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Drafted in the 8th round and 216 overall, Michael Ryder must surely have wondered if he had any real shot at playing in the NHL, particularly after being relegated not to the AHL, but to the ECHL, virtually the lowest point a recruit can go once they leave the junior ranks. Shuttling back and forth for the next two seasons between Quebec, the then AHL affiliate of the Canadiens, and the ECHL, the dream of pulling on an NHL jersey must have seemed quite distant.

Finally, in the 2002-03 campaign, he earned the chance to compete the full season in the AHL and didn’t squander that opportunity. The following year, after a long road of struggles and supremely hard work, Ryder pulled the jersey of the Montreal Canadiens over his head and stepped out on to an NHL ice surface, his dream realized.

Question is, will he wear that jersey next season?

When Ryder posted a 25-goal and 63-point season in his first NHL campaign he became a testament to what happens when you work extremely hard. That work ethic took him from a mostly overlooked ECHL player to a bonified scoring winger in the ranks of the NHL. The Canadiens were supremely pleased with his development and rewarded him with plenty of ice time in that first season.

In year two, Ryder scored 30 goals, ostensibly on the second line for much of the year. On the surface, things seemed rosy. There were, however, two issues that had quietly developed. The first was his contract, signed at the beginning of the season. He’d not put pen to paper quickly at all, and there was plenty of talk that he may actually hold out for more money. He did finally sign, however, though on the ice his second issue developed. That work ethic that had brought him from the ECHL wasn’t as evident.

Combine that diminished effort with yet another somewhat difficult contract signing late in the NHL’s lockout season, and there were reasons to start looking at Ryder as a real potential problem.

This season he’s scored 27 goals with only three games remaining, so his goal production is right on track. The problem is that he’s taken long stretches of the season off. As streaky a goal scorer as there is in the NHL, Ryder also has to sign a new contract in the off-season.

And let’s be honest, while he does score goals, he’s not much more than a one-trick pony. Certainly, when he’s working his hardest, as he’s shown late this season, he can be a valuable member of the Canadiens. However, aside from his persistence in the slot and shot along with the occasional bodycheck, Ryder doesn’t have a lot more to give. He’s not particularly great on the boards and, more troublesome, he’s quite weak defensively.

The big debate starts when you look at his goal production and wonder where that can be replaced if he leaves. If, for instance, a healthy Perezhogin took his minutes for an entire season, would the youngster be able to match Ryder in goal scoring? It’s a very legitimate question and perhaps a key question as the off-season approaches.

If the Canadiens feel they can replace Ryder’s goals, then this one-trick pony might be gallopping for new colours next season. Additionally, if, when Gainey goes to talk contract with the forward, there’s any kind of difficulty, the chances of Ryder moving will greatly increase.

The reality in Montreal is that there are a great number of talented young forwards who are ready to step up and make a difference. While Perezhogin’s numbers were underwhelming, it’s worth noting that he played the third line much of the season. Add to the mix the potential of the Grabovsky’s and D’Agostini’s down on the farm, and one has to wonder where Ryder will fit in.

Short of accepting a contract very similar to the one under which he now works, there’s every chance that Ryder could be moved early in the off-season and perhaps even before the draft. Virtually all the talent looking at his spot in the roster has a more all-around game. And, despite scoring almost 30 goals again this season, one has every reason to wonder if we haven’t seen the best of Michael Ryder.

Certainly, the team that Gainey is trying to build does not seem like the place where too many players with half efforts and poor defensive qualities can flourish. Kovalev probably gets something of a pass because he can literally carry a team at times; something Ryder cannot do.

The game against Buffalo the other night pretty much summed up his potential here in Montreal. He can’t keep up with the faster teams in the league and his defensive skills are less than stellar, so while he can chip in with goals, his playing time will continue to diminish. Is it smart business to pay a potential fourth line player that kind of money?

It would be unfortunate, in a lot of ways, to see him leave Montreal. While he hasn’t always put forth his best effort, he does still score goals. He’s a player who doesn’t complain and certainly seems to get along with his teammates fairly well.

But besides that, what does he bring to the team? Not much else. That’s not to diminish his goal-scoring which has been very important, but there’s every reason to believe those goals can very well be replaced by the younger talent ready to make a splash in the NHL.

So while fans cheer his rise from obscurity to a regular spot in the NHL, perhaps it’s time to say goodbye to a graduate of the system. Ryder has impressed on his journey to being a consistent scorer in the NHL, however as the Canadiens move forward, their need for one-trick ponies is quickly diminishing.

Perhaps he does stay in Montreal, but it seems more and more likely now that we’re seeing the last days of Michael Ryder in the CH of the Montreal Canadiens.

A Concerned Fan