Ryan McCleary has only 18 games of Western Hockey League experience, but has already drawn interest from the National Hockey League. The Portland Winterhawks rookie defenseman was recently ranked 141st on the NHL Central Scouting Final Rankings of North American skaters.
“It’s a pretty big confidence booster I guess,” said McCleary just hours after the list was released. “I didn’t look much into it coming in even this year. I didn’t look into the list much, but I’m happy I made it. There’s still a lot of work to be done. Hopefully somebody scoops me up in the draft.”
The Winterhawks finished second in the U.S. Division with a 13-8-3-0 record.
“The season went pretty well. It was a quick season of course, but we had to jump into the season playing hot and I think we did that as a team and I liked the way we finished as a team.”
The 6’2’’ defenseman finished with two goals, five assists, six penalty minutes, and a plus-11 rating in 18 games.
“Individually I thought I played well. I thought I learned a lot throughout the course of the year. I thought I developed pretty well. Coming in after not playing the year before it was a little tough coming in and getting used to the league, the speed. I thought I adapted well to it.”
The Swift Current native didn’t have any expectations heading into his first WHL season after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft.
“My expectations going in were I was just trying to make the line-up. I didn’t know because we had a lot of D coming in, so I just had to take it day by day and try and work my way into a spot every day.”
It hasn’t been a straight path to the WHL for the 17-year-old blueliner after playing one season of AA Midget hockey, followed by another with the AAA Legionnaires. He also got into three games with the Yorkton Terriers earlier this season in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
“It’s all development. That year I went into Portland camp and broke my elbow, so I was unable to play AAA. I went down to AA and I thought I developed well, got to play lots. The next year I didn’t make Portland as a 16-year-old, went back and developed in AAA. I thought it was a very good development curve for me and I think it’s worked out pretty well.”
McCleary said that being in another country during the pandemic wasn’t much different from being in Saskatchewan.
“It wasn’t too different. We were pretty much in quarantine down there. We couldn’t really experience the city like you would in years past, which is kind of disappointing because I know it’s a really fun city. I think it will be fun in the up and coming years to really experience the city and maybe get some fans in the rink.”
McCleary remains optimistic about the Winterhawks’ future.
“I think we’ve got a lot of young talent, young guys. I think we also have a good mix of older guys, good leaders. I think we’re going to have a really good chance to win the league in the next year or two.”
McCleary was trying to finish up his school work while completing a mandatory quarantine process after returning to Canada from Portland.
“I’ll probably skate a few times a week, probably have to go to Saskatoon for that. I’ll work out a tonne and hopefully a lot of golf,” he said of his offseason.