Archive for September, 2015

Rangers down to 25 Players

September 28, 2015

Most years in the recent past, the parent New York Rangers have waited until nearly the start of the NHL season to pare their roster down to regular-season size.

This fall, however, after having sent a total of 13 players to the Wolf Pack Friday and Saturday, the Rangers have their roster is down to 25 players, just two over the regular-season roster limit of 23.

The current Ranger group includes eight defensemen, and New York head coach Alain Vigneault is on record as saying he would like to keep eight, but that salary cap concerns will likely make that unworkable. So barring a trade, at least one blueliner is likely still to come down to the Pack, and the Rangers still have 15 forwards, at least one more than they would probably carry to start the regular year.

The Wolf Pack, meanwhile, have 44 players on their current roster, enough to split into two separate groups for their training camp practices. This is the first time in recent memory that coach Ken Gernander has had virtually his entire team in camp ahead of the preseason, but the Pack head man says that doesn’t change much as far as how he and his staff will approach things.

“The American League a lot of times is all about adapting to different things,” Gernander said after Monday’s practice. “It’ll be nice for us in that I think the guys that were in New York showed themselves well, so I like the talent that we have coming back (from the Rangers), and they all seem like character guys, I think they’ll get to know each other a little bit better in the intimate setting here at the XL Center. So there should be a lot of positives to the situation.”

The big challenge that the Pack braintrust faces, with so many players in camp, is parsing out action in the team’s three preseason games between the individuals who are certain to be regulars with the team and those who are relatively unknown and are looking to make an impression.

Magnus Hellberg (Elsa/Getty Images)

Magnus Hellberg (Elsa/Getty Images)

“That is the balancing act,” Gernander said. “We want to make sure that, first and foremost, the guys that are going to be on our team to start the season get the proper amount of work so that they’re ready for the season opener. We certainly have to give some looks and some consideration to guys that are battling for those last few roster spots, and as evidenced by last year, we’re going to need some depth and some callups, so have to get a good peek at all of them. Hopefully a good week of practice can be a bit of an indicator for us, and then we’re going to have to spread the games out as best we can.”

The Pack start the preseason Thursday night, traveling to the Wonderland of Ice in Bridgeport to battle the Sound Tigers, then play Saturday night at Lehigh Valley and host the Sound Tigers Sunday afternoon at Champions Skating Center in Cromwell.

One of the players assigned to the Wolf Pack in the last round of cuts is goaltender Magnus Hellberg, so it looks as though Antti Raanta has won the battle to be Henrik Lundqvist’s backup in New York. Hellberg is one of no fewer than six netminders on the Hartford roster, although two of those, Cedrick Desjardins and Mackenzie Skapski, are injured. Former Yale Eli Jeff Malcolm is back for his third year in the organization and has the inside track to start the season on the Wolf Pack roster alongside Hellberg, and Trumbull, CT native Alex Vazzano, who played the last two years at Sacred Heart, and Josh Robinson, who split last season between Austria and the ECHL, are the other two in camp, both tryout players.

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Bodie is Latest Hopeful to Make an Impact

September 23, 2015

After Brian Gibbons (goal, two assists) and Jayson Megna (two goals), two forwards pushing for spots with the parent New York Rangers, had big nights Monday in New York’s preseason-opening, 6-3 win over New Jersey, it was a defenseman, second-year pro Mat Bodie, who stood out on the scoresheet Tuesday evening, in a 5-3 loss at Philadelphia.

Bodie, the second-leading point-scorer among Wolf Pack blueliners as a rookie last year, with five goals and 32 points in 75 games, scored two of the Rangers’ three goals against the Flyers. It was a big night for former Union College d-men at the Wells Fargo Center, as Bodie’s former Dutchmen teammate Shayne Gostisbehere scored twice for the Flyers.

Pack head coach Ken Gernander, who was back at the XL Center Wednesday after his contributions in Traverse City, coaching the Ranger team in the NHL Prospects Tournament, and at Ranger training camp, was excited to see one of his key guys from 2014-15 have such a strong night Tuesday.

Mat Bodie

Mat Bodie

“We really appreciated what he (Bodie) did for us last year, it’s excellent to see guys get an opportunity and have some success there (at the NHL level),” Gernander said. “So we were real pleased for Matt.”

Gernander’s Ranger counterpart, Alain Vigneault, said this about Bodie to the media after the Philadelphia game, “I remember him a little bit from last year and there’s no doubt that there’s some progression on his part. You guys asked me a lot about (Dylan) McIlrath, but one of the guys that (the Wolf Pack) coaches said that during their playoff run last year was so good, and played with Dylan, was Bodie and tonight I could see why.  He’s got a little big stick and knows how to put it defensively, and when he’s got the puck on his stick most of the time he makes the right plays with the puck.  He had a strong game for us tonight and that was good for us to see.”

With Bodie’s output Tuesday night, Gibbons’ and Megna’s contributions to Monday’s win, and Oscar Lindberg scoring in both games, Gernander feels that the players who are hoping to make the jump from the AHL to the NHL are making strong statements.

“By and large, it looks like there is going to be considerable depth and there’s going to be a lot of competition for some spots” the Wolf Pack bench boss said. “We were proud of the group the way they played last year down the stretch into the playoffs, and to see them get rewarded with some success here in the preseason–it’s just a real likeable group and you’re always pulling hard for them–it’s good to see them have some success.”

Meanwhile, the Ranger organization Wednesday made its first roster cuts, sending a dozen players to the Wolf Pack, returning six underage players to their respective Junior clubs and releasing one goaltender, Jake Smith, outright from his tryout. Many, if not most, of the first Wolf Pack assignees will be on the bubble between Hartford and its ECHL affiliate, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, and Gernander is expecting the same battle level for roster spots in his camp as has been on display at Ranger training camp.

“If our guys are pushing for opportunities at the NHL level, there’s a strong amount of depth,” he said, “and it’s going to be even more competitive here as we try to fill out our roster.”

Players will report to Hartford Friday for Wolf Pack camp, with the first practice slated for Sunday morning at the XL Center.

Gibbons, Megna Make Strong first Ranger Impressions

September 22, 2015

Brian Gibbons and Jayson Megna, two veteran forwards who can reasonably be said to be “on the bubble” between grabbing one of the last couple of forward spots on the Ranger roster and being top-six forwards with the Wolf Pack, had big nights Monday in the big club’s preseason opener, a 6-3 win over New Jersey at Madison Square Garden. Gibbons had a goal and two assists and Megna scored twice.

Megna and Gibbons were both July 1 free-agent signings by the Rangers, Gibbons from the Columbus organization and Megna late of the Pittsburgh/Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Both spent some quality time in the NHL last year, Gibbons getting into 25 games with the Blue Jackets and Megna 12 with Pittsburgh, both are relatively young but with solid pro experience (Gibbons four years and Megna three), and neither was getting too carried away about what Monday night’s performances might mean in their quests to make the Rangers.

Jayson Megna (23), Brian Gibbons (24), and others, celebrate a Ranger goal in New York's preseason opener win over New Jersey (MSG Photos)

Jayson Megna (23), Brian Gibbons (14), and others, celebrate a Ranger goal in New York’s preseason opener win over New Jersey (MSG Photos)

“You control what you can control,” Megna told the media after the game. “You can drive yourself nuts looking at the lineups, who’s playing who’s not, every night. For me, I’ve been on two pretty good teams–fortunate to be in two great organizations like this one and Pittsburgh–where the lineups are stacked. So you just have to leave it all out on the ice and prove to the coaches you can help the team win.”

Gibbons expressed similar sentiments, saying, “I think every time you get a chance to show the coaches that you can play at this level and they can trust you on the ice in different situations, I think that’s all I’m trying to do.”

Gibbons has played in 66 NHL games the past two years, having gotten into 41 with Pittsburgh in 2013-14 before signing with Columbus last summer. He has 5-17-22 in those 66 contests, and 101 points (33-68) in 194 career AHL games. Good numbers, but, according to his former Boston College teammate, and now fellow Ranger organization member, Chris Kreider, they do not do justice to Gibbons’ skill level.

“In college in particular, (Gibbons) was) the best player I played with,” Kreider said after last night’s game. “You see the poise, and he’s so fun to watch. He’s electrifying, high in skill, he’s dynamic. He’s a game changer and he sees things other people don’t.”

For Kreider to say that Gibbons was the best player he played with at B.C. is eye-openingly high praise, as Kreider’s other college teammates included the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Cam Atkinson, and Kevin and Jimmy Hayes.

Also in Monday night’s preseason opener, Oscar Lindberg scored, Ryan Bourque had an assist and Brady Skjei was +3 with an assist.

And, the Rangers go back-to-back with their first two exhibition contests, visiting Philadelphia tonight. Megna, Lindberg, Bourque and Dylan McIlrath were all announced as remaining in the projected lineup for the second game, and Mat Bodie is scheduled to dress as well.

Four tryout players are also slated to play in Philly: veteran defenseman Brett Bellemore, a veteran of 121 NHL games with Carolina and 300 AHL contests with Charlotte and Albany, former New York Islanders third-round pick Kirill Kabanov and rookies Richard Nejezchleb and Jayden Hart. Nejezchleb was a fifth-round selection by the Rangers as a 20-year-old in 2014 and actually started last season on the Wolf Pack roster while rehabbing an injury, before heading back to the Western Hockey League, where he was a better than a point-per-game guy (20-31-51 in 49 GP) with Brandon and Tri-City. Hart, meanwhile, is even more of a Cinderella story out of the WHL (Prince Albert), having been a tryout invite to the Rangers’ Traverse City Prospects Tournament team and having impressed enough not only to earn a spot at Ranger training camp, but to get tabbed for a preseason game as well. Hearing some real good things about him.

Ranger Preseason Opener a Chance to Impress

September 21, 2015

Took a ride down Monday to the Rangers’ MSG Training Center practice facility, which was abuzz with the excitement of the big club’s first preseason game that night at the Garden against New Jersey.

Monday’s training camp practice was divided into three groups, the second of which was the game group, consisting of the guys who were going to see action in the exhibition opener.

That game lineup included defensemen Dylan McIlrath, Brady Skjei and Chris Summers, forwards Ryan Bourque, Luke Adam, Brian Gibbons, Jayson Megna, Viktor Stalberg, Oscar Lindberg and Marek Hrivik, as well as goaltenders Antti Raanta and Magnus Hellberg.

Dylan McIlrath

Dylan McIlrath

All of those guys spent all or part of last season in the AHL (Bourque, Lindberg, McIlrath and Hrivik, of course, with the Wolf Pack) and all are in battles for whatever slots might be available in the season-opening Ranger lineup.

The general feeling among the media seemed to be that McIlrath and Lindberg, as young, relatively inexpensive players who are now subject to waivers if they are assigned to the AHL, are unlikely to end up with the Wolf Pack, and it appears certain that one of Raanta or Hellberg will be the backup in New York to Henrik Lundqvist, but nobody is assuring anybody, whether it is those individuals or anyone else, of anything at this early stage.

One thing is clear, with the Rangers tight up against the NHL salary cap, the organization is acutely aware that the depth that the Wolf Pack provides is likely to be vital to the big club’s success.

Ranger head coach Alain Vigneault referenced that Monday morning, when he said of the preseason opener, “We’ve got a lot of younger players that we want to take a look at, guys that people might say they’re more penciled in to go to Hartford. That’s not necessarily the case, it depends on how they play here, but it is an opportunity for us to get a read on, if we need them down the line, can we trust them in certain situations? And I would say if I’m a player, I’m excited about the opportunity to play a first exhibition game and show coaching and management what I’m capable of doing on the ice.”

Prospect Team gets first Win in Traverse City

September 14, 2015

After a pair of losses in which the Ranger prospect team was outscored by a combined margin of 7-2, the squad found the win column for the first time in this year’s Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament Monday, blanking the Columbus Blue Jackets prospects 4-0.

That marked the first-ever shutout for the Ranger organization in the history of its participation in the tournament, and the most prominent offensive contributions to the win were made by players who are good bets to spend some time on the Wolf Pack roster this season.

Adam Tambellini, a 2013 Ranger third-round draft pick who has exhausted his Western Hockey League eligibility, scored the only goal that it would turn out the Ranger team would need Monday, and added an assist, and Calle Andersson, a 21-year-old, Swedish-born defenseman and 2012 fourth-rounder, also scored and had a helper. Another European blueliner, Czech import Peter Zamorsky, scored a 5-on-3 power-play goal.

Adam Tambellini (BlueshirtsUnited.com)

Adam Tambellini (BlueshirtsUnited.com)

Tambellini, whose father Steve had a 553-game NHL career with the Islanders, Colorado/New Jersey, Calgary and Vancouver, and whose older brother Jeff has logged nearly 240 NHL games in his ten-year pro career and had two 30-goal seasons in the AHL, scored 47 WHL goals in 71 games with Calgary this past season and added 13 goals and 26 points in 16 playoff games. He is a tall (6-3), but slender (185 pounds) centerman, and it sounds as though his biggest challenge will be adapting to the physical grind of playing against men in the pros, after excelling for a season-and-a-half in the WHL following a short stint at the University of North Dakota.

Andersson and Zamorsky both remained in Europe last season after signing NHL deals with the Rangers in June of 2014, and it appears as though both of them are likely to make the move to this side of the pond for 2015-16. Competition will be stiff for spots on a deep Ranger blue line, so there is a good chance that Wolf Pack fans will get a peek at both Andersson and Zamorsky as they chase NHL spots.

Interestingly, both Andersson and Zamorsky left their respective home countries for their 2014-15 seasons, Andersson heading to Switzerland and Zamorsky, a Czech, starting in Finland and finishing in Andersson’s home nation of Sweden. Zamorsky had a strong finish with Orebro HK, with 1-4-5 in ten regular-season games and 2-2-4 in six playoff contests, after being named the Czech Extraliga’s best defenseman, and winning a league championship with Zlin ZPS, his hometown club, in 2013-14. Andersson, meanwhile, chalked up a total of 20 points (six goals and 14 assists) in 48 Swiss-A League games between Zug and Lugano this past season, following a 2013-14 campaign in which he did not get an opportunity to crack the top level in his home country with Malmo. He is currently the point-scoring leader for the Ranger prospect team in Traverse City, having posted an assist in the Rangers’ tournament opener, a 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild prospects Friday, to go along with his two points Monday.

Beyond the production of Tambellini, Andersson and Zamorsky, the statistical star of Monday’s win, against a Blue Jacket group that had won both of its first two Traverse City outings, was goaltender Jake Smith. He stopped 38 Columbus shots in the game, as the Ranger team was outshot 38-26. Smith is a free agent invitee from the Ontario Hockey League and is old enough to play in the AHL, at 20 years old. He had an excellent finish to his 2014-15 season with North Bay of the OHL, posting the best playoff goals-against average (2.00 in 15 games) and second-best save percentage (92.7) in the league, but faces an uphill battle to earn a spot in the Ranger goaltending hierarchy. There might be an opportunity early to make an impression, with both Mackenzie Skapski and Cedrick Desjardins likely to start the season on the injured list, but once those two are ready to play, the crease will be crowded, with Antti Raanta, Magnus Hellberg and Jeff Malcolm all also in the mix behind unquestioned Ranger number-one man Henrik Lundqvist.

Traverse City Tourney Starts Friday

September 10, 2015

The perennial first official step in the Ranger organization’s season is the Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, MI, and don’t look now, but the onset of that event is upon us.

The Wolf Pack coaching staff of head man Ken Gernander and assistants Jeff Beukeboom and Pat Boller will again be responsible for piloting the Ranger squad in Traverse City, and they departed for the journey today, with their first action being the tournament opener tomorrow, a 3:30 faceoff against the Minnesota Wild prospect team.

Mat Bodie in action at the 2014 Traverse City Prospects Tournament (courtesy of BlueshirtsUnited.com)

Mat Bodie in action at the 2014 Traverse City Prospects Tournament (courtesy of BlueshirtsUnited.com)

A roster of 24 youngsters is accompanying the Pack braintrust to northeast Michigan, and only one of them, defenseman Brady Skjei, has yet seen any action with the Wolf Pack. Four others, European defensemen Calle Andersson and Petr Zamorsky, fellow blueliner Ryan Graves, a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League product, and forward Adam Tambellini, are Ranger-signed players who are age-eligible to play in the AHL. Another six, goaltender Brandon Halverson, defensemen Ryan Mantha and Sergei Zborovskiy and forwards Ryan Gropp, Keegan Iverson and Brad Morrison, are New York draft picks who are still too young to be assigned to the Wolf Pack. The rest are tryout invitees from various Canadian Major Junior clubs.

Of those free-agent tryouts, six would be eligible for the AHL if they showed enough in Traverse City to entice a further look.

Two of those are goaltenders from the Ontario Hockey League, Taylor Dupuis (Sarnia) and Jacob Smith, and Smith is coming off of a big playoff performance this past spring. He helped his North Bay Battalion team get as far as the league semifinals, posting the best postseason goals-against average (2.00) and second-best save percentage (92.7) in the OHL.

Forward Anthony DiFruscia, another OHLer, had 26 goals, 51 points and 130 penalty minutes last season for the Niagara IceDogs, and fellow winger Jayden Hart got 11 games of AHL experience with Rochester at the end of last year, after a 22-goal, 49-point, 94-PIM campaign with Prince Albert of the Western League.

Centerman Mark Simpson, a product of the Quebec League’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan, is 6-5 (although listed at only 189 pounds), and D-man Jerret Smith (no relation to Jacob)goes 6-2 and 212 pounds and had 11 goals and 38 points in 2014-15 for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds.

Full schedule information for the Traverse City tournament can be found here, and scores, stats and other info are available through Pointstreak here.