- Mark Stepneski, ESPNDallas.com
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FRISCO -- Two years ago Ryan Garbutt was playing for the Corpus Christi Icerays of the Central Hockey. On Monday, he was preparing to play in his third NHL game.
“It’s almost been surreal,” Garbutt said after practicing with the Dallas Stars in Frisco. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this opportunity, and when it comes you want to take advantage of it.”
The 26-year-old forward has been noticeable in his first two games while playing on the Stars’ fourth line.
In his NHL debut, which came Saturday in Phoenix, he played 5:41, registering three shots on goal and three hits. Sunday night versus Nashville, he had five hits and had a shot ring off the post in 10:00 of playing time
“I’ve been trying to adapt to the style of play,” Garbutt said. “It’s a little bit different than playing down in the AHL. I’ve been happy with how I’ve adjusted so far. … The speed is definitely a step up, everyone is a lot smarter with the puck. You get to open spots and the puck just seems to be on your stick. It’s a step up and it’s been a really fun adjustment.”
Stars coach Glen Gulutzan has liked what he has seen so far from Garbutt.
“I thought he’s given us some speed and energy on that fourth line,” Gulutzan said.
Garbutt has been a top six guy in the AHL, where he has 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) in 50 games with the Texas Stars. But the fourth line role in the NHL is a good fit, he said.
“I’ve always been a hard worker,” Garbutt said. “I don’t mind playing a fourth line role, especially at this level. I am just trying to work my hardest up here.”
Garbutt, who was never drafted, has taken an interesting path to the NHL. He’s an Ivy League guy, having played four years at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. After college he got a tryout with his hometown team, the Manitoba Moose of the AHL. There wasn’t a spot there, so Manitoba’s GM pointed him towards the CHL and Corpus Christi, where he earned All-Rookie honors in 2009-10. He caught the attention of current Texas Stars coach Jeff Pyle, who was then coaching with Gwinnett in the ECHL. Pyle helped Garbutt land a spot at a development camp with the Atlanta Thrashers.
“That was probably the springboard to my career, to get started in the right direction,” said Garbutt. “I got to see how hard players work at that level and started pushing myself that much harder.”
Last season he played under Pyle with Gwinnett in the ECHL and with Chicago of the AHL, where he scored 19 goals in 65 games. He then signed with Dallas as a free agent this past summer.
“It seems like a long journey,” Garbutt said. “It’s been a lot of hard work.”
And there’s still more work to do. Although he’s played well in the first two games, the Stars are hoping he can keep it up over a longer stretch of games.
“A guy comes in and he has a lot of energy. He’s going to get a couple more to see if he can do it consistently,” Gulutzan said. “But I like the way he’s played.”
And Garbutt is hoping to make the most of what’s in front of him.
“I’ve definitely been given a good opportunity here,” he said. “I’m just trying to take advantage of it the best I can, just keep playing to my strengths and abilities and playing smart on the ice. I hope I can keep that going here.”
*Stars defenseman Sheldon Souray, who has missed the last six games with a foot injury, took part in the team’s optional practice on Monday. Souray said he thinks he can play on the team’s upcoming road trip that will see the Stars play at Montreal on Tuesday and then at Chicago on Thursday.
“Chicago is realistic,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “I think that is what we'll be looking at.”
*Jamie Benn, who has missed the last two games after getting cut on his left thigh with a skate in last Thursday’s game with Calgary, skated on his own at the other end of the ice during the Stars’ optional practice Monday.
“He's still a couple days away,” Gulutzan said. “We're certainly glad the injury is stitches and not something else.”
“It sounds like a broken record at this point, but every game is like a playoff game for us. We’re running out of chances to say we’ve got to be better, we’ve got to be better. At this point it’s a little less talk and a lot more action. If we want to get in there we still control our fate to a certain degree, so we’ve got to win our hockey games and be a little more consistent. We’ll see what happens, but it’s going to be a bad feeling in here if we don’t start approaching these games like it is do or die.”
Stars defenseman Sheldon Souray