It’s pretty amazing, when you really think about it. Ryan Graves entered Thursday as the NHL’s plus-minus leader. Not even a year ago, Ryan Graves wasn’t a plus or a minus in the NHL, because he wasn’t even in the NHL.
At this time last year, Graves was a Colorado Eagle, into his fourth full season in the American Hockey League. A fourth-round pick of the New York Rangers in 2013, acquired by the Avs for Chris Bigras in 2018, it was starting to seem like Graves was in danger of being labeled a career minor-leaguer.
Called up by the Avs last December, Graves got just spot duty as a sixth defenseman, yet did some good things in his 26 games, scoring three goals. He did not make the team’s playoff roster, however, and went into training camp seen by some as a player on the borderline of making the top six defense.
But Graves has played in all but one game so far, and he’s getting far more than just token ice time. He’s averaged 17:11 of ice time per game overall, but lately it’s been much more than that. He played nearly 23 minutes in each of the team’s two most recent road games, and surpassed 20 minutes again Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Entering the game with Carolina, Graves’ plus-22 led the NHL. He also had a healthy five goals and eight assists. When you really think about it, Graves has emerged as one of the NHL’s biggest hidden gems, a player who Jared Bednar said recently has “earned the trust” of the coaches.