Terry is on a 16-game point streak, helping the Ducks (10-5-3) go from second-to-last in the NHL last season to third in the Pacific Division entering their game at the Nashville Predators on Monday (8 p.m. ET; BSSO, BSSC, BSSD, ESPN+, NHL LIVE).
The 24-year-old has set NHL career highs in goals (12) and points (22) already, and his assists total (10) is three off his NHL career high. He’s tied for fifth in the NHL in goals with Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor and Predators center Matt Duchene, and tied for fourth in the League in points with Connor, Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov and Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau. He, Connor and Gaudreau are tied for most points among players born in the United States.
“I’ve got confidence,” Terry said. “A lot of things are just going well for me, and I’m just building on it.”
Terry is keeping it in perspective, though, and that’s a big reason he has put himself in this position.
“I used to just ride the roller coaster so much, and hockey just defined me,” Terry said. “I’d have a good game, and I’d be on top of the world. I’d have a bad game, and I’d just be so hard on myself.”
This is a story is about a young player adjusting to pro hockey, a young man growing up in life, an overthinker learning to get out of his own head.
It traces to October 2018. Terry opened the 2018-19 season with the Ducks, but after scoring zero points in six games, he was sent to San Diego of the American Hockey League.
“I still remember our first conversation,” said Anaheim coach Dallas Eakins, the San Diego coach then. “I remember where it was at. It was right in front of the visitors bench on the ice in San Diego at the home arena. And the kid had shown up on our doorstep, and the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘I’ve lost all my confidence.'”
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Terry was like a lot of players when they arrive in the NHL. He was used to success.
The Ducks selected him in the fifth round (No. 148) of the 2015 NHL Draft out of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.
He spent three seasons at the University of Denver, leading the Pioneers in scoring with 45 points (22 goals, 23 assists) in 35 games when they won the NCAA title in 2016-17 and following that with 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) in 39 games in 2017-18.
Meanwhile, he scored seven points (four goals, three assists) in seven games for the United States at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship and the winning goal in a 5-4 shootout victory against Canada in the gold-medal game. He went to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, in which NHL players did not participate, and had five assists in five games.
He signed with the Ducks and played two games at the end of 2017-18, debuting in the NHL at age 20.
“When he was at Denver, he was arguably the best player on his team,” Eakins said. “So, all these guys show up, and they’re young, and they just think they’re going to rip it. And I love it. They’ve got high expectations. They’ve got high standards for themselves. It’s great. It’s inspiring to watch. The only ‘but’ is that everybody else that’s here, they were all the best on their teams too.”
When Terry ran into adversity to start the 2018-19 season, it didn’t help that he was a brooder by nature.
“I just wanted to make the NHL right away so badly,” Terry said. “I kind of got away from the things that made me a really good hockey player, and I just started worrying so much about being in the right spot every second of the game. ‘Is this a time where I should make a play, or should I not?’ And I got to the point where I was just thinking out there all the time.”
Terry still remembers his first conversation with Eakins too. Eakins told Terry if he turned over the puck, he would not be benched, to just go out and play. Terry promptly scored three points (two goals, one assist) in his AHL debut and 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in an 11-game point streak. He ended up scoring 41 points (16 goals, 25 assists) in 41 AHL games and 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 32 NHL games that season.
“I think it was clear to me right from the start what he was capable of,” said Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, with whom Terry lived early in his pro career. “I think for our team he was always someone who, once he kind of got his feet underneath him, he was going to be a top-six guy for us and create a lot of offense and play on the power play.”
Terry still had a long way to go, though. He scored 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 14 AHL games and 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 47 NHL games in 2019-20, and 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 48 NHL games last season.
Not only did he often talk to Eakins, who became the Ducks coach in 2019-20, he leaned on his parents, Susan and Chuck; Jim Montgomery, his coach at Denver, coach of the Dallas Stars from 2018-20 and now an assistant with the St. Louis Blues; and Ryan Miller, who played his last four seasons as an NHL goalie with the Ducks from 2017-21. Miller would use the word “flow.” When Terry is at his best, it looks like he has flow, not thinking, just playing.
Terry also now has a fiancée, Dani, and two dogs, Sullivan and Lucy.
“I’ve really grown up as a person,” Terry said. “And I think it’s almost kind of shown me that hockey is my life, and it’s what I’ve worked for my whole life, but it’s really not what defines me as a person. And having that mindset … I just tell myself that I’m just going to work as hard as I can and do the right things, but you know, if it goes really good, that’s great, and if it’s not good, then it’ll be fine.”
Terry used to dissect each shift after each game; now he watches less video and lets more go. He used to wait for Grade A chances to shoot; now he shoots more often, more quickly and from better areas. He’s averaging 2.53 shots per game and 17:29 of ice time, by far the highest rates of his career.
That’s important for four reasons:
One, waiting for Grade A chances can hurt more than help at the NHL level.
“What he was able to do in college and a little bit in the [AHL] was, instead of just ripping the puck right from that slot area past the defenseman … he’d just go, ‘Well, you know what? I’m going to beat that defenseman first, and then I’ll do it,'” Eakins said. “But the percentage on the shot is not actually going up. You’re already there. You’re already in the slot. You’re not really moving side to side anymore. So, whether you get three or four feet closer to the net, it’s not really improving your shot.”
Two, Terry is playing on a line with center Ryan Getzlaf and forward Adam Henrique. Getzlaf has 721 assists, fourth among active players and 51st in NHL history. In the past, Getzlaf and Terry had good chemistry but didn’t score much, because neither shot the puck enough. Terry has worked on being ready to shoot off passes from Getzlaf.
“With him,” Terry said, “the puck’s going to be on your stick when you don’t expect it.”
Three, shooting can open passing lanes.
“Defenders honor me more as a shooter, and that’s when my natural instincts of playing hockey for this long and ability to pass takes over,” Terry said. “Maybe I’m looking to shoot and genuinely trying to attack the net, and a stick moves, and that’s when I just instinctually see it and move the puck over, that type of thing. But when I’m just looking to pass, I’m much easier to defend.”
Four, Eakins stresses the players dictate ice time, not the coach. Play better, play more.
“It’s been fun for our organization to watch Troy mature, and what’s happened to him is, he’s really been able to develop a mindset of choosing his confidence, to really believing in his skillset and really being able to park a mistake or park an off game so that he [doesn’t] keep living in it,” Eakins said. “This kid cares so much. He cares about the results of his team, he cares about his team, he wants to be a difference-maker, and early on in his career, when that wouldn’t happen, he would really beat himself up. So, then he would stay back in those moments, and he wasn’t ready to seize the opportunity in the current moment. And it just takes time.”
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Terry will cool off. His shooting percentage is 27.9 percent, which should be unsustainable.
That’s OK. He knows no one goes 82 games with a point, and his mindset should make a high level of play sustainable.
“I feel better now, because I’ve proven to myself and honestly the organization and the League that I can be a big impact player,” Terry said. “When the cold streaks were coming in the past, it was hard to mentally get out of it, because I didn’t quite know what I could be as a player. … I do feel more equipped that if I get into a time — which will happen — where maybe the points aren’t coming, just to stick to what I’ve been doing and just know that things will turn.”
He will keep an even keel, even about the Olympics.
“I started the season out without expecting to be on that Olympic team, and things have gone really well for me, and I’ve just been playing it game by game, just being consistent with it,” he said. “There’s kind of no point now in trying to force it to try to make this Olympic team.
“I think I’ve put myself in a position where I could see it happening, and if it does, it would be just a huge honor. I mean, I’ve always loved putting on the USA colors and playing international events. I was able to go in 2018, but to be able to go with a full NHL Olympics and to be a part of that would be very special to me.”
How could you not consider Terry at this point?
“You have to go with guys who are playing their best hockey at the right time,” said Fowler, a fellow American, “and Troy’s showing the world what he can do right now.”
NHL.com senior director of editorial Shawn Roarke and NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen contributed to this report