Ryan Stanton never was told flat out he wasn't talented enough, or he wasn't big enough, or there was something missing from his game.
Yet, the Vancouver Canucks defenceman was passed over in three NHL entry drafts and watched as several of his Moose Jaw Warrior teammates like Travis Hamonic, Ty Wishart and Keaton Ellerby were selected.
Stanton's chances at playing pro out of junior appeared so grim that as his overage season in Moose Jaw was nearing an end four years ago, the native of St. Albert, Alta., looked into returning home to attend school and play for the University of Alberta in the fall of 2010.
But all of a sudden a few NHL clubs knocked on his door. He had played alongside Hamonic in 2008-09 and again the following year before Hamonic was dealt to Brandon. Some pro teams, including the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks, took notice.
He chose the Blackhawks. Their Western Canada scout Bruce Franklin had identified Stanton to his bosses back in Chicago a few seasons earlier.
He took Stanton out for the occasional dinner, got to know him and could tell this kid had character.
"What kept me going? I guess I'm like every other Canadian kid. It was engraved in me that dream of playing in the NHL and I wasn't ready to give up on that dream," the 24-year-old Stanton said. "I know it looked slim in my 20-year-old year in junior. But I just worked hard and hoped for the best."
Stanton remarked that he gets his work ethic from his parents, Deanne and Don. His mom works in a hospital in the X-ray unit. His father is a construction superintendent.
After his final Warriors season concluded in 2009-10, Stanton was invited to play for the Blackhawks' farm club in Rockford, Ill. He suited up for his pro debut on March 6 against the Hamilton Bulldogs and signed to a three-year entry-level contract six years later.
The Blackhawks liked Stanton's work ethic and the improvement he exhibited from season-to-season in Moose Jaw. But he still required some seasoning at the AHL level.
He played 226 regular season and playoff games for Rockford before he was promoted to play in the Blackhawks' season finale last April.
The 6-foot-2, 196-pound Stanton stuck with Chicago and was one of the extras in the Blackhawks' run to the Stanley Cup championship.
"I learned a ton being around the team in the playoffs," said Stanton, who had his day with the Stanley Cup in the summer. "I learned about the hard work, the sacrifices and how important it was to play smart, intelligent hockey."
Because of that time spent practising with the Blackhawks as well as his NHL debut, Stanton felt comfortable when he arrived at training camp last September. He looked like he might stick in Chicago after a strong training camp, but lost out on the final roster spot to Mike Kostka.
A good move
The Blackhawks wound up losing Stanton on waivers to the Canucks on Sept. 30. As much as he was thankful for the faith the Blackhawks had shown in him, he was excited about a new opportunity in Vancouver. His mother is from Burnaby, so he had some relatives in the area.
"It's been a good move," said Stanton, who missed five weeks with an ankle injury in December and January. "I've played primarily with Kevin Bieksa and he's helped me a lot."
Stanton hopes to continue to help the Canucks down the stretch and get the team into the playoffs. He hasn't played in a post-season game himself since that first springtime stint with Rockford in 2010.
Each game is important, including the Heritage Classic against the Ottawa Senators at B.C. Place on Sunday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 3 p.m. ET).
The game reminds Stanton of his days growing up as a kid in St. Albert, when he would meet friends at the outdoor rink at Muriel Martin Elementary School, a block away from the family home.
"I have so many memories from those days," he said. "I would come from practice and then go to that rink and play all night. I really believe the time spent there helped me develop, too."
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