Ryan Olsen arrived at training camp with the San Antonio Rampage in September with something to prove. Signed to an AHL contract, Olsen would be battling for a spot on the Opening Day roster with drafted and contracted Blues prospects. By the end of camp Olsen had secured a job, and by season’s end, he secured much more than that.
Olsen enjoyed a breakout season with the Rampage, tying for the team lead with 17 goals and posting 34 points in 69 games, the most games played by a Rampage forward. A sixth-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 2012, Olsen had notched 17 goals and 33 points combined across three AHL seasons and 181 games with Manitoba and St. John’s.
Despite his leap in production being a pleasant surprise, it’s potential that the Rampage coaching staff knew was there.
“We signed him for a reason. I remembered him from two years ago when he was in Manitoba and I was coaching against him,” said Assistant Coach Daniel Tkaczuk, who handles the forwards and the power play. “I didn’t know him because he was a western kid and I was coming out of Ontario, but he’s a big guy who can move well and has a really good skill level.”
With that skill level, Olsen led all Rampage forwards with six power-play goals and became a player the team used in all situations.
“He plays power play, penalty kill, 4-on-4, and he takes face-offs. To have guys that can play in all situations, who have the physical conditioning and the skill set and want to take ownership of that, he’s done a really good job of staying with it,” said Tkaczuk. “It’s not easy and it’s a lot of responsibility, but he shows up every day trying to pick up a new layer to his game to keep pushing to that next opportunity.”
Olsen’s opportunity in San Antonio certainly wasn’t a given. Last season he was in the ECHL for the first time in his career, starting with the Utah Grizzlies before leaving to play in the Czech Republic. He came back to the ECHL in the spring when the Colorado Eagles acquired his rights, and he was an immediate contributor to a championship run.
The Eagles went on to win their second consecutive Kelly Cup, with Olsen grabbing 18 goals in 23 regular season games and 11 points in 22 playoff games.
“It was a huge part of my career, even bringing me to San Antonio,” said Olsen in February after receiving his championship ring from the now-AHL Eagles. “I did well with the Eagles last year and really it jump-started my career again.”
One of the reasons Olsen was able to push his way back to the AHL was his skating stride, well above average for a player with his 6-foot-2 and near 200-pound frame.
“Al MacInnis would call me and say, ‘Wow, that Ryan Olsen is an NHL skater.’ When he hits full stride, he blows past people,” said Rampage General Manager Kevin McDonald.
His skating ability, along with some growth in his all-around game, helped turn Olsen into a 200-foot player.
“You don’t really tend to look at breakouts as being on the offensive side of things, but when he’s able to put himself into holes and lug the puck through the neutral zone with his legs and his frame, now he’s getting some rush opportunities that compliment his game,” said Tkaczuk.
What started as a fourth-line role grew to a third line role, and with his play improving and injuries mounting, Olsen would have the chance to prove that he could be a top-six forward for the Rampage.
“On face-offs, he’s usually over 50 percent, which means he’s winning his matchups. He’s usually hovering between 55 and 57 percent, which is a good percentage. It’s just another way to get minutes,” said Tkaczuk.
“That’s where young guys have to really learn. If I don’t score, then what do I do? He’s getting point production now, but he’s still doing enough on the other side of the puck that he doesn’t need to score to be effective in games. He’s making contact and winning face-offs and playing against other teams’ top lines.”
Olsen’s improvement has already earned a contract for the 2019-20 season in San Antonio, giving McDonald one key building block in his forward depth chart while many other spots won’t be cemented until the St. Louis Blues hold their camp at the end of the summer.
“He’s been a great find for us and a good player. He plays the way we want to play,” said McDonald. “He can play fast, he can play physical, and he’s taken advantage of the offensive opportunities to put up great numbers, too.”
From ECHL champion to resurgent AHL regular, Olsen took advantage of his shot in San Antonio with a career year. The work doesn’t end there.
“He’s been coachable and tried to adjust his game to be better. Now he’s getting that point production out of it,” said Tkaczuk.
“It’s great to see, and for those guys that aren’t necessarily top-level draft picks in the NHL, you’re looking at a guy who’s earning his way through the minor league system and giving himself every opportunity to be noticed.”