Last Sunday, Columbus Blue Jacket prospect Kerby Rychel and the Guelph Storm faced off against the Edmonton Oil Kings in the final game of 2014 Memorial Cup tournament, which names the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) champion. The Storm fell to the Edmonton Oil Kings 6-3 but the future looks bright for Rychel, drafted 19th overall by the Jackets in the 2013 NHL draft.
After a successful final campaign in the CHL, Rychel has set his sights on showing the Jackets organization that he can contribute at the NHL level. He’s already looking to improve on last year’s showing at prospect camp.
"You go to your first pro camp and think ‘Oh yeah, I’m ready for the NHL,’ but you’re humbled as soon as you get there," Rychel said. "You see the pros and you realize you have a lot of work to do. I hope to have a much better camp this year and make a push for the team."
Jackets development coach Chris Clark believes that Rychel has put significant work into his game and cites his aggressiveness and will to get to the puck as strengths of the young forward’s game.
"I’ve seen him become a better player (this year)," Clark said. "He’s been great for the Storm and he’s helped make the team as successful as it was."
Success is a good word to describe Rychel’s final junior campaign. Kerby began the season with the Windsor Spitfires where he went 16-23-39 in 27 games. In December, Rychel went to the Guelph Storm as part of a blockbuster trade orchestrated in part by Spitfire General Manager, and Rychel’s father, Warren Rychel.
Rychel (middle) poses for a photo after being selected by the Blue Jackets on draft day in 2013.
"When I started playing, we had a talk that he would be my dad off the ice, and my GM on the ice," Rychel said. "I knew the trade was coming — he brought me into his office and said he thought this would be a great opportunity — I think it worked out well."
Once with the Storm, the Jackets prospect went 11-33-51 in 31 regular season games and 11-21-32 in 20 playoff games. The season culminated with Guelph earning the Ontario Hockey League Championship and a Memorial Cup berth. Rychel scored the tying and game-winning goals in the deciding game. That kind of pressure is something he embraces.
"That’s why you want to play hockey – you dream of the big games," Rychel said. "So far I’ve been performing in those situations and I hope I can keep that going."
Rychel wants to keep going to the NHL. He’d like to follow in the footsteps of forward Boone Jenner, who made the Jackets squad his first season out of juniors. The two players have stayed in touch, including on-ice greetings before Guelph’s first game at the Memorial Cup where Boone participated in the ceremonial puck drop.
"He wished me good luck on the bench," Rychel said. "We’ve sent each other a couple texts throughout the year when we had good games. Hopefully, I get the chance to play with him in the next couple years."
Coach Clark is someone else in contact with Rychel throughout the year. When it comes to making the Jackets squad, he knows a player can earn a spot or fill another that might open up depending on what happens with the roster in the off season. Clark is pleased with how the 6-foot-1-inch, 200+ pound forward is handling NHL level expectations.
"(Last year’s) camp was eye opening for him," Clark said. "How he has gone through this year has been great. He has improved immensely. You can see his play on the ice is more of an NHL style now versus a junior style of play."
As Rychel moves on to the next step in his hockey career, Guelph head coach Scott Walker credits him with making an impact on many of the players in the Storm organization he now leaves behind.
"He’s the kind of player you want on your team," Walker said. "He showed our guys how to train, how to take care of their bodies, get on the bike, do weights on off days. Sometimes players get more out of seeing other players do these things than having coaches tell them to do it."
Walker believes Rychel, who was named to the Memorial Cup All-Star team, is the kind of player any coach wants on their team.
"He’s a hard skater, he’ll go right through you and he has the skill to put puck in the net," Walker said. "He’s fun to have."
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