Archive for September, 2013

Cut-down Days

September 30, 2013

The Rangers announced what was billed as their opening day roster Sunday, sending seven players to the Wolf Pack to get down to 24 on the NHL roster.

Darroll Powe (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Darroll Powe (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

There were a couple of mild surprises on the list of last cuts, including Chris Kreider, the former Ranger first-round draft pick, who was a regular for the big club during much of its playoff run last spring; Stu Bickel, mostly a Ranger since Christmastime two seasons ago; and Darroll Powe, who has been in the NHL since very early in the 2008-09 season.  On the other hand, Kreider has had problems with consistency since turning pro, Bickel was the odd man out on the Ranger defense at the end of last year and Powe and Arron Asham were waived by the Rangers at the beginning of the NHL free agency period in July.  So none of those assignments is a complete stunner.

Those seven arrivals from New York ballooned the Wolf Pack roster to 38 players, necessitating a housecleaning at the AHL level, and the Wolf Pack in turn trimmed 14 players from its list this evening.  A significant indication of the Pack’s depth is the fact that highly-regarded, NHL-contracted rookies Michael St. Croix, a fourth-round Ranger pick in 2011, and Josh Nicholls were among the players reassigned to ECHL Greenville, and defenseman Sam Klassen, a top-pair blueliner for the Whale for much of last season, was released outright.

Brodie Dupont’s quest to earn a spot with the Wolf Pack remains alive, as he is one of two unsigned players, with Shawn O’Donnell being the other, still in the Pack fold.  It will be interesting to see whether the organization offers Dupont an AHL contract or if starting the season on a PTO (Pro Tryout) ends up being his only option.  Not sure Dupont would be interested in taking a PTO, but we’ll see.

Three goalies, Cam Talbot, Jason Missiaen and Scott Stajcer, remain on the roster, but Stajcer is rehabbing an injury and has yet to play.  Right now the club is carrying two extra forwards and one extra D-man, which I suspect is about where the organization wants it to be to start the season.  Among the 24 players currently on the Rangers’ roster are Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin, both of whom are recovering from shoulder surgery and whose immediate availability for duty is questionable.  Once both of those guys are ready to play, it would seem that at least one more move would be necessary for the parent club.

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Rangers Bounce Back with First Preseason Win

September 18, 2013

The parent New York Rangers evened their preseason record at 1-1 Tuesday night with a 3-2 road win at Philadelphia.

The Rangers played a radically different lineup from that which dropped a 2-1 decision at New Jersey in the exhibition opener Monday evening.  Only three players, Dominic Moore, Darroll Powe and Danny Syvret, who dressed Monday also played Tuesday.

A pair of veterans, Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot, made the biggest impact, Pouliot with the game-winning goal at 5:30 of the third period and Brassard with a goal and an assist, but a couple of other individuals in the “hopeful” category also made their presences felt.

Defenseman Conor Allen, a rookie free agent signee out of U. Mass-Amherst who got into one game with the Whale last season on an ATO, played 20:27 in his first Ranger appearance, and had an assist and was +2.  Andrew Yogan also had an assist in 10:29 of ice time, and winger Michael Kantor, also wearing a Ranger uniform for the first time, played 11:12 and had a game-high six hits, twice as many as the next most-active player in that category, Powe.

Speaking of Powe, who, along with Arron Asham, was waived by the Rangers July 4, he played 11:38 and scored on a deflection of a Yogan pass with 34 seconds left in the second period.  Jesper Fast skated 14:15, including 4:25 of power play time, and fellow Swedish import Oscar Lindberg, the Ranger prospect team’s scoring star at the Traverse City tournament, played 15:16 and had two shots on goal.  Dylan McIlrath played 11:31 and had an assist on Pouliot’s game-winner, but also was on the ice for two goals-against and committed a turnover that led to a Sean Couturier goal that tied the score at two early in the third period.

Micheal Haley logged 13:24 of ice time, and blocked a shot and had two hits, and Syvret was -1, with one shot on goal and a block, in 15:31 of ice.  Cam Talbot once again played half the game in net, as he did Monday,  and stopped 10 out of 12 shots, after the Flyers managed only six shots on Martin Biron, all of which he stopped, in the first 31:22.

Ex-Wolf Pack Kris Newbury, now with the Flyers, pressures Dylan McIlrath during Tuesday's NHL preseason game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Ex-Wolf Pack Kris Newbury, now with the Flyers, pressures Dylan McIlrath during Tuesday’s NHL preseason game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

There were no fights in the game, which is surprising for a Ranger-Philly preseason tilt, but a familiar face was stirring the pot somewhat on the other side, as Kris Newbury, who split the last three-plus seasons between the Rangers and the Wolf Pack/Whale before being traded to the Flyers for Syvret this summer, picked up a double minor for roughing in a second-period get-together with Derek Dorsett.

After the back-to-back opening to their preseason, the Rangers are now off until Monday, when they start their western trip with a visit to Calgary.  The rest of the exhibition slate will see Alain Vigneault’s crew travel to Edmonton, Vancouver and Las Vegas (where they will wrap up the preseason next Friday), before the Blueshirts open regular-season play October 3 in Phoenix.

Rangers Fall to Devils in Preseason Opener

September 16, 2013

The Ranger organization saw its first game action of the 2013 preseason Monday night, as the Rangers fell to the New Jersey Devils by a score of 2-1 at the Prudential Center in Newark, in the preseason opener for both teams.

The lone New York goal was scored by Dominic Moore, who skated in 148 games with the Wolf Pack during the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons and re-signed with the Rangers this summer after six seasons away from the organization.  The assists on the goal went to Danny Kristo and Marek Hrivik, two young forwards who are battling to find their way on to the big club’s roster.

Marek Hrivik

Marek Hrivik

Among other individuals on the Ranger/Wolf Pack “bubble”, defenseman Danny Syvret played 14:39 and was even with one shot on goal; Brandon Mashinter saw 7:17 of ice, had two hits and fought Devil tough guy Cam Janssen; Stu Bickel, who the Rangers weren’t sure was going to be able to play because of a sore back, logged 20:35 of ice and had a hit and blocked a shot; Justin Falk was -1 but had two hits and two blocks in 14:30 of playing time; and Aaron Johnson was -1 with one shot in 18:58 of ice.

Cam Talbot played the second half of the game, after Henrik Lundqvist started, and allowed one goal on 12 shots.

Also of note, Shawn O’Donnell, a tryout camp invite out of St. Mary’s University in Nova Scotia who survived the first round of Ranger cuts, got 12:06 of ice time and was -1 with one blocked shot.

The Rangers are right back in preseason action Tuesday night in Philadelphia at 7:00.

Offensive Depth will be Key for Pack in ’13-‘14

September 3, 2013

With the Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament, the unofficial opening of the NHL training camp season, set to begin this week, the Rangers and Wolf Pack have largely completed their organizational roster and now will begin the process of shuffling the pieces around.

The Pack have some holes to fill, with the top seven scorers from last year all gone from the organization.  Kris Newbury (trade to Philadelphia), Brandon Segal (Washington/Hershey), Logan Pyett (KHL), Christian Thomas (trade to Montreal), Mike Vernace (Germany), Nick Palmieri (Germany) and Benn Ferriero (Vancouver) have all moved on.  The Rangers have upgraded their defensive depth, however, which is a real positive, and let’s face it, having missed the playoffs last season for only the second time in franchise history, the Wolf Pack had no appetite to stand pat.

I put Ken Gernander on the spot last week, asking him who he was targeting to replace the offense provided last year by Newbury, Segal & Co., and he expressed optimism that the scoring would be more diversified than it was in 2012-13.

Ken Gernander

Ken Gernander

“In large part it might be by committee,” he responded.  “I’m a little bit reluctant to make a specific pick for someone who may create offense for us this year, given that we hope some of these guys are pushing for NHL jobs this fall, first and foremost.  And then when our team is assigned here and we take a long look at who we have, I think our offense may be a little more spread out than it has been in past years, but I think that we’re comfortable in that it’s competent from top to bottom.  Everybody can generate and participate in the offensive portion of things.”

It will be very interesting to see what the Pack’s top-six forward group looks like to start the season, with the situation complicated by the fact that stalwart Ranger wingers Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin are both slated to miss the start of the season while rehabbing shoulder injuries.  Fellow veterans Arron Asham and Darroll Powe were both waived this summer for salary cap space reasons and may end up as part of the Pack’s forward nucleus, but also may be needed to fill the Callahan/Hagelin void early on.

If you assume Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Rick Nash, Benoit Pouliot, Brad Richards, Mats Zuccarello, Taylor Pyatt, Dominic Moore, Derek Dorsett and Brian Boyle as sure bets to start the season with the Rangers, and then throw in Chris Kreider, that’s 11 forwards.  Powe and Asham would make 13, and I would imagine that J.T. Miller and Danny Kristo (acquired from the Habs in exchange for Thomas) would be given long looks as well.

The parent club starts its season with a week-long, four-game West Coast swing, and then plays its fifth game in St. Louis before returning east, so they will probably carry a bigger roster than normal.  I would be surprised to see them keep more than 14 forwards, though, so it seems likely that at least one name from the above group would start the year in the AHL, and a couple more would have to come down once Callahan and Hagelin are ready to play.

Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast are a pair of Swedish imports who figure to be playing on this side of the pond this year, and are thought to be guys who will push for NHL spots and would be impact players if they end up with the Wolf Pack.  Hopefully Marek Hrivik is healthy, as he should be at worst a top-six guy in the AHL if he is physically sound, and holdovers Micheal Haley and Brandon Mashinter also should be in the NHL/top six AHL conversation.  Other names I see as in the mix for the Wolf Pack are the likes of (in no particular order) Ryan Bourque, Andrew Yogan, Kyle Jean, Josh Nicholls, Michael Kantor, Chris St. Croix, Andrew Carroll, Jason Wilson and Andrew Rowe.

“I think there’s a couple of guys that could be pushing for NHL jobs,” Gernander said, “and we’re going to have some young guys that come in with good offensive numbers, and have some offensive prowess, that it might take them to find their sea legs but I think should be able to be offensive contributors.  That would be their calling card or their strong point coming in, and they’re just not real familiar with the people here because they’re coming from Junior or college hockey.  But I think they’ll, in a short amount of time, be competent offensive contributors.”

There is always the possibility that a youngster might come in and blow away expectations, becoming a star player in the AHL and a premier NHL prospect after not being one of the ballyhooed names coming into training camp.  An example of that would be Cory Conacher, who won AHL Rookie of the Year honors, and a Calder Cup, with Norfolk two seasons ago, after being signed to an AHL contract out of Canisius College.

“I think there are going to be a lot of players that spend some time with the NHL club, given that they’re going to be on that western swing and they can’t just pull up guys for a day or two here or there,” Gernander said.  “That being said, we’ve got several invites (free-agent tryout players) coming in that’ll be at our camp, and it’ll be a good opportunity to show themselves.  And we hope that we can find a diamond in the rough, much like a Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, Kelsey Tessier joined us that way, I think Danny Girardi was an AHL invite, so the possibility exists, and oftentimes it pays off in a big way for us.”

Through the Rangers’ yearly summertime prospect camps, Gernander has gotten previous glimpses of many of the young players who will be battling to make an impression in the upcoming Traverse City tournament and Ranger training camp.  He is reserving judgment, however, on whether these youngsters will be able to make a quick transition to the pro game.

“You don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” the Wolf Pack head man said.  “We have to see how things play out.  Everybody develops at a different level, and it’s fun to go to the development camp and see what some of the skills or attributes they possess might be, but how that translates into a heated battle at the AHL level remains to be seen.”

On defense, the NHL top four of Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal (assuming he is healthy) and Michael Del Zotto seems pretty well set, and I would think that Anton Stralman is pretty much a lock for a Ranger spot as well.  That leaves one spot in the top six, and I’m sure that John Moore, Justin Falk, Stu Bickel, Aaron Johnson, Danny Syvret and Dylan McIlrath all feel like they have a shot to lay claim to that slot.

I can’t see the Rangers not taking at least one extra D-man out west, and they may keep seven for the whole year, but even if you take two out of Moore/Falk/Bickel/Johnson/Syvret/McIlrath, that still leaves the Wolf Pack with a darned good top four on the blueline.  Brendon Nash, an AHL signee this summer, has a resume indicating that he is of top six AHL caliber, and the organization also has under contract blueliners Tommy Hughes (NHL), Samuel Noreau (NHL), Connor Allen (NHL), Charlie Dodero (AHL) and Mike Marcou (AHL).

Brendon Nash (Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

Brendon Nash (Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

In goal, Cam Talbot is back for a fourth season in the organization, and it will be interesting to see if Yale product Jeff Malcolm can push Jason Missiaen for the second spot in Hartford, after Malcolm had such a stellar senior season with the Elis.  Scott Stajcer remains in the organization, but is injured.