FORT WAYNE – During a recent road trip, the Komets players were fiddling around with an iPad on the bus, cueing up their best YouTube clips.
With apologies to notorious tough guy Jon Mirasty, the consensus was that offensive defenseman Michael Ratchuk had the most awe-striking feats, carrying the puck up ice, dangling it left, right, back and forth, weaving his way through five defenders before scoring.
Most of Ratchuks online highlight videos are from the higher-level American Hockey League.
You can tell hes got NHL skills, Komets goaltender Nick Boucher said. I was in the American League for a couple months and I dont remember a lot of guys with that kind of ability, so hes impressive. He can lug the puck up ice and make guys look silly. Cue up his YouTube clips and youll see him go around the entire squad in an American League game. To do that at that level, it says something about your skill set, for sure.
Ratchuk was selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of the 2006 draft. No other Fort Wayne player was selected higher. He was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009.
Ratchuk was poised to spend this season, his fourth in the AHL, with Springfield. But they had a glut of defensemen, so they moved him to forward, where he played 15 games, scoring only one goal.
Finally, they sent him down to Fort Wayne on Jan. 25, allowing him to play defense.
It was fun to play another position in Springfield and to learn, said Ratchuk, 23. But Im happy being back playing defense.
Its always tough being sent down, but I was having a rough time as far as getting playing time up there. So for me, being here in Fort Wayne brings a chance to play and thats all Ive really been wanting to do – play and get a lot of ice time.
Hes been getting plenty in his nine games with the Komets, manning the point on the power play and being relied upon to improve the teams biggest weakness, carrying the puck out of the defensive zone. He has eight assists and a plus-3 rating.
Thats one of the things I have to work on is being more in control, said the native of South Buffalo, N.Y. Im a player who has never liked sitting back. I like to join the play, make things happen and be exciting.
With Ratchuk in the lineup, the Komets are 8-1-0. But hes already been called back to Springfield twice and could be again at any time.
You hope to get the most out of him while hes here, coach Al Sims said
Ratchuk is in no hurry to leave Fort Wayne. Hes having too much fun. And it wont be too long until he makes it on YouTube in a Komets uniform.
Ive been having a lot of fun here, he said. Since Day 1, the guys have welcomed me and been really, really good to me. The fans are unbelievable, and Ive been having a really good time.