. Clearly, the Senators scouting staff saw the potential of a physical, shut-down player years down the road. Gryba was committed to Boston University, where he would go on to play all four seasons. Though Gryba hasn't yet had the opportunity to prove his full worth to the organization and, as we'll consider, offers some promise, it isn't a terrible time to ask what else John Muckler and his team might have done with the pick.
With their first round selection in 2006, the Senators took Nick Foligno. Indeed. They lacked a second rounder, thanks to the prudent investment in the career of one Tyler Arnason, the latest veteran key to playoff success since Oleg 'Freakin' Saprykin. Chicago spent that pick on Simon Danis-Pepin, a hulking 6'7 defender who is now jumping around the ECHL. This Hockey's Future article from 2006 offers a fairly good background of Gryba's pre-draft career, noting how he was deemed ineligible to play in the BCHL and as a result spent a season in the USHL before choosing college over the WHL. Ottawa actually had two picks in the third round of the 2006 draft, thanks to Boston hiring Peter Chiarelli to be their new general manager-- smart money for the Bruins. With their second pick of the third round, Ottawa would go on to take Kaspars Daugavins. Meanwhile, the Bruins retained their own third round pick and recently elevated manager Chiarelli would select a forward out of the Moncton Wildcats organization: Brad Marchand. Go figure. Who else could Ottawa have picked instead of Gryba? Steve Mason was the next player off the board. We know the Senators were keen on taking a goalie somewhere in the draft (they took Ryan Daniels in the fifth), but considerin Mason's unfettered regression to a sub .900 save percentage on a weak Columbus team, it's difficult to say how he might have fared in the Senators organization. Still, few tears will be shed over the team passing on Mason. Would he have been given protected starts and been allowed to develop? Or, perhaps more likely, might the organization have jumped at the opportunity to thrust him between the pipes during the goaltending carousel that was
the Senators entire existence the 2009/10 as well as 2010/11 seasons. Would we have traded for Craig Anderson? Would we have drafted Robin Lehner? Would Barack Obama be President of the United States?
Indeed, Ottawa 'missed out' on a small flurry of above-competent NHL-ers in the early goings of the third round. Marchand and Cal Clutterbuck went back-to-back, while Theo Peckham went to the Oilers a few picks later. Other than those notable exceptions, the only other players of note (in terms of games played at the NHL level) that Ottawa might have selected in the round were Vladimir Zharkov of the Devils organization, who is currently whiling away in Albany, and a Latvian with 66 games under his belt: the Daugman.
To be sure, Gryba's ceiling is not equivalent to some of those named, as he best projects as a 5/6 defenceman in the NHL. Moreover, his four years in college pushed back the time-frame for when he might meet that projection. It is not that college hockey slowed his development, but that the game is notably different from professional hockey. As a result, especially for a defensive shutdown type of player, some transition is usually required before one can lace up the skates at the NHL level. Even successful college defenders often need some time to adjust (see: Wiercioch, Patrick).
Gryba has been a reliable option for Luke Richardson in Binghamton and Kurt Kleinendorst before him. He offers some mobility, albeit fairly limited, and gives solid play in his own end. His dependability in the AHL has made him a very real option in the NHL. Though Ottawa called to training camp and kept Andre Benoit and Patrick Wiercioch, Eric Gryba is waiting in the wings with Mark Borowiecki. Moreover, the two offer a level of physicality not present in Benoit or Wiercioch's game. Whether we see Gryba in the NHL this season likely depends on MacLean's comfort level with his current group of defenders. While many clamor for Ottawa to trade one of its prospects in nets for a defender with some upside, it is apparent that Bryan Murray would prefer to first ascertain a sense of what they can do with what they have. So, before entertaining the idea of swapping Bishop or, horror of all horrors, Robin Lehner, we might see Eric Gryba in the NHL.
Fortunately for Gryba, the Senators don't have too many players who fit his description and style of play. Thus, unless they inexplicably went to free agency or trade to fill a 5/6 physical d-man spot (or, more likely, determined they could do without one) Eric Gryba will get a chance. Naysayers, however, will surely question: if not now, when? The Sens have a depleted defensive corps, so Gryba may get his best opening for a roster spot at some time in this condensed season. In the meantime, he'll continue plying his consistent trade in Binghamton, waiting for his big shot.
As a side-note, Gryba is an avid hunter, something you will know if you follow him on Twitter. So, there's that. If you don't already, he's at @grybes02.