A confident and mature Mike Ribeiro is blossoming as a top-line centre with the Dallas Stars. And he's loving every minute of it.
"It's a dream come true, yes, a lot of people always had doubts about me," Ribeiro told The Canadian Press on Thursday.
After quietly leading the offensively starved Stars in scoring last season with 59 points (18-41), the former Montreal Canadiens centre is off to a fast start already this season, leading Dallas with 13 points (5-8) in nine games while playing on the top line between captain Brenden Morrow and winger Jere Lehtinen.
"It's the best I've felt for sure," said Ribeiro. "A bit disappointed with the record of the team (5-5-2) right now but for myself, it's been good. I have to credit my wingers, I've been playing with two pretty good players in Brenden Morrow and Jere Lehtinen. They're complete players, they do it all and it makes it easy for me to play with them."
The 27-year-old Ribeiro says he's in the best shape of his career. That was always a bone of contention in his younger days with the Canadiens.
"Maturity comes into play," said Ribeiro. "When I was younger I was thinking less about training then I'm doing now. I'm in better shape than I was before. I also know the game better, too, and playing with confidence."
It was just over 13 months ago that Ribeiro was shocked when told his hometown Canadiens had shipped him to Dallas along with Montreal's sixth-round pick in 200 in exchange for defenceman Janne Niinimaa and the Stars' fifth-round pick in 2007. Niinimaa struggled to crack Montreal's lineup and is now playing for Davos in Swiss League.
"Sometimes you just have to be at the right place at the right time," Stars GM Doug Armstrong said Thursday from Dallas. "And Montreal at that time was hit with the injury bug to start the season and had extra forwards and was in need of a defenceman. We liked the player, I'd be lying to you if we thought he was going to turn out and do what he's done here and the way he's done it. But we saw that offensive upside in him.
"I think the credit needs to go to the player," Armstrong added. "It was probably a wake-up call for him to be traded."
Ribeiro was caught off guard and admits he was bitter at the Canadiens for a while.
"I was frustrated," he said. "I was trying to understand why."
He thought if he was ever going to be traded it would have been the season before when good friends Jose Theodore was dealt and Pierre Dagenais was sent down to the AHL. The Montreal media nicknamed them the Three Amigos.
"Once they sent Pierre Dagenais down and then traded Jose, I thought I was going to be gone the same year," said Ribeiro. "Then they re-signed me and I thought I might get another chance. But I didn't. That was frustrating. Growing up in Montreal and playing for Montreal was something special.
He says he's moved on.
"I'm just focused on trying to help this team here win," he said.
The Canadiens may be criticized for moving Ribeiro but the reality is that the centre may have needed it to re-energize his career.
"I think probably the combination of being traded and getting a fresh start was something that he needed to realize that it is a business and in this business he has to give himself the best chance every night," said Armstrong. "We've seen a very good work ethic and professionalism that might not have been there while he was in Montreal."
Armstrong says giving young players time to mature is key.
"The one thing you can't rush is maturity," he said. "You have special players maybe that can grasp all this at 21 but a lot of people take some time and Mike might have been more the norm rather than the exception."
Ribeiro and his family have settled nicely in Cowboys country.
"It's been great," he said. "My family and I had to adjust last year but we have a house now, we're happy. My wife likes it better here now, she doesn't want to go back. We're really comfortable."