His stock was high among other defensemen in his draft class. The Mahtomedi, Minn., native had 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) in 59 games with the U18 National Team in the United States National Team Development Program in his draft year and was a projected first-round pick.
Ryan Chesley was waiting to hear his name called by one of the 32 NHL clubs. That was not to be the case on night one, but he didn’t have to wait long the following morning. The Capitals traded up to select Chesley with the 37th overall pick. His dream became a reality.
“I think it’s always good to have that feeling that the team wants you and likes you that much,” Chesley said. “I just love how professional and kind everyone is in Washington, and I love how they go about everything.”
Chesley, now 19, is an outstanding puck-moving defenseman with a high hockey IQ. He’s very good at finding players on breakouts and an exquisite passer. All of these traits make him a perfect fit in D.C.
At the time he was drafted, he had already committed to the University of Minnesota. As a freshman, he was joining a roster already loaded with young, high-end NHL-caliber talent such as Logan Cooley, Matthew Knies and Jimmy Snuggerud, along with experienced names such as Brock Faber and Jackson LaCombe.
While he was uncertain of his role, there was also excitement brewing for the incoming defenseman.
“It was easy to tell right from the beginning that we had a ton of talent on our team and a very competitive team,” Chesley said. “I just tried to make my presence felt and contribute in any way I could on the team. Whether it was penalty killing, playing five-on-five, or any kind of situation, whatever I can do to help the team.”
In addition to being a newcomer on a stacked team, he had to get ready to play in the Big Ten, which Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky coined, the “monster conference” of college hockey.
“Playing in those high-pressure situation games, it was really good to learn and play with such great teammates and learn from them and see what they do in those moments,” Chesley said.
Chesley played on the third pair with fellow freshman Cal Thomas for the majority of the season. He got off to a great start to his collegiate career, with two assists in the series against Lindenwood, and scored his first career goal against the Wisconsin Badgers.
His first #Gophers goal 🥲
And in the #BorderBattle no less 😎 @ryanchesley_ pic.twitter.com/6gh3iTWwAt
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) December 10, 2022
Down the stretch he started to find his groove. He was making smart plays and the Gophers were winning critical games, en route to a second consecutive Big Ten regular season title.
But that came to a sudden halt when Chesley injured his wrist on Feb. 11 in the second period against Wisconsin. Minnesota was already without some of its key pieces on the blue line.
“Obviously, it was very frustrating and especially towards the end of the year. I was kind of uncertain on how the end of the year would play out,” Chesley said. “Mentally it was tough at first not knowing whether I would or how I would finish the season, if I was gonna be able to play, and then I ended up getting back sooner than I thought.”
Chesley returned in the Big Ten semifinals against the Michigan State Spartans, where he had two assists for his second multipoint game of his career.
Chesley finished the year with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 36 games, and was fourth on the team with 52 blocks. Now that he has a year under his belt, Chesley is looking forward to an increased role.
He has had conversations with Gophers coach Bob Motzko about how he is going to fill the void of two key pieces in LaCombe and Faber, both of whom went to the NHL.
“Next year with the opportunities available, I think it’d be growing my offensive game and contributing more that way,” Chesley said. “I think just proving myself in every situation will be important and making my presence felt as a leader to come back as a sophomore and hopefully one of the top defensemen on the team.”
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