Ryan Craig has a new contract and a new opportunity to try to get back into the National Hockey League.
The 30-year-old former Brandon Wheat Kings captain, who spends his off-seasons with his family here in the Wheat City, has signed a six-figure contract with the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets to play for their American Hockey League affiliate Springfield Falcons and will also go to training camp with Columbus.
"Columbus has pursued me aggressively to the point where we feel like there’s a good opportunity to go to camp and at some point, whether it’s out of camp or during the year with Springfield, I can earn a shot to play in the National Hockey League," Craig said on Thursday. "I think they are an organization that didn’t have a great year last year and there is a bit of uncertainty and they have some moves to make with Rick Nash and hopefully there’s a good opportunity for me. And my job is to make sure I make the most of it."
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound centre, originally from Abbotsford, B.C., played five seasons with the Wheat Kings before moving on to the professional ranks, first in the AHL and then in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
An eighth-round draft pick (255th overall) of the Lightning in 2002, Craig scored 15 goals and notched 28 points in 48 NHL games in 2005-06 and added 14 goals and 27 points in 72 games the following season before being slowed by knee and back problems.
He signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the summer of 2010 and spent the past two seasons mainly with the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, serving as team captain. He was called up for six NHL games in 2010-11, but spent all of last season in the AHL, scoring 11 goals and notching 30 points in 68 games.
"I have nothing but great things to say about the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Wilkes-Barre Penguins and that whole organization as a whole," Craig said. "I have made many good friends and learned a lot of things. And yet, the way that I feel right now, I want to try and give myself the best opportunity to play in the NHL ... We considered a lot of options and we felt this was the way to go."
Craig will join another former Wheat Kings captain, Matt Calvert, in Columbus’ camp. Calvert played 13 NHL games last season, but spent the bulk of the year with Springfield, scoring 17 goals and notching 36 points in 56 games.
"It will be fun to play with him at some point, so it should be good," said Craig, who will also help out with the Wheat Kings’ annual summer hockey school in a couple of weeks.
Craig was also pleased to see his good friend Dwayne Gylywoychuk get the job as the Wheat Kings’ new head coach on Wednesday.
"I think that was a great hire for Kelly and the Brandon Wheat Kings and I wish them all the best," Craig said. "I have become very close to Chewy over the last little bit ... I think it was the right time for Chewy to jump at this opportunity and Kelly to give him the reins and I am sure they will have a lot of success together."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 20, 2012