This morning the Rangers President and General Manager named Ryan Callahan the 26th captain of the NHL team. To be honest, this was the overnight’s worst kept secret, but it represents the culmination of the change in culture in the Rangers organization and should be recognized as such.
Callahan is not just an excellent leader, he is a gritty, leave no stone unturned type of player. Talented, but a role player, who puts his heart and soul into everything he does. He represents everything that has been right about the Rangers rebuild that started in the mid 2000s.
Callahan was drafted in 2004, in the fourth round, after an excellent playoffs as a member of the Guelph Storm. Despite potting 13 goals in 22 playoff games in the Spring of 2004, not much offense was expected of Callahan at the professional level. In fact, at age 19, Callahan was a year older than most of the players taken in that year’s draft. The following season he was named captain of the Storm, and even better production was expected. But instead Callahan’s numbers went down. After the decreased production was combined with a somewhat lackluster performance in the Rangers 2005 training camp, Callahan was offered an AHL contract in September 2005. Instead of accepting it, he decided to go back to Guelph for an overage season.
It was at this point that I met Callahan for the first time–in Guelph, as the 2005-06 season started. In fact, he was my first solo interview for HF, and to say that I was raw would be one of the understatements of the year. Callahan made it easy for me though. He was honest, gracious, and very passionate about leading the Storm. He explained that he had focused more on being captain the season before than on his offensive production–that he was captain again, but that he had learned from the mistakes that he made the previous year; that he had made a leap in maturity.
Granted, it was my first solo interview one on one with a player, but I had seen them talk about themselves many times. Callahan was different. His ability to talk honestly about himself and his ability to make adjustments were impressive, even at age 20. But what I remember most about that first interview was his passion for the players on his team–his desire to give to them everything that he had already learned; his willingness to protect them and bring them along. It said an awful lot about his character.
Needless to say, Callahan had an excellent overage season in Guelph, earning him an entry-level contract. But the Rangers still considered him a potential third line player with at least one to two years in Hartford ahead of him. Callahan, however, had other things in mind, and by the AHL all-star break during the 2006-07 season, he was one of the league leaders. It was there, in Toronto in January 2007, that I had my second one on one with Callahan. It was clear to me that in the one year plus, he had matured enormously. He was extremely focused and confident; he now saw himself as an offensive producer and believed that he could be that in the NHL too. And he still was a leader, which was obvious when I spoke to him before the game. It was a basic showcase of all-star talent, but Callahan was strategizing with teammates on ways to win the game.
Much of the rest is history that you all know. His call-up in 2007; his splitting time between New York and Hartford in 2007-08. The way Callahan made himself indispensable to the team, both with his offensive production and his grit. And the value of Callahan’s presence on the current team–a player that never gives up, that believes in himself, and gives 110% on and off the ice.
This is the epitome of the new New York Rangers. Character, grit, and growing the team mostly from within, with a few additional signings to help it become a cup contender. Callahan represents the essence of this, which why the team’s naming him captain today is cause for great celebration.