The first phase of the run-up to the Wolf Pack’s 2016-17 season gets going Friday. That is when the Ranger prospect team, helmed by Pack coaches Ken Gernander, Pat Boller and Keith McCambridge, begins play in the annual Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan.
The Ranger team will meet the Carolina Hurricanes prospects in a 4:00 game on Friday and then will battle the Dallas Stars prospect team at 3:30 on Saturday. Sunday is a day off for the tournament, after which it will be the Rangers taking on the Minnesota Wild prospects on Monday at 3:00. The action concludes Tuesday with placement games at 3:00, 3:30 and 6:30 and the championship game at 7:00.
Gernander and Boller have experienced this tournament multiple times, and the Wolf Pack’s head man said earlier this week that the assignment is a big positive for him and his staff.
“It’s an excellent opportunity to get to see the guys, what they’re capable of on the ice, kind of get a preview, and then learn the new faces and get to know them on kind of a personal level,” Gernander elaborated. “Everything’s kind of jammed into a five-day period there where you’ve got those four games, but it’s a pretty fun environment and for us as coaches it’s an enjoyable experience because you get to meet some of these guys for the first time first-hand, and get to see some of the characteristics and some of the traits that they have, and the talent that you’ll be working with going forward.”
Gernander and his assistants will have a roster of 25 players at their disposal for the tournament, a group that includes 15 forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders. Of those 25, 12 are Ranger draft picks, five of whom are still underage Junior players and thus ineligible to play for the Wolf Pack. Four of the prospects, forwards Jimmy Vesey, Malte Stromwall and Adam Chapie and defenseman John Gilmour, are NHL free-agent signees, forward Michael Joly is on an AHL contract with the Wolf Pack and the other eight players on the roster are on tryouts.
The only individual on the prospect team who is not a pro rookie is 22-year-old defenseman Calle Andersson, who spent all of last season with the Wolf Pack, contributing five goals and four assists for nine points in 43 games.
Given Andersson’s one year of pro experience, Gernander is expecting him to be an important cog in Traverse City.
“I think he’s a good offensive defenseman, moves the puck well, sees the ice well, skates well,” the Wolf Pack bench boss said of the Swedish-born Andersson. “I’m led to believe that he’s committed himself to fitness this summer, and that too will help enhance his game. So he should be one of the guys who can take a pretty prominent role and kind of set the tone for our team.”
In addition to Andersson, Gernander’s prospect team features two players, forwards Boo Nieves and Steven Fogarty, who saw some action with the Wolf Pack this past spring at the end of their respective college seasons, and Chapie also came to Hartford and the end of his year, but was unable to play due to an injury. According to Gernander, the action in Traverse City will give a good indication of how well this trio used their summers to build on their AHL “cups of coffee” from last season.
“It’ll be a pretty good measuring stick, just to kind of see how they fit in with their graduating class or their group of peers,” he said. “With everybody kind of being on equal footing–you don’t have too many grizzled vets in this tournament—it’s their pool, kind of their graduating class, so it’s a good measuring stick.”
The most ballyhooed names on the prospect team list are those of Vesey, who won the Hobey Baker Award last season with Harvard University, and Pavel Buchnevich, a third-round Ranger pick in 2013. The Rangers prevailed over several other free-agent suitors to land Vesey, and Buchnevich finally signed with the organization in May after staying in his native Russia for his first three post-draft seasons. Both of those guys are generally expected to find their way on to the Ranger roster, and their quest to do that will begin in Traverse City.
“They’re certainly two real good prospects,” said Gernander of Vesey and Buchnevich. “They’re getting a lot of ink, so there’s a lot of anticipation to see what they can bring to the table. But just like everybody there, for the most part we’re getting a first look at them and it’s a little bit of an evaluation, but for coaches, generally, I think there’s a little bit of excitement or anticipation. ‘Here’s your new crop and here’s some real good things that they bring to the table,’ and it’s going to be a lot of fun to work with them.”