Inside Troy Terry's breakout season for the Ducks -- and what comes next

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

You can hear Troy Terry's smile through the phone.

It's a chilly mid-November afternoon -- at least by Southern California standards -- and the Anaheim Ducks forward is just home from a post-practice holiday shopping trip with his fiancée, Dani. There's a bounce in Terry's voice, spreading all the way to his audible grin.

This is clearly a good day -- and a good season -- to be him.

Over the past month, Terry has blossomed into one of the NHL's breakout stars. And frankly, he feels it's been a long time coming.

Plucked by Anaheim in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, it's taken Terry until his fourth NHL season to truly take flight. This season, he's ripped off a 16-game point streak to start the campaign, the second longest run in the league behind Connor McDavid's. Terry has already hit career bests in goals (12) and points (22) through just 17 games, and is top five in the league in both categories.

Terry's current streak is the longest by a Ducks player since Corey Perry recorded points in a club-record 19 straight games from Oct. 21 to Dec. 1, 2009. Only Perry and Teemu Selanne (17 games in 1998-99) have recorded longer streaks than Terry's in franchise history.

While Terry's been gaining steam, so have the Ducks. Anaheim owns one of the NHL's best records since Nov. 1, going 7-1-0 in their last eight games.

The numbers look impressive on their own. What Terry feels through them is fulfillment of a much-anticipated potential finally being realized.

"If you told me the numbers I'd have right now and the point streak, I probably wouldn't have believed you," Terry told ESPN recently. "I haven't gotten to this point as fast as I wanted to in my career. I don't know if I'd ever had [more than] a point in the first 10 games of a season before. It had gotten to a place where people have said, maybe I'm not the player everyone thought I would be. I do feel I have a chip on my shoulder and things still to prove. It's been a journey for me."

A long time coming

Terry, 24, wasn't saddled with expectations from being a highly ranked draft prospect. What hype followed him to the NHL was of his own creation.

The Denver native's stock began rising at the 2017 World Junior Championship, where he pulled off some serious heroics for Team USA. Terry's role throughout was mostly as a fourth-line grinder, but he came through with three consecutive shootout goals -- including the game-winner -- for Team USA in the semifinal round against Russia. In the gold medal game, Terry scored the shootout winner again to lift the USA past Canada.

Later that year, as a sophomore at the University of Denver, Terry helped the Pioneers to their eighth NCAA championship, and was named to the All-Tournament team.

That propelled Terry towards representing Team USA again, at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The NHL had declined to send players that year, and Terry -- by then a college junior -- took advantage, finishing second on the team in points (5).

He came home to sign a three-year, entry-level contract with Anaheim, and subsequently closed the book on his time at Denver with 115 points in as many games. Terry made his NHL debut on March 27, 2018, playing two tilts for the Ducks before their season ended.

Terry made Anaheim's roster out of training camp for the 2018-19 season, but there was a tumultuous road ahead. He lasted only six games in the NHL before being reassigned (for the first time) to the American Hockey League's San Diego Gulls. Terry spent the next two seasons shuttling along the I-5 between leagues, never establishing his game at either level.

"I had pretty high expectations coming out of college, and it was tough," Terry said now. "It was a tough road for me, whether it was getting sent down to San Diego or playing good but just not producing. Definitely has been hard."

It got to the point last March where trade rumors swirled around Terry. The idea of a fresh start could have been appealing for both sides, but no deal ever came to fruition. And in an unexpected turn, Terry's game actually picked up post-trade deadline, when he scored nine of his 20 points in the season's final 23 games.

"It was the first time in my career that I had even had the idea of being traded come into my mind. That was new," Terry said. "I wouldn't say I put a ton of thought into it. I was in a place where I felt like I needed to make that next step as a hockey player and I was just confident that I was going to do that, whether it was here or maybe somewhere else."

At this point, Terry knows what makes him his best. But he didn't get here alone. A seed was planted over time by his former Ducks teammate Ryan Miller. The now-retired goaltender was blunt with Terry about what had to change about his game, and Terry took that wisdom to heart.

"Ryan used to tell me that when I was playing good, it looked like I had flow to my game," Terry recalled. "And when I wasn't, I was almost trying too hard to do everything the right way. I was losing my creativity, I looked choppy and like I was thinking too much. He used to tell me, 'relax and just flow, flow, flow.' I don't know why that has been the biggest difference for me, but it's about not thinking about everything going on at one time and just playing instinctually."

Dallas Eakins can attest to how well that's working. Prior to becoming Anaheim's head coach in 2019, Eakins spent four seasons behind the bench in San Diego. When Terry was initially assigned to the Gulls, Eakins pulled him aside on the ice for a chat. It was the first of many conversations they'd have centered around translating Terry's ability to the pros.

"He had shown up to San Diego the first time, and he didn't have a whole lot of confidence," Eakins recalls. "But he has always had the talent. You would just see him dominate three or four games in a row and then he would disappear. And I think Troy has really taken the approach now of choosing to have confidence. It takes time. Every player is different; they're human beings, not a bunch of robots."

Good prospects don't become good players by accident, either. Miller's advice for Terry is testament to that. But Anaheim still has several willing teachers in their ranks, and Terry has been nestled lately beside veteran linemates Ryan Getzlaf and Adam Henrique.

That was no accident; Eakins knows the impact those relationships will have on Terry's growth.

"Troy [was successful] in college, he got a lot of spotlight at that World Junior tournament," Eakins said. "So Troy comes in [thinking], and rightly so, 'I am going to rip it up.' And then it's like, 'woah.' And then he gets to the American League, and he's been beat up a little bit. These kids, they have such high expectations. Now what's happened to Troy is he sits in the dressing room right beside Ryan and Adam, and those guys don't sit there and not say anything."

Consider Terry a sponge.

"When it's Ryan Getzlaf telling you something," he said, "you listen."

'He tells me how to be better'

There's a long pause as Terry ponders his answer. He wants to do Getzlaf justice.

The Ducks' captain is more than just Terry's linemate. Getzlaf has been his mentor, and the messenger of hard truths Terry needs to hear.

"He's meant so much to me, more than just as a hockey player. He's become one of my closest friends," Terry said. "We've gotten close over the years, when maybe I haven't lived up to what I wanted to be as a hockey player. When I make a play that I probably shouldn't be trying to make, he'll be the first one to tell me. He is very vocal with me, always tells me what I shouldn't do, what I should do. He tells me how to be better."

Getzlaf briefly explored free agency last summer, before settling on a one-year contract with the only NHL team he's ever known.

Had Getzlaf gone elsewhere, Terry might not be having the season he is. Then again, neither would Getzlaf.

Centering a line with Terry has led to Getzlaf's own resurgence. He's already gathered 19 points in 18 games, compared to 17 points in 48 games a season ago. And earlier this month, Getzlaf became the first 1,000-point scorer in Ducks franchise history.

Terry was riding shotgun with Getzlaf on the milestone play, picking up an assist of his own.

"To be going through this year right now alongside him and we're both finding success, it's been really special for me," Terry said. "I know he's been around a long time and seen a lot of things but for me, it's been a lot of fun. And I think he's had a lot of fun playing hockey again."

Getzlaf doesn't talk about Terry's evolution in the singular. He uses "we." As in, we got here, together.

"He's playing the right way," Getzlaf said of Terry last week. "It's ultimately what we've been working on for the last year and a half. It's his understanding situations in the game. As you get better and you get more confident with the puck, you're able to make more plays. He's making those little plays that change momentum and allow him space. And he's got the confidence right now in finishing."

The bond that grew with Getzlaf off the ice isn't so unlikely, either. While there's a 12-year age difference between them -- and Getzlaf's life as a married father of four -- Terry found they have plenty in common. Both love to golf ("I hate to say it," Terry sighs, "but Getz is considerably better at it than me"), relish an off day watching football and always find ways to have a laugh.

"He has us over to his house all the time. He's just an infectious personality," Terry said. "He's a very mature man. But he's someone that even our young guys can joke around with and just be light-hearted and fun with. I've always felt I'm someone he's taken under his wing, and I'm very fortunate for that."

Eakins played a part in their alliance too, by keeping Terry glued to Getzlaf's hip. That's been in the Ducks' best interest and a catalyst to their hot start. What impact it's had on Terry's personal development is a bonus.

"The greatest thing about Troy is how he's matured; he's turning into a man," Eakins said. "And the great privilege that Troy has in that is getting to play with Ryan Getzlaf. Him and Adam Henrique, those are two guys that are 10-out-of-10 character guys who never focus on themselves and are always turning sideways trying to help others. It takes a village, always."

Putting in the work in the offseason

Matt Shaw still laughs at the memory.

It was fall 2015, and Terry was starting his freshman year at Denver. Shaw was one of the hockey team's strength and conditioning coaches, armed with a tight schedule of physicals to complete on incoming players.

A mix-up with Terry's car made the 17-year-old late for orientation and caused a sour -- if humorous -- introduction to Shaw.

"So, it's his first day, and he's late for the [team] meeting and the workout," said Shaw, who is now Denver's Senior Associate Athletic Director of Sports Performance. "And then that put him on the ice when he was scheduled for his physical. So, I went flying out there and kicked him off the ice immediately. It was a wakeup call for him during that transition to college. A quick kick in the butt. He was young; he was not a kid that looked physically mature. He looked like a late bloomer."

Terry has been labelled "undersized" practically since he first put on skates. And some concerns over the designation have wormed their way in over the years. Like when the U.S. National Team Development Program offered Terry a spot for their 2014-15 season, he worried that, at 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, he'd be too small to have success.

That wasn't the case, of course. Terry accepted the USNTDP's invitation to spend a year in Michigan and fit in just fine, scoring six goals and 14 points in 25 games.

When Terry arrived the following season at Denver, Shaw could see Terry's obvious talent. What the teenager needed was structure, and an understanding of how to leverage his body. The two developed a close relationship that continues to this day, with Terry returning to work alongside Shaw and a band of local skaters every summer.

"I think he came in his freshman year right at 160 pounds," Shaw said. "And then this last offseason, he started at 180-182 and put on another eight to 10 pounds so now he's right at 190. Over the last five, six years he's spent a lot of time focusing on his physical development and has gotten better with nutritional habits and work ethic. By the time he left this offseason, even in a group of NHL players, he's one of the strongest pound-for-pound athletes that we have. He's incredibly explosive and powerful."

Terry came to Shaw especially frustrated last summer. His 2020-21 season was spotty, production-wise, with only seven goals and 20 points in 48 games. After three seasons as a pro, Terry still hadn't reached the heights he had in mind. It was time to get serious.

"Consistency was an issue for me," Terry admits. "I've always needed to work on my strength, and I was motivated. I knew I had the ability to be an impact player in this league and to do that I was going to have to get stronger. I worked more in the gym than I did on the ice. To become a goal scorer, I had to shoot pucks off the pass and that was honestly just working out and one-timing pucks and shooting from all angles."

To help Terry add muscle without sacrificing speed and agility, Shaw prioritized velocity-based training, like resisted sled pushes, loaded jumping and lateral force production moves. Terry would spend only 30-40 minutes on the ice a couple days per week and then up to 90 minutes with Shaw five times per week. The results, at least so far, speak for themselves.

"Troy approached every day with a level of compete," Shaw said. "He made sure that if there was a lift, he was going to do more weight or move it faster than anybody else in the group. And it showed. I think his humor and the energy that he brings, you can see he has a love for the process. He really enjoyed the environment and attacking this offseason."

What comes next?

Terry knew the question would come eventually.

Given how well he's started the season, have thoughts of making Team USA's Olympic squad again -- this time among other NHLers -- begun crossing his mind?

"It's something that obviously I've thought about," Terry said, after another thoughtful pause. "But all the success that our team is having, and the success I've found personally, I think a big part of it is just because I've been taking it game by game. It's obviously good to have goals, and to make the [Olympic] team would be incredible. I'm not going to tell you that I wouldn't be absolutely honored, or it wouldn't be amazing. If I keep doing what I'm doing and that finds me on the team, then it would be an absolute honor."

Eakins has a motto for the Ducks' this year: Win today. And he preaches that ego only gets in the way of progress. Terry seems firmly to align with both principles. He'll just as soon apply advice from Getzlaf as admit to drawing inspiration from Anaheim's freshman class. There are lessons to be taken everywhere.

"We've got a guy like [rookie] Trevor Zegras who just oozes confidence," Terry said. "You can see that in the way he plays. I'm almost envious of him. The way he carries himself, it's like he knows he's going to make his plays, he's going to try things. That's a thing I've felt taking me a long time to do."

Terry isn't unique in having his career unspool slowly. If anything, adversity has made his arrival this season more special. And there will be many eyes on Terry as he tries to keep his points streak alive. There's pressure, but not like in the past. Terry isn't striving to be someone else anymore.

Being Troy Terry is good enough.

"To watch this kid ride a roller coaster up and down and then to see how he's started the season here, that's a lot of fun," said Eakins. "Can Troy keep this up? I don't know. Maybe he's going to get even better. Or maybe he's going to have a bump in the road. And that's going to be okay too. If that happens, he'll park it and get ready for the next day. It's as simple as that."