Hockey Is Here At Last
The air is changing. There is a crispness to it that can only mean summer is ending, fall is coming and hockey is right around the corner. And that's a great thing.
Forgive my absence of late. Bears hibernate in the winter and sometimes my brain does the same in late summer. Let's face it; there isn't much going on in the NHL in August and my creative spark can be a fickle thing. But beginning with the Traverse City Prospects tournament, my motivation has returned.
Let's start with some recent developments in Ranger-Land.
Cally Is Captain
Duh! Was there really any question Cally was going to get the "C" sewn on his sweater? Everyone in the organization, teammates, management and coaches, respect the way he plays and love him. This was the easiest decision Torts has had to make since taking the head coaching job in Manhattan.
Training Camp Battles?
There aren't many questions regarding the opening night roster so don't expect much in the way of surprises ala Derek Stepan. Here's my breakdown of the likely opening night roster.
Richards, Gaborik, Dubi, Cally, Anisimov, Stepan, Fedotenko, Prust, Boyle, Rupp, Stepan, Avery.
Some have speculated Avery might be on the bubble but I think he makes it. He can still be an effective player in the bottom six and is in the final year of his deal. He is also close friends with Brad Richards and that can't hurt his chances of cracking the opening night roster.
On the Bubble
Erik Christensen and Mats Zuccarello.
Christensen probably makes it but his role might be that of a spare forward and frequent healthy scratch. He has skill but confounds the coaches with his lackluster play. He's cheap so the club doesn't get much of a cap break by demoting him to the AHL.
Zuccarello also has offensive ability but hasn't quite earned the trust of Torts to earn a regular spot. He needs to play an offensive role and quality minutes in order to be of use. If there isn't that role for him in New York then maybe he should play in Hartford rather than watch from the press box.
Rookies Who Could Make Things Difficult
Carl Hagelin impressed with his play at the Traverse City tournament. The former captain of the Michigan Wolverines, Hagelin has blazing speed and is defensively aware. He displayed poise and confidence in all situations with the Ranger Prospects. He could easily slide right in and play bottom six minutes tomorrow. I actually think his chances are 50/50 of making the team.
A lot of people were excited to see Christian Thomas and Ryan Bourque. Both played well but would best be served playing big minutes at a lower level; Thomas back with his Junior squad and Bourque in the AHL.
Staal, Girardi, Sauer, McDonagh, Eminger, Erixon
What, no Wade Redden? Seriously though, Erixon will make this club. After seeing him at Traverse City I see that everything that everyone has said about him is true. He is a silky smooth skater and is a very cerebral player. His shot is accurate and he was getting it through to the net; something many current Rangers defenders struggled to do. He won't make any highlight reel hits but won't shy away from physical play either. His play reminds me a lot of Ryan McDonagh; nothing too flashy but some untapped upside offensively too.
On The Bubble
MDZ has the type of offensive abilities the Rangers could use from their blueline corps but his defensive play hasn't earned the confidence of Torts. He needs to show up ready to work hard and show progress. If he does he could make the team and push Eminger down to the role of 7th defender.
Although given Torts' stated preference for his defense duos to consist of one right-hand shot and one left it may not be quite as simple as pushing Eminger down. Erixon and MDZ both shoot left-handed while Eminger is a righty. It might be easier for Torts to pair Eminger with Erixon rather than MDZ.
Gee, another shocker. Hank and Marty Biron will be the netminders. In fact, I think it might be a good idea to extend the deal of Biron for another year or two. He will be an UFA after the season and I don't think the organization is particularly high on either Chad Johnson or Cam Talbot.
Jason Missiaen and Stajcer were okay in Traverse City (more on that in a bit) but won't be ready for an NHL backup gig in 2012-2013.
Biron is a solid backup and a great teammate. For those of you who don't already I suggest following him on Twitter. He tends to engage in comical tweet battles with Brandon Prust and Mike Rupp. It's also clear how important his family is to him. Keeping him around would be a smart move for the Rangers.
Thank god MSG decided to televise the tournament and thankfully NHL Network showed the telecasts. It gave me a chance to see the talent in the pipeline with my own two eyes. The squad took second place overall. After dominating performances in games one and two, I had visions of a trophy presentation for the team. Even an OT loss to Carolina didn't dull those dreams since a berth in the tourney final was already assured. Then we met Buffalo. The Sabres kids were big and skilled. They used their size to expose the lack of defensive depth on the Rangers squad.
Let's review some of the Rangers prospects and their performance at the tournament. I won't go in-depth on everyone but I'll break it down to who impressed me, who I expected more from and who has a lot of work yet to do.
JT Miller, Ryan Bourque, Christian Thomas, Hagelin, Erixon, McIlrath, Johnathan Audy-Marchessault (JAM), Blake Parlett, Shane McColgan, Scott Stajcer
Miller plays the same style as Ryan Callahan. He plays with an edge and goes to the net. He is responsible defensively.
Bourque and Thomas have great speed. Bourque is solid defensively and makes good decisions. Thomas, as has already been said, has a great shot and a willingness to fire it on net from just about anywhere.
McIlrath has really improved his skating and showed a willingness to engage offensively. His shot has some upside though I don't think he'll ever be known for being a great PP QB.
JAM was a teammate of Bourque's in the Q and had obvious chemistry with him. He is undersized, a lot of Rangers forward prospects are, but has some playmaking ability. He'll play in the A this year, likely as a teammate of Bourque's, and it will be interesting to see how he performs against men at the professional level.
Parlett tallied five assists through two games before being scratched for game three of the tourney. He can move the puck pretty well and has some offensive instincts but needs work overall on his game. He could also stand to bulk up a bit as he seemed to get pushed around too much. He had his worst game in the final
McColgan, a fifth-round pick in June, played very well. He did a little of everything; score, forecheck and even fought a guy who hit Thomas from behind. He looks like he could surprise and develop into a legitimate player.
Of the goaltenders, Stajcer was by far the more polished. He was sound positionally and showed at least adequate reflexes. His ceiling is likely that of an NHL backup but eventually the Rangers could use one of those.
Expected More From
Jyri Niemi, Lee Baldwin, Michael St. Croix Jason Wilson and Randy McNaught
Relative to a majority of Rangers prospects at this tournament, Niemi and Baldwin were like seasoned veterans. Both saw action with the Connecticut Whale last year while most of the other kids still have Junior eligibility left. I expected them to be steadying influences yet both struggled with turnovers and lost most one-on-one battles. At this point neither looks like they can help out an NHL team.
I expected Wilson and McNaught to show me something other than toughness. Both players have hinted at offensive ability but neither player performed particularly well. Granted they are both young and have time to develop but I was of course hoping to see the next Brendan Shanahan and Gary Roberts.
St. Croix has offensive ability but didn't exhibit as much as I thought. He played with skilled linemates but didn't produce. He is another of the smaller Rangers forward prospects and was just drafted in June. I guess it may have been unfair of me to expect so much.
Need Lots of Work
Samuel Noreau, Jason Missiaen, Peter Ceresnak
Noreau played like a pylon. He is a big kid but is not mobile at all. He plays very stiff and looks unnatural. He also doesn't seem to be able to think the game quickly enough to play defense at the next level. He's just a kid and anyone with good size is off to a good start and can improve the other areas of his game (see: Boyle, Brian).
Missiaen is freaking tall. He's 6'8". Whether his height will prove to be an advantage or not is yet to be seen. He needs work on his positioning since it doesn't look like he'll make many reflex saves. Benoit Allaire is a fan though and that's enough for me. The kid is a project but just hand the clay to Allaire and see what he can mold out of Missiaen.
Ceresnak did nothing that stood out. He has good size at 6'3" but struggled with the speed of the game. He was a late round pick in June so the jury is still out but right now I don't expect him to make it to Manhattan.
Camp starts this week and one guy who won't be there is Wade Redden. Most think it's a classless move by the Rangers to not give Redden a chance to audition for other teams at least but we don't know why the Rangers aren't bringing him to camp. If I had to guess I would say the fear of him suffering an injury in camp and the possibility of that impacting the salary cap is why the Rangers don't want to mess around.
A lot of fans think it's wrong for the Rangers to have demoted him in the first place to remove his burdensome cap hit from the books. I get that but from a business perspective it had to be done and it's allowed under the CBA. I do hope they address it in some way in the new CBA.
Redden is not a $6.5 million defenseman. He is still an NHL caliber defenseman. He could definitely help a team under the right circumstances. I wish there was a way that would allow the Rangers to shed at least most of the cap hit (yes, they should be punished for their bad judgement when signing him in the first place) while affording Redden the chance to pursue other NHL opportunities.