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Interview: Ryan Graves hopes to bring defensive depth to the Colorado Avalanche organization

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We spoke with the newest member of the Colorado Avalanche organization

(San Antonio) -- It’s been a tough winter in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The third nor’easter belted Canada’s second smallest province again this week, blocking roads and making driving difficult.

Yarmouth native, Ryan Graves, can currently check in on relatives from much different driving conditions – the golf course. Last month, he was traded from Hartford to San Antonio, where Monday, it was a breezy 65 degrees.

“So far it looks very nice and the weather’s a lot better,” he said with a smile.

The 6-5 power defenseman came to the Alamo City at the NHL trade deadline, Feb. 26 in exchange for blueliner, Chris Bigras, and although Graves has yet to score a point, he finally tasted victory with his new club Friday against Iowa and again Sunday in Ontario, as the Rampage blanked the Reign 4-0.

“It was tough at first. I’m still adjusting. This is a different system than in Hartford, but the guys have been good and the coaches have been good trying to integrate me into the system. The transition has gone fairly smoothly.”

The Rampage are hoping Graves can bring a little more offense to the table than his 0-0-0 line in seven games, but the former fourth-round draft pick is learning to be more patient in the San Antonio lineup.

“My game’s defense first, a little bit of two-way but defense comes first. A little bit of the penalty kill. I’m a big guy so always working on my feet. Just working on being defensively good and reliable and be a reliable defenseman in the NHL.”

With the return of Chris Butler from St. Louis and the emergence of Nicolas Meloche recently, the Rampage can afford to be patient with the youngsters on the back end.

Growing up within earshot of Sidney Crosby’s puck-banging clothes dryer and Brad Marchand’s (most likely) slashing the postman, provided the 22-year old big D some challenges playing the game.

“There was a lot of travel at a young age, my parents driving 2-3 hours every weekend at least just for minor hockey when I was in Atom, so it’s a different culture other guys come from, but it’s cool, a lot of cool people. The people I’ve met from playing taught me don’t take things for granted. Pretty cool memories from playing around there.”

Graves has also been a winner. When it came time to play junior hockey, he was just a frozen skate over Northumberton Strait in Charlottetown, PEI with the Rocket for two seasons, scoring five goals and 20 assists. His 90 minutes in the box his second season showed he had some moxie as well as some moves to his game.

The Rocket morphed into the Islanders in 2013, but Graves was dealt to Val d’Or after 39 games and he finished the season on the mainland, helping the Foreurs to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title and a spot in the Memorial Cup tournament. The Foreurs lost a heartbreaker to eventual champ, Edmonton in the longest Memorial Cup game in history, a triple-overtime thriller, 4-3.

“I was pretty lucky. I got to play with three organizations, very good teams. I really enjoyed my time in Charlestown, PEI, spend a lot of my summers there. My girlfriend is from there. That was like a second home to me. I was fortunate to go to Val d’Or.”

It was in Val d’Or Graves also connected with future Avalanche organization teammates, Sam Henley and current Rampage forward Shawn St. Amant, who helped him adjust to the minimal English environment.

“People always remember Sam as a big jokester. About 6-foot-6 but a little kid at times. Then Shawn was pretty young when I was there, but good friends. It’s tough being there, being only one of three English speaking kids. Shawn’s English was pretty good and he translated for us. It’s a different experience there but it was good.”

Graves was on the move again, this time to Quebec, as the Ramparts hosted the Memorial Cup and reached the semi-final game, and the powerful defender’s offense came alive with five goals and six assists in 21 post-season contests. That performance, no doubt, caught the eye of the scouts on Madison Avenue.

“That was an awesome day,” as he was picked in the fourth round by the Rangers in 2013. “You’re just happy to get drafted by anyone, but then you find out it’s New York.”

He’s now in his third AHL season, which included an All-Star selection last year, and a winning 103.4 mph slap shot in the skills competition, the third hardest in league history. Although he enjoyed his time with the Rangers organization, Graves is primed to make his mark with a new challenge in San Antonio, where wearing a suit and tie to the game won’t freeze him out of the action.

“(I was) very surprised at first at the trade. But I’m excited for the opportunity here.”