TORONTO – About three weeks ago, Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins met for lunch with Paul Ranger, a former NHL player on the comeback trail after a three-year absence from the game.
Immediately he was struck by the physical make-up of the Whitby native and long-time Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman. "He walked in and I was like 'Whoa, this guy looks fit'," recalled Eakins of the meeting.
Early returns at training camp in late September appear to match the outward shine of the 28-year-old.
Ranger ranked first with a bullet in Marlies fitness testing, a notable early achievement for a player who has been out of professional hcokey since the 2009-2010 season, when he left the Lightning after eight games due to personal reasons which remain unspecified.
"I'm amazed by it," said Eakins of Ranger, who played in 270 games with the Lightning. "I think this kid has unbelievable genetics which is part of it too, but when you've been off that long I just don't know how that's almost possible. But this kid meant business. He meant business."
Fitness tests are only a first hurdle in the comeback process for Ranger, but if they demonstrate anything, it's a striking commitment to the task at hand.
"I hope that just rubs right on down," said Eakins, "falls right on down to the rest of the guys that 'Hey we've got a guy here that is so inspired to come back he blew you away in all the fitness tests'…Who knows how this is going to go. Hopefully he plays very well and it continues to take off for him."