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Lost in the Avalanche: Ryan Wilson

The hard-nosed defenseman didn’t cut it with Patrick Roy

New Jersey Devils v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

In the early 2010s, the Colorado Avalanche was in the middle of its first full-fledged rebuild in the city of Denver. Roughly a decade removed from the 2001 Stanley Cup, names like Joe Sakic (and unofficially) Peter Forsberg, were no longer members of the team, while Adam Foote and Milan Hejduk were on the verge of retirement themselves. The Avalanche were seeking a new identity for the first time since moving from Quebec, and the team was looking towards just about anybody to pitch in and turn the ship around, including undrafted free agents. Through a deadline deal, Defenseman Ryan Wilson would find his way to Colorado, beginning a 5-year run with the organization.

Ryan Wilson was born on February 3, 1987, in Windsor, Ontario. He started his Major Junior hockey in 2003-04 with the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors of the Ontario Hockey League, where he would play for three seasons. In his third and final season for the team he would produce 12 goals and 49 assists for 61 points in 64 games, while also racking up 145 penalty minutes, garnering Wilson’s status as a “hard-hitting offensive Defenseman.” He would receive an invitation to St. Louis Blues training camp in 2006 but return to juniors. Wilson joined the Sarnia Sting for his fourth Major Junior season, where Wilson got to reap some benefit from playing with eventual 2008 1st overall pick, Steven Stamkos. Wilson would put up his career-best numbers in juniors this season, going for 17 goals and 58 assists for 75 points in a full 68 games, while again racking up triple-digit PIMS (136) as team captain. Wilson would accept an invitation to Philadelphia Flyers training camp in 2007 but failed to secure an NHL deal from the tryout. As a result, Wilson would return for a 5th and final Major Junior season with the Sting, scoring only seven goals, but managing a career-high in assists with 64 for 71 points in 58 games. Additionally, he would find himself in the penalty box less, only racking up 84 PIMS.

Sarnia Sting v London Knights Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Upon finishing his Junior career, Wilson would sign a three-year Entry-Level-Contract with the Calgary Flames, joining the club’s AHL affiliate Quad City Flames for the 2008-09 season. In 60 games for the club, he would score four goals and 16 assists for 20 points, while also cutting down on penalty minutes at the next professional level, only logging 56 minutes in the sin bin. With the 2009 NHL Trade Deadline approaching, however, the Calgary Flames were in the midst of a push for the top of the Northwestern Division with their Western Canadian rivals, the Vancouver Canucks. Looking to shore up their defense, Flames GM Daryl Sutter (now head coach) called up then Avs GM Greg Sherman, whose club was sitting in last place in the Western Conference to make a trade. The Avalanche ended up trading veteran Defenseman Jordan Leopold to the Flames, in exchange for Lawrence Nycholat, a 2nd Round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft (Stefan Elliott), and Ryan Wilson. He finished his first pro season with the Avs affiliate Lake Erie Monsters, logging no points, but making an impression on the organization with 25 penalty minutes in his eight games for the club to end the 2009 season.

After three games in the minors to start the 2009-10 season, the Avalanche with injuries to Defensemen John-Michael Liles and Ruslan Salei would call up Wilson to make his NHL debut on Oct. 15, 2009, against the Montreal Canadiens. A week later on Oct. 23 against the Carolina Hurricanes he would add his 1st NHL assist, notching the lone apple on a Paul Stastny goal, before scoring his first NHL goal on Nov. 17 against who else but the Calgary Flames. Wilson would for the most part stick with the Avs, appearing in 61 games, while adding 3 goals and 18 assists for 21 points and only 36 penalty minutes. Additionally, he would play in 4 games of the Avs 1st Round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks, notching an assist.

Montreal Canadiens v Colorado Avalanche

The 2010-11 season would be the first season in which Wilson made the team’s opening night roster, as he would serve as an important young piece to a team looking to build off of a successful ‘09-10 season. However, as the Avs regressed back to the bottom of the NHL, Wilson would start to have struggles of his own. From a statistical standpoint he would have an alright season, posting another three goals and 13 assists in 67 games, a very slight regression from the previous season, but still very serviceable for the fabric of NHL defenses at that point in time. In his third pro season, Wilson would tie a career best in points when he scored one goal and 20 assists for 21 points but was limited to just 59 games this season, largely due to a concussion suffered on a violent Maxim Lapierre hit on Dec. 6, 2011. Following the season in the Summer of 2012, Wilson signed a three-year $6,750,000 extension with the Avs, coming in at $2,250,000 annually. This unfortunately is where the wheels fell off the bus for Wilson at the NHL level.

In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 NHL season, Wilson would continue to battle injuries, this time in the form of knee and ankle injuries. Playing in just 12 of the Avs' 48 games that season, Wilson logged three assists, and the Avs finished as the worst team out West once again, going 16-25-7. The Avs would fire head coach Joe Sacco in favor of Patrick Roy, and with prospect defensemen such as Tyson Barrie, Stefan Elliott, and Duncan Siemens pushing to secure NHL jobs in the near future, Wilson was running out of time to cement a place in the Avs defense corps.

Colorado Avalanche v Minnesota Wild - Game Four Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The start of the 2013-14 NHL season saw many new directions for the Avalanche franchise. With a shiny 18-year-old Nathan MacKinnon in the fold on top of a new coaching regime, the Avs were looking to start a new chapter of Avalanche hockey in the Mile High City, and Wilson had a good chance to make a great impression on the new coaching staff with his hard-nosed offensive style. This would be a great year for the Avs, as they would go 52-22-8 and finish atop the Central Division. Unfortunately for Wilson, he was a minimal contributor. After being sidelined by a minor knee injury sustained in a preseason game, Wilson missed the opening week of the season recovering from a knee injury suffered in the preseason. Approximately three weeks after returning from the knee injury, Wilson suffered a back injury in a 6-4 loss to the Nashville Predators on Nov. 6th, 2013. This injury cost Wilson another two months of his season, and after a brief conditioning stint with the AHL club, Wilson would return to the NHL lineup, but to minimal production. In 22 games, Wilson had no goals and just five assists. By March, he was a healthy scratch, and Wilson would be reverted to essentially the eighth defenseman on the depth chart, behind Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Jan Hejda, Nick Holden, Andre Benoit, Nate Guenin, and Cory Sarich. Wilson would make a brief return to the lineup as a forward just prior to the start of the NHL playoffs after Matt Duchene injured his shoulder but would have a minimal impact, logging a lone assist in six games.

The 2014-15 NHL season was Wilson’s final season in the NHL in general, as he couldn’t avoid injuries. After appearing in just 3 games to open the season for the Avalanche, on Oct. 21, 2014, Wilson would leave a game against the Florida Panthers with what first appeared to be a week-to-week injury. One month after the injury, however, on Nov. 23 it was announced that Wilson would undergo season-ending shoulder surgery, a fatal blow to his NHL career. The Avalanche would allow Wilson to hit Free Agency, and after going unsigned in the summer, Wilson would sign a PTO deal with the Calgary Flames, his original team, but failed to make the team. Wilson was out of the NHL and decided to sign with Kazan Ak-Bars of the KHL for the 2015-16 season, officially beginning his European pro hockey career.

HC Lugano v ZSC Lions Zurich - Champions Hockey League Photo by HC Lugano/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images

Overseas, however, Wilson would be a journeyman as well. After posting only three assists in 24 games for Ak-Bars, he would move over to the Swiss-A league to play for HC Lugano in the 2016-17 season, where in 39 games (including playoffs) he would score two goals, 13 assists, and 15 points. Once again, however, Wilson would find himself playing in another league for the 2017-18 season, this time in the SM-Liga. It is in this league with KalPa Kuopio that Wilson finally found stabilities outside of North America, as he would play in 134 games (including playoffs) over three seasons for the club. In those games, Wilson contributed two goals and 30 assists for 32 points.

Ryan Wilson seems to be an athlete who retired as the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down the world. His last professional season came with KalPA Kuopio in the 2019-20 season, but with no formal retirement announcement ever made, it is unknown where Wilson is now or what he’s doing.