Archive for September, 2014

Stepan Injury Impacts Depth Chart

September 24, 2014

Difficult day at New York Ranger training camp today, as Derek Stepan, the big club’s top center, suffered a fractured fibula in an on-ice testing drill.

In the course of pushing off to gain speed in a rink-length sprint, Stepan fell to the ice and had to be helped off.  Shortly thereafter, the fracture was diagnosed, and all of a sudden the organizational depth chart was thrown for somewhat of a loop.

(Photo by Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

(Photo by Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

Stepan and Derick Brassard had been expected to be the Rangers’ top two pivots, but now Brassard will have to be counted on for even a bigger role, and Dominic Moore is likely to pick up more important minutes in the middle as well.  The loss of Stepan also seems to raise the profiles of center candidates J.T. Miller, who has already been drawing significant praise for his performance thus far in camp and in the Rangers’ first preseason game, and of Kevin Hayes, the rookie out of Boston College who played mostly wing for the Eagles for the bulk of his college career.

“It’s going to give, obviously, a longer look to J.T. or Hayes or (Oscar) Lindberg or (Matthew) Lombardi, (Chris) Mueller,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said to the New York media after today’s practice.  “It’s going to give some of those guys probably a longer look in exhibition, and then depending on how these guys play, we’ll sort it out.

“We’ve got to see how some of these young guys do and how they can play, and how certain guys can play with more skilled players, and see what they can do.”

This certainly will have a trickle-down effect on the Wolf Pack roster, in the ultra-important center spot.  Miller seemed to have a real good chance of making the Ranger team anyway, and Hayes is a prospect who has certainly come in with a lot of upside, but players like Lindberg and Mueller are guys who certainly figured to be likely candidates for the top end of the Wolf Pack lineup.

Regardless of all that, the good news all around is that the Rangers announced later on in the afternoon that Stepan is expected to miss four-to-six weeks, which certainly doesn’t seem too bad compared to what goes through the mind when you hear “broken leg.”

The Rangers are expected to announce their first roster cuts later on today, and Vigneault also said in his media conference today that the plan is for the camp roster to be pared to six lines and nine or ten defensemen after the Blueshirts’ preseason home-and-home with Philadelphia Monday and Tuesday.

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Bourque Brothers Relish the Chance to be Teammates

September 23, 2014

Here’s a feature I just posted on the Wolf Pack’s official website, on brothers Ryan and Chris Bourque:

With Ryan Bourque, a three-year Wolf Pack mainstay, being five years younger than his brother Chris, a veteran of nine seasons of pro hockey, the opportunities for the two siblings ever to play together have been limited.

“Just in summer leagues,” Ryan said recently about his and Chris’ experience wearing the same jersey.  “Me and Chris played together with a bunch of our buddies, and actually the old man (Ryan and Chris’ father, Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque) was on our team too, but he’s had to limit his playing the past few years.”

With Chris signing a free-agent contract with the New York Rangers July 2, though, there is every chance that the two Bourques will spend this year on the same team, either in the NHL with the Rangers or in the AHL as members of the Wolf Pack.

Ryan Bourque

Ryan Bourque

That possibility has both of the brothers extremely pumped up.

“It’s real exciting, obviously,” Ryan said last week, after a Ranger training camp practice.  “Growing up, as kids, just battling in the back yards and being able to become really close friends over the years, we always talked about how it would be pretty cool to be able to play with each other in the future, if we ever had an opportunity.  Just the opportunity to suit up, whether it’s in Hartford or in New York, with your big brother is a pretty cool experience, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Chris added, “It’s definitely an exciting opportunity for both of us.  It’s something that we’ve never had an opportunity to do, and you don’t know if a chance like this is going to come.  So when they (the Rangers) offered me a contract, it was a no-brainer to sign with them.  I think we’re both very excited, and we’ll enjoy it as long as it lasts.  Hopefully it’s in New York, but if it’s in Hartford, then that’s great too.  It’s something that doesn’t come along too often, where brothers get to play in the same organization, so we’re going to cherish every moment that we get, and it’s just hopefully going to be a real exciting year.

For Chris Bourque, who won three Calder Cups during his six seasons with the Hershey Bears, and an AHL scoring title in 2011-12, the chance to play with Ryan was a big factor in his signing with the Ranger organization, but it was not the only attraction.

“It’s such a historic franchise,” the 28-year-old Boston native said.  “I was always a Boston Bruins fan growing up, but the Rangers were right up there.  And to get a chance to put this jersey on is an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, and having my brother in the organization is just that added extra motivation to sign here.  We’ll go to (training) camp here, see how it goes, and then I think we’re both really looking forward to the season.”

The 2014-15 campaign marks a return to North America for Chris, who spent last season overseas.  He started 2013-14 in Russia’s KHL with Ak-Bars Kazan, and then moved on to Biel of the Swiss A League in late November.  For Bourque and his wife Kim, who have a young son, Kingston, the European sojourn was a mixed bag of enjoyment and challenges.

“It was all right, it was long,” he said of his year abroad.  “Bringing your family over there when you’ve got a small child, it’s always a little bit questionable, but overall it was a good experience.  It’s always good traveling the world and seeing different places and different cultures.  I really enjoyed my time in Switzerland last year.  It’s a beautiful country and a good hockey league.  I’ll just try and take the positives out of last year and move forward.”

There were definitely plenty of positives for the younger Bourque brother last season, and Chris, keeping track of it from the other side of the pond, was extremely excited to see the progress that Ryan was making with the Wolf Pack.

“I would always check the stat sheet after he played,” Chris said.  “He picked up 20 goals and had a decent amount of assists.  And I think everyone sees the effort’s always there with him, so the confidence that he can score at that level (the AHL), hopefully that gives him the confidence to come up here (the NHL) and show them that he is a good offensive player, because he really is.  I knew that all along, it’s just that sometimes you’ve got to be given the right opportunity to put up those numbers.  He had a heck of a year last year, and hopefully he can build off that.”

Ryan, who had scored six and eight goals, respectively, in his first two pro seasons, broke out for 21 in 2013-14, second only to Danny Kristo’s 25 among Wolf Pack skaters.  He also added 16 assists for 37 points, more than double his previous pro high of 15.  His heart and tenacity had always stood out since his arrival in Hartford, but his numbers last year made a clear statement that he can much more than just an “energy guy”.

“The second half of the season, I think it was a breakthrough,” Ryan said of last season.  “I just got an opportunity, and I definitely made the most of it.  I think it was the first time in my three seasons that I really jumped on an opportunity and really showed the things that I could do in an offensive way.  I don’t think the effort or the energy or anything like that’s ever going to change, but there’s another side of my game that I was yet to show in this organization.  I was just really grateful for the opportunity, and was able to capitalize on it, and I think just to keep growing on that would be a really big step for me, and that’s what I plan on doing.”

Also significant on Ryan’s stat line for the 2013-14 Wolf Pack was the fact that he had the top plus/minus figure on the club, with a +16, and that his power-play goal total of seven was tied for best on the team.  Clearly, his two-way game was becoming a strong calling card.

“I’ve always kind of prided myself on being able to play on both sides of the puck growing up,” Ryan said, “and I think the more versatile you can be as a player, and the more coachable that you can be, those are two aspects that really stand out and give you an aspect you can use in any situation.”

Ranger training camp brought the brothers Bourque to the MSG Training Center, the Rangers’ practice facility in Tarrytown, NY, and Ryan Bourque must have felt like he never left.

Ryan was a “Black Ace” this past spring for the parent club, part of the taxi squad that stayed in practice shape at the Training Center for the entire Ranger playoff run.  That was a nearly two-month engagement, as the big club went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before falling in five games to Los Angeles.  Despite the fact that it the assignment did not include any playing time with the Rangers, Ryan feels that simply being immersed in the playoff atmosphere helped him and his fellow Black Aces to grow significantly.

“I think the group of guys that we had there, the young core in the organization, with the guys that we played with in Hartford, we’re all so tight and so closely-knit that it was a blast for us,” he said.  “Just to be able to soak in the experience of being here (at the Training Center) and being able to go to the games and watch playoff hockey, that’s a pretty great experience. Obviously you’d like to be out on the ice, but that’s part of the process.  And you’ve got to learn from that and see the things that those guys are doing and obviously cheer for them.  And to be here for two months and be able to experience that and skate every day, and obviously keep working on your game and staying ready, it was a great experience for us.”

Chris Bourque’s resume already includes a wealth of postseason experience, as well as a total of 51 NHL games-played, with Washington, Pittsburgh and Boston.  With 433 points in 437 career AHL games-played, three AHL championships and a scoring title, he does not have much left to prove at the AHL level, but is eager to take on the next challenge, wherever that happens to be.

“It’s (the AHL) a heck of a league and I’ve enjoyed my time when I play in it, but at the same time, you always want to play in the NHL,” Chris said.  “I’ve never been able to stick up in the NHL, for whatever reason, but you always want to be knocking on that door.

Chris Bourque (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Chris Bourque (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

“If that (NHL) opportunity comes, hopefully I take full advantage of it, but at the same time, whatever I can do to help this organization, whether it’s help the younger guys develop in Hartford, or help them make it to the playoffs, the team looks good.  So you can’t ever rule out a good playoff run there (with the Wolf Pack).

“That would be nice for these guys to go through.  Whenever you win a Calder Cup, those guys that won, you see them sprinkled out through the NHL.  So that always helps the organization, when you can make a deep playoff run.  It just gives you the experience and the knowledge that you need to make that next step.  So if that’s what they need me for, then I’m all for it.  It seems like there’s a good group of young guys here, so I’m really excited to play with them.”

In addition to those young prospects that Chris Bourque references, he is not the only experienced veteran who has been added to the fold.  The Rangers organization this summer signed a strong group of older players, with Bourque being joined by the likes of forwards Chris Mueller, Ryan Potulny and Nick Tarnasky, defensemen Mike Kostka, Matt Hunwick and Steven Kampfer, and goaltender Cedrick Desjardins.  With these types of individuals to bolster the organizational roster, Ryan Bourque, who was one of the more experienced players on last year’s Wolf Pack team as a third-year pro, is enthusiastic about the depth from which this season’s Ranger and Wolf Pack clubs will have to draw.

“I think it’s going to be a much deeper group than we’ve had in the past several years,” Ryan said.  “I think there’s a good core in Hartford of young guys that really have developed into great players, and you saw it in the second half of last year with our first two lines, the youth movement that we had, and the success that we had in the second half.  So I think that with that group, if guys make it here (New York), then it’s awesome for them, but whether we have guys up here or down there (Hartford), there’s going to be a lot of depth.  And to bring in the veterans that we did and put them in place, it all depends where guys end up, but regardless we’re going to have a lot of depth in the organization, and we’re going to have an opportunity in Hartford to have a great team.  I think it’s just a matter of coming together and having chemistry.

“All of us, me included, want to be up here, but I think whether you end up here or down there, it’s going to be a great experience and it’s going to be a team that’s going to be able to develop and get better every day.”

If both Ryan and Chris Bourque are parts of the group that ends up with the Wolf Pack, they will be the first-ever pair of brothers to play together on the Wolf Pack team.  The club has had two other brother acts in its history, Peter (1997-98) and Chris (2006-07) Ferraro and Chris (2001-02) and Michael (2013-14) St. Croix, but neither of those duos was ever on the Pack roster at the same time.

 

Vigneault on Youth, J.T. Miller, Roster Size

September 18, 2014

As the New York Rangers’ training camp began today with player physicals, Blueshirt head coach Alain Vigneault conducted a media session.  He addressed a number of topics, but several of his comments (as taken from the reporting of Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record) had particular meaning for the Wolf Pack and the organization’s prospects and depth players.

On the topic of opportunities for young players, Vigneault said, “I think there’s going to be great some internal competition for spots. Up front we lost some very important players who had very important roles. I’m not saying we’re going to structure the team the same way, we’ve got to sort this out. We’ve got to figure out what’s best for this group, but there’s some great internal competition and at the end of the day if a young player and an older veteran are both playing the same, I would say to you most teams would go with the younger player, because he’s got a better chance to improve, whereas the older player sometimes can be a bit more challenging, but that’s why we have training camp. We’re going to let this unfold, the games, we’ve got a scrimmage on Sunday so I think everything is up in the right now. Everything is open.”

(blueshirtsunited.com)

(blueshirtsunited.com)

And in the same vein, Vigneault had this to say about J.T. Miller: “I would say versatility for a player is a big big bonus. In J.T.’s case, (Kevin) Hayes’ case, we’re going to start those guys in the middle, then, as the camp unfolds, we’ll make the decisions that need to be made. But we’re definitely going to look, (Rick) Nash on the right side, Nasher on the left side. Things like that.”

Miller is clearly one of the favorites among the young players to grab a permanent spot in Gotham, and it certainly sounds as if Vigneault is talking about him as if he’s expected not only to make the team, but to be an important player.  And in terms of the young players in general, let’s face it, most teams in this salary cap era would love to have as many young guys, and their relatively inexpensive entry-level contracts, on the roster as possible.

On the other hand, on the issue of how many players he would prefer to carry on the NHL roster, the Ranger bench boss commented, “Ideally I would say 13 forwards and eight Ds if we can keep 23. But I don’t think budget wise, we’re going to be right there, so it’s probably going to be 13 and seven.”

That sounds like it’s going to mean a ton of back-and-forth between the Wolf Pack and Rangers, especially if there is only one extra forward on the New York roster.

And, further to that, Vigneault was asked to address the question of players “on the bubble” seeing heavy ice time with the Wolf Pack vs. learning on the fringes of the Ranger lineup.

“Young guys need to play to make the team,” he responded.  “I would say, each situation is different, younger players should play, if they’re not going to play on a regular basis here, it would probably be better to go to Hartford, but each situation is different. I will say to you Kreids (Chris Kreider) started last year, didn’t have a good camp, came back played regular was one of our very good players. Cam Talbot didn’t start here. If a player shows that he can play and help us win, he’ll be here.”

So, while a quick peek at the Ranger depth chart indicates that there are not many obvious holes for any individual to jump into, Vigneault’s words seem to offer encouragement to those that will be knocking on the big club’s door.  Knock hard enough, he would appear to be saying, and we’ll have to let you in, at least at some point.

If the players who will be making up the bulk of the Wolf Pack roster take that message to heart, then there should be plenty of electrifying nights for Pack fans throughout the 2014-15 season.

Rangers Report to Camp Today

September 18, 2014

A significant group of players has already been on hand for a while at the parent New York Rangers‘ practice facility in Tarrytown, NY, and the organization’s prospects were in action this past weekend at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, MI, but today marks the official opening of the Rangers’ training camp, as the 63 players on the big club’s training camp roster undergo their camp physicals.

Tomorrow will be the first day on ice, with the 63 campers divided up into three separate groups.

(blueshirtsunited.com)

(blueshirtsunited.com)

All 23 players from the Traverse City roster showed enough in the tournament to earn camp invites, and that includes six free-agent tryout invitees.  Those six are forwards Nick Latta, Nathan Burns, Paxton Leroux, Bryan Moore and Logan Nelson, and defenseman Dallas Valentine.  The camp roster also includes Wolf Pack AHL contract-signee Ryan Potulny.

Time is short before the Rangers launch into their preseason schedule, as the group will have only Friday, Saturday and Sunday for workouts before the preseason opener Monday, which is at Madison Square Garden against New Jersey.

Winger Ryan Haggerty and defenseman Sam Noreau were the top statistical performers for a Ranger Traverse City team that went 1-1-2 in its four games.  Haggerty had three goals and an assist for four points and led the team in shots with 14, and Noreau struck for two goals and an assist and was a team-best +3.  Also notching three points apiece for the prospects were Latta, who had a goal and two assists, and defenseman Mat Bodie, fresh off of an NCAA title with Union College, who chipped in three helpers.

Friday Start for Traverse City Tourney

September 10, 2014

The first sniff of 2014-14 game action for the Ranger organization comes Friday, when the Ranger prospect team, guided by Wolf Pack coaches Ken Gernander, Jeff Beukeboom and Pat Boller, takes the ice at 7:00 PM in Traverse City, Michigan, battling the Dallas Stars Stars’ prospects in the annual Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament.

The 23-man prospect team convenes for a practice Thursday morning at the Rangers’ MSG Training Center practice facility in Greenburgh, NY, then jets off to Traverse City, marking the Blueshirts’ eighth straight year of participation in the yearly pre-training camp showcase.  This year’s Ranger prospect team also has games scheduled Saturday at 7:00 vs. the Buffalo Sabres‘ prospects and Monday at 6:30 against the Carolina team, plus a “placement” game that will take place Tuesday at a time still TBD.

In last September’s tournament, a large part of what would become the core of last year’s Wolf Pack roster was on display.  Oscar Lindberg and Danny Kristo would preview what would turn out to be strong AHL contributions by leading the prospect team in scoring, with seven points apiece, before Kristo went on to pace the Pack in goals (25) and Lindberg to finish second on the club in points (44).  Jesper Fast also had a strong start in Traverse City, on the way to making the Rangers’ opening-night roster.  On the blue line, Conor Allen played in all four of the prospect team’s games and Tommy Hughes saw action in three of the four.

Chris McCarthy

Chris McCarthy

This year’s prospect roster shows fewer guys who figure to be counted on as much at the start, but prized rookie free-agent signee Kevin Hayes, out of Boston College, will be on hand, and he is a guy who is expected at least to challenge for a job in New York, as is former RPI stalwart Ryan Haggerty.  If those two don’t make the Rangers, they should certainly be big parts of the mix in Hartford, and several others on the Traverse City roster should be as well.  That group includes guys like Chris McCarthy, Michael Kantor, Mat Bodie and goaltender Mackenzie Skapski, who should have a pretty good shot at one of the Wolf Pack netminding spots.

Last September, forward J.T. Barnett was the only free-agent invitee to Traverse City who ended up in Wolf Pack training camp, but fellow forward Klarc Wilson, along with defensemen Ben Fanelli and Jimmy Oligny, all earned invites to Ranger training camp from Traverse City.  Among the tryouts who will be looking to duplicate that feat this year are forwards Paxton Leroux, who also played for the Ranger prospect team in last fall’s tournament, Nick Latta, who showed well in an 11-game audition with the Wolf Pack at the end of last season, Bryan Moore and Logan Nelson, as well as defenseman Dallas Valentine.

For the latest up-to-date coverage of the Rangers’ Traverse City action, keep an eye on BlueshirtsUnited.com.