Checking in with Riley Sheahan

Riley Sheahan may just be the next big thing for the Red Wings organization. (Toby Broughman/Grand Rapids Griffins)

 

Editor’s note – The Red Wings signed Riley Sheahan to a three-year entry level deal on April 5. Here is our article, written about the Wings prospect for MiHockeyMag, just days before the deal was completed.

By Kyle Kujawa -

When the Grand Rapids Griffins announced their Clear Day roster in early March, Riley Sheahan’s name was not on it.

Similar to the NHL’s trade deadline, the Clear Day roster is essentially a playoff roster, a list of 22 names eligible to compete in the rest of the regular season and playoffs. Among other things, it’s designed to prevent a non-playoff NHL team from loading their AHL affiliate’s roster up with waiver-exempt young players for a Calder Cup run.

Exceptions are made for the inevitable injuries and NHL call-ups or, in Sheahan’s case, try-out contracts for young players following the conclusion of their collegiate or junior season.

Sheahan was a junior with the University of Notre Dame this season, and he elected to turn pro at the conclusion instead of staying with the Fighting Irish for his senior year.

“I tried not to think about it during the year,” said Sheahan. “I was just trying to focus on the team I was playing for at the time. Obviously, every kid wants to play pro hockey at some point in their life. I started thinking about it more when the season was ending, and I decided to turn pro about a week after it ended.”

A native of St. Catharines, Ontario, Sheahan is a proud collegiate player, having made the choice to play at Notre Dame instead of Erie, who held his OHL rights. While it’s not uncommon for Canadians to play college hockey (Brendan Smith is another example), he was confident about his decision all along.

“I had a cousin that went to Notre Dame, and both of my parents are (high school) teachers, so education’s always been important,” said Sheahan. “The whole package of mixing education with hockey and being part of the school atmosphere was pretty fun.”

In Sheahan’s fifth game with the Griffins, he notched his first two professional points – a goal and an assist. After his first two weeks, the 22-year-old center says everything is close to what he expected.

“It’s a totally different game than college,” he said. “Guys are in position most of the time, so it’s a little more controlled in that sense. The speed is faster, guys are bigger and stronger, but for the most part it’s what I was expecting.”

Griffins head coach Curt Fraser offered his assessment, indicating that Sheahan has been impressive as promised so far.

“He’s got good size, good skater, really high-end skills,” said Fraser. “Like most of these kids, they’re very good players coming out of college or junior, and now they just have to get a feel for this league. Everyone wants to play in the NHL, but you have to take small steps to get there.”

Walking into a new locker room a month before the end of the season and adjusting to a new system is no easy task, but Sheahan has had the advantage of knowing a few familiar faces from his time at the Red Wings’ summer prospect camps.

“Knowing a few faces coming in was definitely helpful,” Sheahan said. “There are no egos on the team, guys have been treating me really well. I’m really glad they’ve been respectful and good to me so far. The coaches have been great, too. I’ve been lucky to get a shot on the power play and a little on the penalty kill. Everything’s coming into place.”

“You get to know these kids in the summer and in Traverse City,” Fraser said. “They come in prepared and ready to step in. It sure makes a difference out on the ice, when they’ve had a chance to prepare through our camps. It’s not the same with everyone, but Riley’s been around a little bit, and it’s great to see him here.”

Sheahan played the first few months of his freshman season with Notre Dame at the age of 17, meaning he was one of the youngest players in the NCAA for his first two seasons with the Fighting Irish.

“It was a challenge at first, adjusting to the whole lifestyle, just getting to things on time and planning out a day properly,” said Sheahan. “Hockey-wise, it was a little different at first, but I adjusted pretty well.”

While at Notre Dame, Sheahan, who was known as an offensive player before heading to college, worked on his all-around game, becoming a shutdown center for the team as he matured as a player.

“Notre Dame was pretty defensive, and I took on the role of playing against the other team’s top line,” said Sheahan. “I’m glad they’re giving me the chance to be a little more offensive [here], and hopefully things will fit into place.”

With only a handful of games left in the regular season, Sheahan is proving to be an important part in the team’s effort to make up ground in the playoff run. Beyond that, he is expected to sign his entry-level contract with Detroit, the team that drafted him 21st overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, sometime soon as he prepares for his first full professional season next fall.

“The first team I ever played for was the Red Wings, so it’s kind of ironic that it worked out like that,” said Sheahan of being selected by Detroit. “I was a Leafs fan growing up, but the Wings were always a close second. Guys like Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan were two of my favorite players.”

Chris Chelios and Chris Osgood were both present at one of Sheahan’s first home practices with the Red Wings, which the young forward admits takes some time getting used to.

“You get a little star struck at first, but then you realize they’re just here to help,” said Sheahan. “They have tons of experience, and they’re some of the best players to ever play the game. I just try to take in what they say and use them whenever I need help. Obviously, they give pretty good advice.”