SOUTH BEND, Ind. – When Andrew Desjardins and Ryan Garbutt were on the Blackhawks’ bus to Notre Dame they talked about where they began their professional careers. Theirs were similar and long paths to the NHL – starting in far-flung markets in a league not known for developing top-level players but taking advantage of chances to move up, improving along the way and eventually getting their shot.
Both look back fondly at where they started, and relish how far they’ve come.
“It’s just one of those cases where your hard work, luck, timing, all falls into one,” Desjardins said. “It’s a unique thing where things all just come together for you.”
Desjardins and Garbutt were undrafted and opened their professional careers in the now-defunct Central Hockey League. Classified as a Double-A circuit, the CHL lagged behind the ECHL in moving players to higher levels and catered more to older and more-experienced pros.
Desjardins and Garbutt also can share stories about playing in South Texas, a region hardly known for hockey. Desjardins scored 59 points during the 2007-08 season playing close to the Mexican border for the Laredo Bucks, and Garbutt picked up 50 points for the 2009-10 Corpus Christi IceRays near the Gulf of Mexico.
But instead of staying in the CHL, both advanced after one season. Desjardins played five games in the ECHL in 2008-09 and spent parts of three seasons with the AHL Worcester Sharks before his NHL debut. Garbutt also had a stop in the ECHL and stints with the Wolves and Texas Stars before eventually becoming a regular with Dallas.
“It shows that they’re resilient, they want to be a pro, they want to take advantage of the certain opportunity that they get and then keep pushing, finding a way,” coach Joel Quenneville said.
As cliché as it sounds, they did it by working hard to improve their games and creating luck.
For one team they might have been top-liners expected to score. For another they were depended on to check, kill penalties and do less-glamorous chores.
“I think that’s how I was able to work my way up,” Garbutt said. “I could play top-six or bottom-six at every level I was at and that allowed me to play whatever role the coach needed and help my team win and try to keep moving up.”
The luck came from playing well – even better if it was in front of a scout or somebody who could send a positive report up the ladder.
“There’s always that aspect of it, too,” Desjardins said. “The journey was amazing, to be able to say that you played in pretty much every league and that’s pretty cool.”