Archive for June, 2014

Rangers Select two 20-year-olds in NHL Draft

June 30, 2014

Two of the seven players the parent New York Rangers selected in this past weekend’s 2014 NHL Entry Draft, winger Richard Nejezchleb and defenseman Daniel Walcott, are 20-year-0ld Major Junior players and are thus age-eligible to play for the Wolf Pack next season.

The Rangers’ first pick in the draft, goaltender Brandon Halverson, selected in the second round with the 59th overall pick, and third-rounder Keegan Iverson, a right-wing, are both 1996-born Major Junior products, meaning that they are beholden to their Junior teams for two more years, unless they make the Ranger roster.  Russian goaltender Igor Shesterkin, a fourth-round Ranger selection, is under contract to play in his homeland for SKA-St. Petersburg next season, and the Blueshirts’ last pick, Minnesota high-school defenseman Tyler Nanne, the grandson of former Minnesota North Stars great Lou Nanne, is committed to Ohio State for 2014-15.

Richard Nejezchleb (ebrandon.ca)

Richard Nejezchleb (ebrandon.ca)

Nejezchleb, a native of the Czech Republic who played the last two seasons in the Western Hockey League for the Brandon Wheat Kings, scored 32 goals in 66 games this past season, to lead the Wheat Kings in that department, after being limited to only 35 games the year before.  The New York Daily News quoted Ranger director of player personnel Gordie Clark as saying that the 6-2, 210-pound Nejezchleb “is closer to turning pro” than the other Ranger picks.

Walcott, on the other hand, is “looking at an overage year in Junior,” according to Clark, via the Daily News.  Listed at 5-11 and 168 pounds, Walcott would presumably have to bulk up prior to turning pro, and despite having already turned 20, the Ile Perrot, Quebec native has only one year of Major Junior under his belt.  He has taken somewhat of an unusual route, playing one season of college hockey at Lindenwood University, which I confess I had never heard of before, in St. Charles, MO, prior to hooking up with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior League.  He led Armada defensemen in points, goals and assists this year and was +15, on a team that made it as far as Game Seven of the QMJHL semi-finals.

The Rangers’ other draftee on Saturday’s second day of the draft was defenseman Ryan Mantha, who was their first of two fourth-round selections, taken 104th overall.  Mantha is a 6-4, 225-pound native of Clarkson, MI, whose uncle, Moe Mantha, was a long-time NHL defenseman and also coached in the AHL.  Ryan Mantha was drafted out of the USHL, and thus is not subject to the restriction that requires players to be 20 years old to play in the AHL.  He has committed to the University of North Dakota, though, and is OHL property of the Niagara IceDogs, so it seems unlikely that he would show up in the pro ranks as early as this coming season.

Daniel Walcott (Agence QMI)

Daniel Walcott (Agence QMI)

In addition to the Rangers’ highest pick being a late second-rounder, due to using other draft picks as trade chits, and the selection of a pair of 20-year-olds, the most interesting aspect of New York’s draft was the fact that the club used two of its seven choices on goaltenders.  The big club had tabbed only one netminder, 2013 sixth-round pick Mackenzie Skapski, in the previous four drafts and hadn’t drafted two goalies in the same year since 2000.  Who were those two, you ask?  Well the first of the duo was fifth-round pick Brandon Snee, out of Union College, and 62 picks later, in the seventh round, with the 205th pick in the draft, the Rangers took a flier on some guy named Henrik Lundqvist.

Hopefully that’s great karma for either Halverson, Shesterkin or both.

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Who’s Signed, Who’s Free

June 24, 2014

Now that the NHL and AHL postseasons have come to a close, and full off-season mode has taken over, here is a peek at the contract statuses of this past year’s Wolf Pack roster, with NHL contract info courtesy of capgeek.com.

Conor Allen – signed

Arron Asham – unrestricted free agent

Justin Baker – unrestricted free agent

2013-14 Second-leading point-scorer Oscar Lindberg is under contract for next season.

2013-14 Second-leading point-scorer Oscar Lindberg is under contract for next season.

Kyle Beach – restricted free agent

Stu Bickel – unrestricted free agent

Ryan Bourque – restricted free agent

Jesper Fast – signed

Dov Grumet-Morris – unrestricted free agent

Micheal Haley – unrestricted free agent

T.J. Hensick – unrestricted free agent

Marek Hrivik – signed

Tommy Hughes – signed

Kyle Jean – restricted free agent

Aaron Johnson – unrestricted free agent

Michael Kantor – signed

Danny Kristo – restricted free agent

Nick Latta – unrestricted free agent

David LeNeveu – unrestricted free agent

Oscar Lindberg – signed

Jeff Malcolm – unrestricted free agent

Mike Marcou – unrestricted free agent

Chris McCarthy – signed

Dylan McIlrath – signed

J.T. Miller – signed

Jason Missiaen – restricted free agent

Veteran goaltending stalwarts Dov Grumet-Morris (above) and David LeNeveu are both unrestricted free agents.

Veteran goaltending stalwarts Dov Grumet-Morris (above) and David LeNeveu are both unrestricted free agents.

Brendon Nash – unrestricted free agent

Josh Nicholls – signed

Sam Noreau – signed

Shawn O’Donnell – unrestricted free agent

Darroll Powe – unrestricted free agent

Andrew Rowe – unrestricted free agent

Michael St. Croix – signed

Scott Stajcer – restricted free agent

Bretton Stamler – unrestricted free agent

Danny Syvret- unrestricted free agent

Justin Vaive – unrestricted free agent

Andrew Yogan – signed

 

Also, the following college and Junior players are under Ranger contract, and potentially could be with the Wolf Pack next season:

Calle Andersson (Swedish defenseman, fourth-round Ranger draftee in 2012)

Mat Bodie (defenseman, won an NCAA championship with Union College, top-scoring blueliner in the nation with 8-31-39 in 40 games)

Troy Donnay (defenseman, 6-7, played four seasons with Erie of the OHL)

Ryan Haggerty (Stamford, CT-born forward from RPI, led ECAC in goals with 28)

Mackenzie Skapski (goaltender, workhorse for former Wolf Pack head coach Ryan McGill’s Kootenay Ice of the WHL)

Petr Zamorsky (defenseman, was this past year’s Czech Extraliga defenseman of the year)

 

Vigneault: “You’ve got to Bring Some Youth”

June 17, 2014
Alain Vigneault, at Monday's Ranger "breakup day" (blueshirtsunited.com)

Alain Vigneault, at Monday’s Ranger “breakup day” (blueshirtsunited.com)

One of the points that New York Ranger head coach Alain Vigneault emphasized at the team’s “breakup day” Monday was that he is looking for some young prospects to spark the team’s roster next year.  Even though the Rangers have a strong core of key players who are still in the prime of their careers, Vigneault feels as though an infusion of young legs is critical for his club to push itself over the top.

“You have to,” Vigneault said to the assembled media of bringing prospects along. “Just look at L.A. Probably one of, if not their most, effective line was the one with the two kids (Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson) and (Jeff) Carter. You’ve got bring some youth. Veterans help them out. They bring you enthusiasm. You have to do that every year and, hopefully, we’re going to have a couple guys pushing at the door, knocking to get into our dressing room.”

This has to be music to the ears of the young players who have been apprenticing with the Wolf Pack, and should motivate them to put the absolute utmost effort into their offseason preparations for training camp.  In the past, the default mode for a team that got as close to a championship as the Rangers did this year was pretty much to stand pat, but in this salary cap era, that seems no longer to be the mindset.

“Next year’s team is going to be different,” Vigneault said.  “It’s going to be a challenge to make the playoffs again. If you take players individually, most of them had . . . close to their best season. There’s a working relationship that should get better. We’ve got a good young foundation, we’ve got a good core group that I’d like to see if we can keep together, but there’s financial restrictions that come into the process.”

Foundational players Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan, Marc Staal, Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis are all under contract (according to capgeek.com), for 2014-15, but other key contributors like Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman, Dominic Moore and Benoit Pouliot are unrestricted free agents, and it appears more than possible that the parent club may use its remaining compliance buyout on Brad Richards.  Also, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and John Moore are all restricted free agents.

It’s pretty much impossible to sign all of those guys, and it certainly sounds like the organization may decide not to re-sign some, purely to open up a slot or two for a youngster to try and grab.

So who are the leading candidates to be the Rangers’ versions of Toffoli and Pearson next season?

Danny Kristo

Danny Kristo

Being that six of the above-named eight free agents are forwards, and that a buyout of Richards would open up another forward spot, my guess would be that J.T. Miller and Danny Kristo should be the most excited for next season.  If Boyle isn’t re-signed, that would leave a hole in the middle that Oscar Lindberg, although he is not nearly as big as Boyle, might be able to fill.  Ryan Bourque, despite being even smaller than Lindberg, has really sunk his teeth into a penalty-killing role in the AHL, and that is an area in which Boyle excels as well.

On the blueline, it sounds like Stralman is going to cash in on a big payday, and if his number goes high enough that it doesn’t make sense for the Rangers’ cap situation, I would look for Dylan McIlrath and Conor Allen to be given every chance to grab an NHL spot.  It will be interesting, too, to see how big a bump John Moore will be looking for from the  $810,000 he made this year in the last year of his entry-level deal.

 

Razor-thin Margin

June 16, 2014

The parent New York Rangers’ Stanley Cup Final loss to the Los Angeles Kings ended in five games, making it the shortest Final series in terms of games since Anaheim beat Ottawa in five in the 2007 Final.

It was hardly a rollover, however.

In fact, with a pair of double-overtime games, including Friday night’s clincher at Staples Center, and another extra session in Game One, the Rangers and Kings played a total of 69:45 of hockey outside of regulation.  That’s the time equivalent of at least one more full regulation game and part of another.  What’s more, while the Kings were brilliant (throughout the playoffs, really, not just in this series) at coming up with the last word, so to speak, the Rangers actually controlled the lead for much more of the matchup than the eventual winners did.  The Kings never led in the one game they lost, Game Four, and never were in front in the first two games before winning those in OT.  All told, if my calculations are correct, the Rangers were in the lead for a total of 110:54 in the series, while L.A. held the lead for 69:34.

The Los Angeles Kings celebrate after the Stanley Cup-winning, double-OT goal scored by #27 Alec Martinez (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Kings celebrate after the Stanley Cup-winning, double-OT goal scored by #27 Alec Martinez (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

So, while the Kings had a significant edge in shots on goal throughout the five games, with a total margin of 194-146 for an average of 38.8-29.2 per game, I would dispute any notion that the Rangers were in any way dominated in the series.  Nothing seemed to slow the Kings down, though, and it seemed as though their confidence that they would come up with the decisive big play never wavered.  The exclamation point of that notion was the way Game Five, and the series, ended, with both teams hitting multiple goalposts in the overtime before Alec Martinez scored on a rebound with only 5:17 left in the second OT.  That was the second series-winning overtime goal for Martinez, who also had the OT winner in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals against Chicago.

The ringing of posts in the Game Five extra session represents one of several “what if’s” that are sure to wear on the Rangers this summer.

“When we won at home the other day, I was thinking what if we had won one game here (Los Angeles),” New York’s Derick Brassard said to the media after Friday night’s season-ending loss. “It’s not like we didn’t play well. It could’ve gone either way. We lost the series there [in the first two games].”

I would add to that: What if Jonathan Quick hadn’t made his outlandish, paddle-of-the-stick save on Mats Zuccarello in the first period of Game Three, when that contest was still scoreless?  What if the seemingly questionable tripping penalty against Zuccarello, which led to the third-period tying goal in Game Three, had not been called?  So many potential turning points…but isn’t that always the way?  When you get down to the last two teams standing, there usually isn’t much to separate them, and there certainly wasn’t in this series.

So there will be plenty of disappointment for the Blueshirts to shrug off in the next few weeks, but to me the Final loss does not in any way diminish what has been a terrific recent era for the big club.  Two years ago the Rangers came within two wins of a trip to the Final, and losing only once in a five-game Final this year puts them, I think, right behind the Kings, Chicago and Boston in terms of playoff forces to be reckoned with over the past few seasons.

Therrien Signs Contract Extension in Montreal

Good news for old friend, and former Wolf Pack assistant coach, J.J. Daigneault, currently an assistant to Montreal Canadiens head man Michel Therrien, as the Habs announced a four-year contract extension for Therrien Saturday.

J.J. Daigneault

J.J. Daigneault

One would assume that the faith thus shown in Therrien would extend to his lieutenants, who this year helped the fiery bench boss to guide his troops to a 100-point regular season, the team’s best showing since 2007-08, and a pair of playoff series wins, including the emotional upset of the regular season-champion Boston Bruins in the second round.  Montreal eventually bowed to the Rangers in six games in the Eastern finals.

“Michel and his coaching staff work in a unique and demanding hockey market, and the team’s success over the last two seasons is a reflection of their excellent work,” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said in announcing Therrien’s extension. “This decision reflects our desire for stability and consistency within our hockey operations department.”

Daigneault just finished his second season as Therrien’s assistant, after six years on the Wolf Pack staff.

Talbot Hurting

June 3, 2014

Some tough luck all of a sudden for the parent New York Rangers’ Wolf Pack-produced depth guys, as backup goaltender Cam Talbot was held out of the big club’s practice Sunday due to an undisclosed injury.

Cam Talbot (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Cam Talbot (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

This seemed to come right out of the blue, after J.T. Miller was felled by an upper-body issue that caused him to miss the last two games of New York’s six-game ouster of Montreal in the Eastern Conference Finals.  According to media reports, Miller has resumed skating but is not yet ready to play.

With Talbot questionable, David LeNeveu made the trip with the Rangers to Los Angeles for Wednesday night’s Stanley Cup Finals opener.  LeNeveu, who had a tremendous finish to the season with the Wolf Pack, whom he joined January 14, told the New York media, “It’s been a crazy year.  To come in here and enjoy the run with them (the Rangers) has been unbelievable, a great experience.

“I just didn’t want to quit playing. Thankfully, I was able to come up, still practice every day and stay in condition. It’s been a ride. This team’s not done yet, either.”

LeNeveu had been among the “black aces” practicing as a separate group from the main team, in case the Rangers needed injury reinforcements.

Talbot has made a pair of relief appearances, totaling 46 minutes, for the Rangers this postseason, stopping 11 of the 13 shots he has faced.  That’s after putting up outstanding regular-season stats of a 12-6-1 record, 1.64 GAA, 94.1% save percentage and three shutouts.

Rangers Sign Two Draft Picks

June 2, 2014

The news paled a bit in comparison to the impending start of the Stanley Cup Finals, which the parent New York Rangers and the L.A. Kings will kick off Wednesday in Tinseltown, but the Rangers Monday announced the signings of two drafted prospects, goaltender Mackenzie Skapski and defenseman Calle Andersson, both of whom could very well begin their North American pro careers in Wolf Pack uniforms this fall.

Skapski, a sixth-round Ranger pick in last June’s NHL draft, turns 20 on June 15, so he is eligible to play for the Wolf Pack this season, or could also go back to his Junior team, the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, for an overage year if that is what the Ranger organization deems best for him.  The 6-3, 191-pound native of Abbotsford, British Columbia, played three full seasons for the Ice, the last two under former Wolf Pack head coach Ryan McGill.  Coincidentally or not, those were two excellent seasons for Skapski, who won 34 games in the Kootenay net in 2012-13 and 28 this season.

Mackenzie Skapski (courtesy of whl.ca)

Mackenzie Skapski (courtesy of whl.ca)

Skapski had the sixth-best save percentage, 91.6, in the WHL this year for an Ice team that finished the regular season nine games over .500, and then pulled a first-round upset of the division-champion Calgary Hitmen before falling in seven games to Medicine Hat in the second round.  The previous season, Skapski saw action in 65 of Kootenay’s 72 games, ranking him second in the league in appearances, and seven of his 34 wins were by shutout, tying him for the WHL lead in that category.

Andersson, meanwhile, is a second-generation member of the Ranger organization, as his father Peter was a 1983 Ranger draftee and spent the 1992-93 season back and forth between the Blueshirts and their Binghamton Ranger AHL affiliate, a club that rolled to a 124-point regular season, the best in the history of the league.  Peter Andersson played 31 NHL games for the Rangers that year, and eight the next season, before being dealt to Florida.  He suited up for eight more games with the Panthers in 1993-94 and then headed back across the pond, eventually logging 11 more European seasons before joining the coaching ranks.  Andersson is currently an assistant coach with the Swiss club Lugano, after having been a head coach for four years in Sweden’s second-tier league, the Allsvenskan, in which son Calle spent most of this past season.

Calle Andersson (courtesy of eliteprospects.com)

Calle Andersson (courtesy of eliteprospects.com)

Calle Andersson, a fourth-round pick by the Rangers in 2012, had to be signed by Sunday, or the Rangers would have lost his rights.  A 20-year-old 6-2, 211-pounder, Andersson had 12 points, two goals and 10 assists, in 43 Allsvenskan games with Malmo this season and logged 34 games in Sweden’s top league last year, with Farjestad.  He won a silver medal with the Swedish entry at the 2013 World Junior Championship, contributing two goals and an assist and a +4 in six games.

According to the team website of the Swiss club Zug, Andersson has signed a contract with that team for the 2014-15 season.  The team announcement says that the deal includes an “NHL out clause” which lasts through June 15.  It remains to be seen whether that agreement prevents Andersson from playing in the AHL if he does not crack the Ranger lineup.