Written by Jamie Umbach/EdmontonOilers.com
Photo by Marc Lafleur
EDMONTON, AB – A four-year gap between NHL rookie camps has the process feeling a bit foreign to right-winger Ryan Van Stralen.
Standing at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, the 24-year-old looks a veteran presence on the ice with the rest of the prospects, who began Oilers Rookie Camp on Thursday afternoon at Rogers Place.
Van Stralen registered 29 goals and 58 points in 61 games during his final year with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s in 2013-14, chipping in 70 penalty minutes. An invite to the Ottawa Senators development camp came after, along with offers in the ECHL, but the idea of a free education through university hockey was too good to pass up.
We’re not talking about the NCAA, either.
Weighing his options, opportunity came close to home when the Carleton University Ravens of U Sports came calling. The Prescott, ON product was hesitant with professional aspirations still in the back of his mind, but his concerns were soon quashed on arrival.
“Before I played there I’d be lying if I said I had the best image of it,” Van Stralen said from the Oilers Hall of Fame Room on Thursday. “I decided to take the school route and see what could come from it, and once I experienced it, it was unbelievable.
“There’s incredible talent in that league and it’s only getting better. I noticed the difference from my first year to fourth year – it’s better than what it gets credit for.”
The right-winger is one of seven players on AHL contracts participating at Oilers Rookie Camp, and Oilers VP of Player Personnel Scott Howson is interested in seeing how players like Van Stralen can make the most of opportunity after taking unconventional paths to pro.
“Those players are working their way up,” Howson said. “It’s great to see particular Canadian university players to get an opportunity, and we’ll see what he shows here.”
A total of 93 points in 97 games over four years as a Carleton Raven, along with a Psychology degree, prepared Van Stralen for the transition to professional hockey.
“I don’t think I was ready maturity-wise for pro as I am now than my first year of junior, so I think Carleton helped there in helping me become a better person, whether that be skill or on-ice maturity,” he added. “I continued to work hard and knew I wanted to play professional hockey at some point at some level.”
Van Stralen didn’t have to wait long for that opportunity, and it came from Wichita Thunder head coach Malcolm Cameron.
Registering 15 points in 16 games with Wichita alongside other Oilers Rookie Camp attendees Evan Polei and Marc-Olivier Crevier-Morin bodes well for the forward as he continues the journey that began seven years ago with the Ottawa 67’s.
“At the end of the year last year, [Malcolm Cameron] brought me to Wichita, gave me a tremendous opportunity and I kind of ran with that,” Van Stralen said. “It snowballed into signing in Bakersfield on a two-way contract and the camp invite here.”
Oilers Rookie Camp is another step on the ladder of progression for Van Stralen, who’s taking it all in stride to earn his place within the organization.
“You never really know what’s going to transpire at camp and all that,” he continued. “I gained some pro experience in Wichita and I’ve worked on what I felt I needed to work on this summer, so at the end of the day I’m going to go to Bakersfield and work as hard as I can to earn a spot there.
“It’s been a longer journey than most, definitely, and sometimes I didn’t really see the light at the end of the tunnel. But so far it’s been paying off and I couldn’t be happier.”