Hidden Talent

Times Staff Writer

Bobby Ryan is ready for his close-up.

The 19-year-old right wing knows that many eyes are on him in the Ducks’ training camp. He got his welcome into the NHL during Monday night’s exhibition game when the Kings’ Sean Avery dropped him to the ice with a hard check.

Ryan also knows that making his way onto a team with eyes on the Stanley Cup won’t be easy.

“This is my first real camp experience,” he said. “Definitely, I feel like I have things to prove.”

Ryan may be best known as the guy who was picked No. 2 in the 2005 NHL entry draft -- right after the Pittsburgh Penguins selected phenom Sidney Crosby. But three highly productive seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, including 31 goals and 64 assists in 59 games last season, has cemented Ryan’s status as a top prospect.

A shoulder injury kept him out of camp last season and set back his development.


He has endured worse though.

Growing up in New Jersey, Bobby Ryan was actually Bobby Stevenson. And at age 10, his world turned upside-down. One night, in 1997, his father, Bob, flew into an alcohol-fueled rage and attacked his wife, Melody, leaving her with a broken rib. Bobby slept through it all.

The police were called and authorities eventually charged Bobby’s father with attempted murder, even though Melody Stevenson refused to press charges.

Bob Stevenson fled to Southern California, where his wife and son later joined him. He changed his name to Shane Ryan, and Bobby Stevenson became Bobby Ryan. The family, in effect, went into hiding.

Reached by phone at the New Jersey gym where he now works, Shane Ryan said he knew he would eventually face his fate.

“I was just trying to get another year with my family,” he said. Yet, in the flick of a wrist shot, young Bobby had a new identity and had to conceal his situation.

“Some of the players on my [pee wee] team were asking questions,” he said after a recent workout. “When I came out here, players already knew who I was from roller hockey. They remembered me.

“For a while, it was tough.”

His parents sought to minimize the damage. They home-schooled Bobby but also kept him in hockey, enrolling him in the Westminster-based L.A. Junior Kings program. Melody got a job at the local ice rink, and that allowed him to hone his skills.

“We weren’t going to take away the one thing he loved,” Shane Ryan said. “He was always a good son to us.”

Blessed with size no matter what age group he was in, Bobby Ryan -- who is now 6 feet 2 and 217 pounds -- helped lead his teams to national championships at the pee wee and bantam levels.

“Guys would try to hit him and they would just bounce off,” said James Gasseau, who coached him at both levels. “He had great hands and it was tough for anyone to take that puck away. Very rarely do you see big guys have such coordination.”

Bobby Ryan loved playing hockey, and understood his parents’ situation.

“It’s been clear from day one that no matter what was going on, they were going to put those issues aside when it came to me,” he said.

In February 2000, however, the game was up. U.S. marshals stormed the family’s Hermosa Beach apartment and arrested Bobby’s father, who eventually pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. He served four years in prison and is now serving the remainder of his sentence in a halfway house. That ends in May.

“That’ll be my new start,” Shane Ryan said.

A former boxer and now a personal trainer -- the gym where he works is owned by friend and Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke, the Philadelphia Flyers’ general manager -- he doesn’t regret his decision.

“He took sports and turned it into his outlet,” he said of his son. “Do I think I could have caused him some issues beyond hockey? Sure I do. It was a traumatic event.

“Look, I’ve been lucky. I could have easily lost him when I went [to prison].”

That tumultuous upbringing has given way to a rekindled relationship. During the summer, Bobby Ryan spent many hours training with his father. But in camp, he has shown little of the form he displayed in the Ontario Hockey League. Most likely, he will have to return to his junior team, the Owen Sound Attack.

It didn’t help that Ryan’s first NHL game gave him butterflies.

“It could have been much better,” he said of last Monday’s game, which the Ducks lost, 7-1. “I was a nervous wreck.”

Ducks General Manager Brian Burke isn’t worried.

“When you’re drafted second overall, expectations are high,” he said. “Our expectations for him are high. We’re very happy with his progress.

“We’re pretty crowded so it’s a stretch to see him here [in October]. But we’re going to give him that chance.”

Ryan knows it will take a lot.

“You can’t ever be satisfied and I wasn’t,” he said of that game. “I could have done more to make the score a little closer.”

As for the hit by Avery, Ryan said: “He played in Owen Sound so I thought he’d take it easy on me. He caught me good. I was a bit shaken up and I thought, ‘Oh, well, he’s just a little guy.’ Imagine if a big guy catches hold of me.”

Ryan, who signed a three-year contract with the Ducks in March, is just glad that his story is now about hockey.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said of his past. “As many bad things that came out of it, you have to look at the positive side of things. Coming out here was huge for me. I grew up out here.

“Looking back, I probably wouldn’t have changed anything.”