For most ECHL players, the dream of skating in the NHL is exactly that – a dream. Drake Rymsha achieved the feat in May, 14 months after playing for the Komets, and it was the experience he'd hoped it would be.
“I kept telling myself to work hard and to have a good attitude and hopefully my number gets called. I was lucky enough that it was and I got to make my NHL debut,” said Rymsha, who was plus-1 for the Los Angeles Kings in a 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche in Denver.
“It's obviously a dream come true. Every single kid, when you're tying skates as a young kid, you want to play in the NHL. To have that on my résumé now, it's a huge accomplishment and I can look back and it's the best day of my life so far. To live out that dream and get to play in the NHL, it was awesome.”
But Rymsha's NHL time, something he believes is going to benefit him in his return this season to Fort Wayne, extends well beyond the one game, 17 shifts and the 13:16 he was on the Pepsi Center ice in the regular-season finale. Rymsha spent most of last season on the Kings' taxi squad – NHL teams had such corps because the COVID-19 pandemic created more need for reserves – and that meant he was skating among some of the world's best players.
“Even though I was on the taxi squad, I got to practice with the team and live that NHL life for a year. I learned so much at 23 years old that I can take with me for the rest of my career,” Rymsha said.
The tradeoff of being on the taxi squad was that he played only two games last season, one with the Kings and one with the American Hockey League's Ontario Reign.
“Taxi squad or not, I was in the NHL the whole season and I learned from watching guys like Anže Kopitar and Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown, seeing how they attack each day and how professional they are and how they get ready for games and practices,” Rymsha said. “Their intensity in practices and the attention to detail, I just learned so much from being up there the whole year.”
Rymsha spent 24 games with the Komets in 2019-20 as a prospect of the Kings – totaling nine goals and 17 points in 24 games – but he chose to sign as a free agent with Fort Wayne this season because he believes it's the best club to get him pointed back toward the AHL where he's played 38 games in three professional seasons.
“I just enjoyed my time a lot here. The guys, the training staff, the coaching staff, the city, it's all top-notch here,” Rymsha said, noting his disappointment that the pandemic ended the 2019-20 season before the playoffs began. “They love their hockey here, and it's awesome to play in front of these fans and for this coaching staff and the guys in here. It was an easy decision for me to come back to Fort Wayne.”
Despite winning the Kelly Cup last season, the Komets returned only three forwards – Anthony Petruzzelli, Matthew Boudens and Oliver Cooper – and they need Rymsha to be a top-line player who can use his speed, score and hit.
“That's part of the reason why I came here,” said Rymsha, a native of Huntington Woods, Michigan. “I know the opportunity I'm going to get. I know a lot is going to be expected of me but I put a lot of pressure on myself as well to be that guy, to be a top-line guy here. I'm excited for the opportunity and can't wait to get started.”
The Komets open the season at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Coliseum against the Wheeling Nailers
Notes: The Komets, who had to cancel their preseason games with Wheeling last weekend because of two positive COVID-19 tests, practiced again Monday after no further players tested positive. ... The Vegas Golden Knights assigned goaltender Jiri Patera to the Komets. As a rookie, he played seven games last season for the AHL's Henderson Silver Knights and was 2-4-0 with a 3.54 goals-against average and a .888 save percentage. He also played 15 games in the Czech Republic for Ceske Budejovice. Patera, a sixth-round NHL draft pick in 2017, was with the Komets briefly in 2019 but he didn't appear in any games. ... The Komets released goalie Tommy Proudlock.
Wednesday: Goalie Stefanos Lekkas reflects on time in NHL
Thursday: Keys to success for Komets this season
Friday: Connor and Kellen Jones look to lead K's offense
Saturday: Komets ready for 70th season, this time as champs