Archive for August, 2014

Kevin Hayes is Latest New Name in Ranger Fold

August 21, 2014

The parent New York Rangers continued an active summer of player acquisition this week with the signing of college free-agent winger Kevin Hayes out of Boston College.

A former first-round pick (24th overall in 2010) by the Chicago Blackhawks, Hayes did not sign with Chicago within the requisite period of time after being drafted, and thus was declared a free agent August 15.

Hayes is a real big guy, at 6-5 and 225 pounds, and he had a terrific year this past year as a senior, scoring 27 goals and adding 38 assists for 65 points in 40 games.  That was good for second overall in NCAA Division I in points, and only Hayes’ linemate, Johnny Gaudreau, had more, with an incredible 80 points (36-44-80) in the same 40 games.

Kevin Hayes (uscho.com)

Kevin Hayes (uscho.com)

It’s not entirely clear whether it was a matter of money that prevented Hayes from coming to terms with Chicago, or of NHL opportunity.  According to capgeek.com, the 22-year-old Dorchester, MA native certainly did very well for himself financially, with a signing bonus of $180,000 and performance bonuses of nearly $6 million over the two-year life of the contract.  I haven’t seen anything that indicates the Blackhawks weren’t willing to make that type of financial commitment, but there certainly seem to have been several teams interested in Hayes’ services, once he did become a free agent.  As far as opportunity goes, the Chicago lineup is certainly a tough one to crack, and nobody knows that better than Hayes’ older brother Jimmy, who was up and down between Chicago and the AHL during his two-plus years in the organization before being traded to Florida last November.

The Stanley Cup-finalist Ranger roster isn’t exactly chopped liver either, though, although Hayes may have looked at the wingers the Blueshirts lost this summer in Benoit Pouliot, Derek Dorsett and, presumably, Dan Carcillo, and figured that there might be a slot or two available for a big wingman.  Hayes played right wing in college but is a left shot, and Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News speculated that he might fit well into the spot vacated by Pouliot, which is on the left side on a line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello.  That would certainly be a premier opportunity, but on the other hand, Brian Costello of The Hockey News wrote that scouts have told him that Hayes is likely to need some AHL seasoning before he is ready to play at the speed required in the NHL.

The Rangers’ current depth chart shows 11 forwards who spent the majority of last season in the NHL, so there should be at least a couple or three spots up for grabs.  J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast will certainly be in the mix for those, and surely the arrival of Hayes will ratchet up the pressure on those guys, as well as on Danny Kristo, who has re-signed with the Rangers for one year and will be a Group 6 unrestricted free agent next summer, unless he plays in 80 NHL games this season.

With the Rangers’ salary-cap situation, they certainly need to get some mileage out of those young players with cap-friendly contracts, and it will be very interesting to see if the Millers, Fasts, Kristos, etc., who have been in the organization for a year or more, can hold off Hayes, after he scored nearly as many points last season as he did his first three college years combined, and will be looking to ride that momentum to even greater heights as he hits Ranger training camp in September.

Addition of Potulny Strengthens the Middle

August 19, 2014

In a post last month, I wondered if the Rangers, even given their already strong array of depth signings to that point, might be seeking another veteran center.

Chris Mueller had already been inked to bolster the pivot position, but with the big difference that T.J. Hensick made for the Wolf Pack after his January arrival last season, I had a feeling that the organization might be looking for a similar guy, to make the mantle lighter for young centers who will see quality time with the Wolf Pack.

And, lo and behold, the news came last week that the Rangers had landed Ryan Potulny on an AHL contract, a home run, in my opinion, when you look at the Hensick-type guys who were out there.

Ryan Potulny (Christine Baker | pennlive.com)

Ryan Potulny (Christine Baker | pennlive.com)

Last season was somewhat of a lost year for Potulny, who played only 38 games in his third year with Hershey, and had three goals and ten points in those 38 games.  The year before, though, he had 19-22-41 with the Bears in 66 games, leading the team in goals, and as recently as 2011-12, had 33 goals, tied for third in the AHL, and 65 points in only 61 games with Hershey.

Potulny didn’t get into a game until after Christmas last season, after sustaining a major shoulder injury in the KHL preseason.  He had signed with Avangard Omsk, but his KHL contract was voided after the injury, which required surgery.  Following his rehab, Potulny re-signed with the Bears, who were already laden with veterans.  Potulny’s arrival gave Hershey six veterans, one more than the number allowed to dress for a game, and the club was also extremely deep at center, with names like Jeff Taffe and Kris Newbury (ironically, both former Wolf Pack guys), also battling for playing time in the middle.

So it’s certainly reasonable to speculate that last year was an aberration for Potulny, and that his true AHL water level is much closer to the nearly point-per-game pace that he cranked out the previous two season.  Also, in 2010-11, he had a huge playoff for Binghamton, after being acquired from the Chicago organization at the trade deadline.  Potulny led all AHL postseason point-scorers that spring for the Calder Cup-champion Senators, with 26, and tied with Hamilton’s Nigel Dawes (yep, another ex-Pack triggerman…small world, eh?) for the league playoff goals lead.  He also scored the overtime game-winner for Binghamton in their Game Seven triumph over Manchester in the first round, a victory that capped off a bounce-back from a three-games-to-one deficit in that matchup.

So now, with Potulny in the fold, the Wolf Pack could have a center backbone of him, Mueller and Oscar Lindberg, which is one heck of a top three, even if J.T. Miller leaves the AHL behind.  The Rangers have Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Dominic Moore and Matthew Lombardi on the roster at the center position as well, so there is bound to be a ton of positive competion at that important spot.

Rangers’ Traverse City Roster Set

August 19, 2014

Don’t look now, but it’s less than a month now until the first phase of the Ranger training camp season, which is the annual Traverse City Tournament for NHL prospects in Traverse City, Michigan.

The tourney begins September 12, and the Rangers announced their prospect team roster on Tuesday.

Michael Kantor

Michael Kantor

The roster, which can be viewed here, includes six players who spent time with the Wolf Pack last season.  Those are forwards Michael Kantor, Nick Latta, Chris McCarthy, Josh Nicholls and Michael St. Croix, and defenseman Sam Noreau.  Other participants who are currently Ranger property, and are age-eligible to play for the Wolf Pack this season, include: forwards Ryan Haggerty, Richard Nejezchleb and Adam Tambellini, along with defensemen Mat Bodie, Troy Donnay and Daniel Walcott, and goaltender Mackenzie Skapski.  Also on the Traverse City roster is European prospect Petr Zamorsky, a 22-year-old defenseman signed as a free agent by the Rangers in June, who played the last three years in the Czech Extraliga.

Beyond those names, there are also four free-agent youngsters who could find their ways into Wolf Pack training camp, if their Traverse City performances open enough eyes.

Nathan Burns is a 6-2, 175-pound centerman who totaled 27 goals and 77 points in 68 WHL games this past year between Saskatoon and Swift Current.  Another WHLer, center Logan Nelson, 6-1 and 186 pounds and a fifth-round pick by Buffalo in 2012, registered 23-31-54 in 59 games with Victoria.  Bryan Moore, a 6-0, 199-pound right-winger, had a combined 25 goals and 63 points in 58 games with Sarnia and Sault Ste. Marie in the Ontario League.  And Paxton Leroux, a left wing who is 6-3 and 200 pounds, is an OHL product whose season was limited to 14 games between London and Kitchener in 2013-14, but who had 66 penalty minutes in 22 games with London in 2012-13.

The Traverse City tournament runs through September 16, and many, if not most, of the prospects will then move on to the Rangers’ training camp, which opens September 18.