Hey Ranger Fans, I'm Back......

And the NHL is coming with me!!!!! Ah yes, the dog days of summer are nearing their conclusion. NHL teams are shaking off the rust brought on by long months of inactivity and training camp is opening up for the prospects of many squads. The Rangers, for one, will be participating in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament. This will give Slats and Torts an opportunity to get an early look at several young, future Blue Shirts who have an opportunity to compete for a spot on the Rangers.

Some of the more prominent forwards on the Ranger Traverse roster are C Derek Stepan, Evgeny Grachev, 2009 draft picks Ryan Bourque, Ethan Werek and Roman Horak. Some of the Blue Shirts’ 2010 draft picks invited to the tournament are Christian Thomas, Jason Wilson and Andrew Yogan.

On the blueline, Ranger brass and fans will get their first extended look at 2010 1st rounder Dylan McIlrath. He joins a defense corps that includes Ryan McDonaugh and Tomas Kundratek.

Naturally we Rangers fans are very excited to see one of the best collections of young talent in the NHL. THN ranks the Blue Shirts youngsters as the 5th best in the NHL.

Meanwhile, THN has also ranked something else; where the Rangers will finish the 2010 – 2011 season within the Eastern Conference. THN, as they did last year, picked the Rangers to finish 13th in the East and out of the playoffs.

Making predictions is a tough business to get into. How often is a set of predictions wholly correct? How about never. No doubt that will be the case with THN’s picks this year. Think about it; last year they picked the Blue Shirts to place 13th but the Rangers finished 9th and just 1 point out of the playoffs.

I’ve done my best in years past to list my own preseason picks and have been met with insults and ridicule. Naturally none of my harshest critics at the time stuck around to the end to talk with me at the end of the season to compare notes. Typical. Bottom line is that predictions are impossible to nail. It’s an 82 game season and as much effort and thought as we may put into our picks too much can happen to throw us off. Injuries, under or over achieving teams, etc. can derail what we once thought of as solid choices.

Regardless, I have to think THN’s positioning of the Rangers in the 13th slot in the East is a bit low. I have to believe any team with a franchise goalie like King Henrik and with a sniper the caliber of Marian Goborik (albeit, if healthy) comprises the core of a team that is better than more than 2 other Eastern teams. The reality is the Rangers will tread in a pack of several teams competing for one of the final playoff berths in the Eastern Conference. This is a team with enough talent to be pretty good but without enough top end skill to compete for a Stanley Cup.

I do get a kick out of all of the conjecture fans delve into when we start bringing in veterans on a tryout basis. So far the Rangers have extended invitations to Ruslan Fedotenko, Garnet Exelby and Alexei Semenov. This has led some fans to believe we won’t be able to get Marc Staal under contract before the season starts. Actually, we are bringing these guys in because they are credible NHL players and their presence helps Torts foster a competitive culture at camp. We have several players who underachieved their salaries and/or expectations last year including; Wade Redden, Michael Rozsival, Matt Gilroy, Chris Drury, Sean Avery and Brian Boyle. If the presence of these veterans pushes any of the aforementioned to greater heights or forces them off the roster then so be it.

By bringing in Exelby and Semenov to join trade acquisition Steve Eminger, The Rangers are ensuring themselves of having the luxury of keeping an experienced defender in the 7th spot. Those additions also virtually ensure the club will demote Wade Redden to Hartford; a move they would almost have to make once they agree to terms with Staal anyway.

I find it amusing that Ranger fans think trades are imminent solely because we’ve added 3 out-of-work vets to our training camp roster. Look, Semenov was here last year and made the team in a similar situation but his wife’s wishes kept him from signing in NY. There really is no risk to taking a look at what these guys can offer. We were admittedly thin on toughness on the blue line last year and Exelby will go a ways toward addressing that shortcoming assuming he makes the team.

I wouldn’t expect too much from these guys however. If people felt Fedotenko was going to score 25 – 30 goals in 2010 he wouldn’t be in camp on a tryout. If Exelby or Semenov were legit top 6 defenders then there would be no way they wouldn’t already have NHL contracts somewhere. These guys do afford the Rangers of the possibility of improving depth. We’ve seen it in years past where depth, or the lack thereof, hurt this team.

On the acquisitions of Frolov and Todd White; I love Frolov on a 1 year deal while White will have to have an awesome camp to make this team. In trading for White, the team was able to rid themselves of the cumbersome Brashear cap hit which was on our books regardless of whether we tried to stash him in Hartford or even if he had retired. White, if he doesn’t make the squad, can be sent down along with his cap hit. It was a procedural move more than anything.

However, it is worth noting that White was a 73 point scorer two years ago in Atlanta. He’s also a 3 time 20 goal scorer who has posted decent offensive numbers on less-skilled offensive teams. He has skated with Gaborik before in Minny and was a linemate of Ilya Kovalchuk at times in Atlanta. Is it entirely out of the question he rebounds from a 26 point output last year to something closer to 50 points this year? That would put him in the class of Vinny Prospal production from a season ago and Vinny was our 2nd most prolific offensive forward.

Frolov on the other hand immediately becomes the 2nd most skilled forward on the roster. Frolov is a two-time 30+ goal scorer, who aside from his rookie year and last season, never finished with fewer than 21 goals in any season. I think we can forgive a 20 year-old Frolov for not besting 14 goals as a rookie. Last year’s edition found his way into coach Terry Murray’s dog house and never found consistency.

My guess is Frolov is due a bounce-back season too. A return to 30 goals and 65 - 70 points is certainly a possibility. If Frolov hits those marks then the $3 million investment will prove to be a rare UFA bargain find for Slats.

Now that I have awoken form a non-hockey induced summer writing slumber, you can look forward to me chiming in regularly on my team. Realistically I know it will be a challenge to make the playoffs….again. But that won’t quell the excitement I feel for the start of another season of NHL hockey. Let’s Go Rangers!!!!