LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 26: Ryan Martindale is seen after being drafted in the third round by the Edmonton Oilers during day two of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft at Staples Center on June 26, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Ryan Martindale is first and foremost a tall drink of water. Standing over 6'3" and under 190 pounds, he's got some bulking up to do but he's no string bean. He can shoot, pass, and play defense. His skating receives mixed reviews but is generally rated as pretty good for a center of his size. He was the fourth-leading scorer and second-highest scoring draft eligible player on quite an excellent Ottawa 67's team that won a playoff round, having come along in three OHL seasons in exactly the way you hope an impact prospect would.
Physically talented, good scoring record, good team, and a valuable player? So how has he fallen down to number eighteen, and how did he drop into the third round of the 2010 draft? Well, every player that late in the day has warts and Ryan Martindale's is attitude. Yes, attitude, that same joyous excuse that brought us "Steve Kelly is better than Shane Doan because he wants it more." They say that Martindale doesn't try hard every game, that his effort is too erratic, that for all his skill and physical prowess his lack of intensity will doom him at the NHL level.
I say bollocks.
I like Ryan Martindale a lot more than most of my colleagues. I put him tenth in my rankings, whereas Derek, by contrast, put him twenty-second. Scott came in right between us but everyone else, as the saying goes, was closer to Derek than me. Why do you suppose that was? "Because Derek's the boss," okay, okay, I do see your logic there, but if we were afraid of irritating Derek we wouldn't write half the things we write. There are two reasons I think Martindale is generally so underrated: Geoff Paukovich and Jordan Weal.
Jordan Weal is the guy we could have had. Dammit, why didn't we draft Jordan Weal? I mean, I think he's a little overrated, but would I rather have had him than Ryan Martindale? Ooh, probably. Yet he went nine picks after Martindale, to the delighted fans of the Los Angeles Kings. And that sound you heard was a hundred thousand Oilers' fans simultaneously slamming their heads into their desks. Basically, Martindale suffers by comparison. He wasn't the best player available by far, and so we fall into the trap of thinking that he might not be a good player. How many conversations about Martindale have I seen that included the words "Jordan Weal"? Too many.
Second, the Oilers have a reputation when it comes to drafting players like this. Cameron Abney, Colin McDonald, Geoff Paukovich, Brad Winchester (who is Michael Nesmith to the rest of these guys' The Monkees)... Lowetide famously called them "Coke machines" and the metaphor works. They're large, immobile, and eat your money. What a load of stiffs Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini have drafted just because they're big. Ryan Martindale is certainly big. But he's also a tremendous hockey player with not a trace about him of just being drafted in a career year. He was just below a point per game pace in 2009-10, which was a quite reasonable 27.7% improvement on his 2008-09 season. Although not the best draft eligible player on his team (that honour went to Tyler Toffoli, who was picked forty-seventh overall by Los Angeles), last year's Ottawa 67's were a strong team with a large number of already-drafted and overage players. They were given more than a puncher's chance at the OHL championship, but even in that strong company Martindale stood out favourably.
But the effort thing. Do you know what other big man doesn't try real hard? Dustin Penner. We've been over this and over this. Big skilled players often look like they're not putting as much effort in as smaller ones. Do you know why? Because they're big. Because when you're big and even a modestly competent skater, skating looks pretty easy even if you're putting a lot of energy into each of those giant strides. Because us five-foot-somethings watching from home thinking that huge guy playing with the midgets ought to be able to toss them out of the way like children blocking the emergency exit and when he doesn't do it all the time we assume he's not trying hard. What indication is there that Martindale doesn't take hockey seriously, doesn't bust himself in training, that he occasionally skips out on practice to set fires and generally wreck havoc? I've seen him in person and I've seen him on the Internet and it doesn't look like he's carrying a beer belly from all that partying he must be doing to earn a reputation like that. Maybe, just maybe, he's just got a bad rap that he hasn't done anything to deserve, because it's awfully hard to slack off and not try hard and still be the fourth-best player on one of the country's best junior teams at age eighteen.
By no means am I saying that Ryan Martindale is the next great Oiler. But he has size, skill, and skating ability. He plays offense and defense. Those stories about him, when one looks for actual examples beyond "I saw him bad", appear to be myths. The numbers are exciting. This isn't a Coke machine. This might be Shawn Horcoff's heir apparent, and he fills a position of need for the organization meaning he might get tapped for the NHL sooner rather than later (the Johan Motin rule). I genuinely can't find anything not to like about Ryan Martindale beyond his not being Jordan Weal, and that's not his fault.