Gryba (Gri-ba), Gryba (Gree-ba), Gryba (Greb-ba) or Gryba (Grab-ba) – no matter how you pronounce Eric Gryba’s name, and clearly the announcers aren’t sure, he was not ranked particularly high on the Senator’s depth chart at the start of the season. Had their defensemen remained healthy the Senators would have likely started with Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot, Sergei Gonchar, Chris Phillips, Jared Cowen, Mike Lundin and they would have subbed in one of their prospects to slowly acclimate them to the NHL. It hasn’t exactly turn out that way.
My impression is that when the Senator’s management spoke about their seventh defenseman they were thinking of Andre Benoit, Patrick Wiercioch and Mark Borowiecki. Gryba seemed to be in the shadows, not quite ready for primetime. Their top three prospects were auditioned and/or thrown to the wolves early in this lockout season and all have proved capable to one degree or another. Anyone of them could, under normal circumstances, serve as a seventh defenseman. Practice, mentorship, protected playing time minutes and a chance for success.
Eric Gryba’s was playing in his third AHL season when he was called up by the NHL Senators. Karlsson had been injured and was done for the season. They needed a shutdown defenseman, someone who could help eat up the extra minutes that were now available. Shutting down the opposition’s top lines is not glamorous – it’s the opposite. You’re asked to play against their top lines and minimize your mistakes. Any mistakes made will likely lead to goals against. The top lines are the top lines because they capitalise on those mistakes and score goals.
Everyone else on the team at the time had more NHL games than Eric Gryba. EVERYONE. In walks Eric Gryba, all 6’4 and 222 lbs of him. He’s built for the shutdown role. They then go on to win five of the next six games. Great… but as we know, the injuries kept coming. The Senators record now sits at six wins, six losses. Only one of the losses has had a goal differential of more than one goal and three of the last six required extra time. Every game until the season is in the books will be a tough one for the Senators. Every game will be an uphill battle because of the extent of the Senator’s injuries.
Eric Gryba has stepped in and stepped up his game. He’s logging an astounding 21.41 minutes of TOI. The only players with more are Methot and Gonchar. These are top-four pairing minutes, not seventh defenseman minutes and they’ve managed to stay in almost every game so far. Forget about a few mistakes, Gryba’s acquitted himself extremely well under very difficult circumstances. Eric Gryba has arrived and the future of the Senators defense corps will be better because of it. I for one can’t wait to see what he’ll be able to accomplish under more normal circumstances.