Monthly Archives: September 2013

Pre-Season is Over; Where are the Rangers Now?

The Rangers have made no secret of the fact that they want this to be a Stanley Cup year–that the Rangers are serious contenders for the Stanley Cup. The Rangers play this week (including two bad losses in two nights) has to be somewhat discounted as it was mostly younger players vying for roster spots, but a few telling cracks were revealed that will require some changes for that quest to come to fruition.

It is very hard to judge where the team is actually at with this pre-season schedule–two games last week on the East coast, then a bonding trip out West, with no game for five days, then four games in another five days, then back across the country to practice in NY for four days, then back out West to start the season. I understand that the charity golf tournament in Banff raised many thousands of dollars for a very worthy cause (I have interests in the area too and know what devastation has occurred), but maybe a fundraiser with a resulting big donation done from New York might have been easier on the team. Bonding is good, but West Point is only down the road, and, if the travel was lighter, the games could have been more evenly spread out.

But what is done is done. And thankfully, the pre-season is over. So, where does the team go from here? Some thoughts below.

As respects Rick Nash, he really needs someone to feed him the puck–he is not a player who can do it all himself. And he has been trying to in the pre-season. It remains to be seen whether Derek Stepan, who just signed a two-year contract late this week, is that guy. If he is, then there needs to be a smaller highly skilled guy on the other side–one dreams of a Marion Gaborik for this function, but alas he longer is here. Who that right winger will be is one of the big questions for the team. There are one or two of the younger players who I think may be able to fill this function over time (Fast, Kristo), but probably not in time for this season.

Then there is Brad Richards. He freely admits that he did not play up to par last season and has dedicated himself to improving the outcome this year. Although it is very clear to anyone who meets him or sees him working out that Richards’ intent and work ethic are some of the best on the team, after watching him over the last two weeks, one has to question whether or not all this effort will be fruitful for the Rangers. I know that others see positive changes in his game–I do not see sufficient changes in foot speed to really help the team with its “Stanley Cup now” goal.

The younger players will be discussed by management over the next couple of days. How many will be kept? Yesterday, AV suggested two young guys will remain of four competing for spots–he did not say whether that included Kreider and Miller. Lets get bold and suggest that Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin start on the IR and that Kreider and Miller are not in this race–they are regular roster members. So, that would mean that two of Fast, Lindberg, Hrivik and Mashinter will stay. Although yesterday I suggested that Mashinter should be kept out of this group of contenders, by the light of day, after watching the game last night, I am less certain that this is a good idea.

Kreider, Miller, Fast and Lindberg are the core of the Rangers future top nine. I believe that, even if Callahan and Hagelin are not on the IR to start the season, that Miller and Kreider will both be kept on the roster and given a chance to show what they can do. However, even if Callahan and Hagelin are roster players, can Fast and Lindberg stay? After watching the game last night, I think that both Fast and Lindberg should stay on the Rangers roster. What would the cost be? Veteran bangers and PKers. Fast and Lindberg both appear to be able to play on the PK, which is what will be needed if three of the more defensive forwards (including Mashinter) are waived. One tough guy can be kept from among the other forwards. It makes sense to do this, which will make this team much more exciting, more in line with AV’s system, and, once the youngsters get acclimated, there will be four good lines to roll against all opponents.

As respects the D, it has looked absolutely awful the last two games. AV’s system of having the blueliners more involved in the play has caused upheaval. I hate to single him out, but it is Dan Girardi who appears to have struggled the most. Maybe some thought should be given to changing the pairings until he can get with the new program.

As to who will stay as the seventh defenseman (and maybe eighth as AV has indicated he wants), I have to say that Conor Allen has made a good case for it to be him. But, Justin Falk and Stu Bickel would need to go through waivers to be assigned to Hartford, and it is uncertain that either would clear. Allen can be sent back without going through waivers. Extra defensemen are always needed through a season and the Rangers can’t afford to lose Falk and Bickel–especially since Marc Staal is unproven in his return (although he has looked fine thus far) and Girardi has struggled. So, I expect Allen to be returned to Hartford.

All these questions will be answered by Monday, when the Rangers have to cut to 23 players. Stay tuned.

What Prospects Are Likely to Start the Season With the Rangers?

With tonight’s game in Las Vegas against Los Angeles only four hours away, and cuts looming over the weekend, this is a big night for prospects Conor Allen, Jesper Fast, Marek Hrivik, Chris Kreider, Oscar Lindberg, Brandon Mashinter, and JT Miller. All will be in the lineup tonight, and all will be fighting to stay.

So, who is likely to make it?

Allen is the only defenseman in the group, and there is no question that he was not expected to be in this position. One member of the organization even suggested to me in training camp that Allen might be playing part of the season in the ECHL. No one seems to be thinking that at this point. AV has said that he would like to keep eight defensemen, and if that is true, Allen has a real shot at being one of them. If only seven are kept though, which is frankly a more likely scenario, Allen is almost certainly going to be taking the bus to Hartford when the team comes back east.

The situation at forward is much more complicated. Assuming that Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin are not ready for opening day (which is pretty good assumption), no moves are made over the weekend, and AV only keeps seven D-men, there is room for two of the six forwards that are listed above. I believe that Miller has solidified his spot, so absent his injury, there is one spot left. Prior to the pre-season, it was assumed that Kreider would get one of those two spots. But now, it is not nearly as certain. Kreider has at times looked lost on the ice, catching up to the play, and making the wrong decisions. He did play a little better with Miller earlier in the week, but tonight will be the decision-maker for him (Kreider will play with Boyle and Fast tonight). Frankly, I think it would be best for him to start on the top line in Hartford than stay with the big club for now, but I think that there is pressure to make a success of Kreider this year rather than taking it more slowly, so he may stay.

Fast was not that impressive early in training camp, but really showed excellent skill and high energy in last week’s second pre-season game. He didn’t put up any points on the board, but he turned heads. Lindberg on the other hand, did not look like much thus far in the pre-season games, but he was absolutely spectacular in both Traverse City and in training camp. If there is only one other spot, I believe that the Rangers will give it to Lindberg, but I don’t think that he is ready for it. I would rather see both Fast and Lindberg also start in Hartford and see which one (or maybe both) stands out. Fast, Lindberg, Kristo and Kreider fighting for NHL roster spots while in the AHL will make for some battle.

Hrivik has looked good on the ice during the pre-season, but he really needs to contribute to the offense more than he has thus far. He has one more shot to do so on a line with Miller and Lindberg tonight. There are also injury worries with Hrivik long-term, but that should not affect the Rangers’ decision as to who to keep right now (when Callahan and Hagelin come back, it is likely that Hrivik will be sent down anyway). My thought, however, is that unless he blows everyone out of the water tonight, Hrivik starts the season in Hartford.

Then there is Mashinter, who it is my belief should have the inside track. He can be tough, he can skate, and he has put up points in the AHL. Older than any of the other prospects, at 25, Mashinter would have to clear waivers to be sent back to the Wolf Pack–a good spare part for the team, especially if there are some moves to help with cap issues, it seems to me that Mashinter should be the winner of the last roster spot.

Latest Wolf Pack News

Before I even had a chance to post last night’s game review (I drove for many hours between last night and today), Hartford announced its first cuts this afternoon. Eight tryout players were released, including forwards J.T. Barnett, Jean-Philip Chabot, Angelo Esposito, Tyler Gjurich, and Matt Thurber. Additionally, blueliners Brad Cole, Jace Coyle, and Bretton Stamler.

Of particular note are three of these players, who I hope will find another spot–two of whom I believe were let go as part of the numbers game. First, Gjurich, who had a goal in the first two pre-season games, can pass, has great vision, and good hockey IQ was let go. Arguably one of the best players on the ice the last two nights, one has to think that someone else will pick up the 21-year old former member of the Buffalo Jr. Sabres. Attending Hartford’s camp on an ATO, Gjurich played last season on the OJHL Buffalo Jr. Sabres. Hard to believe, but he is still college eligible. There are lots of options for Gjurich, who was the third star in last night’s game.

Angelo Esposito was injured on the second shift of the first pre-season game and did not get another chance to perform under his PTO. This is not the first time that injuries have plagued the former first round selection in the 2007 NHL Draft. Once thought to be a number one overall candidate, he always was an offensive wizard, but short on playing in his own end. Then when he seemed to step up that kind of play, he just could not stay healthy. Now at age 24, Esposito may have run out of elite pro hockey chances.

Bretton Stamler did play in both games this week. A former Red Wings pick (7th round in 2005), the 26-year old Stamler was visible, fighting twice last night, and was up and down on defense. He is no doubt a victim of the numbers–basically there is no room for him on the blueline of this team.

Some of the Rangers’ reassigned players are expected to play tonight. I am not in Springfield, so I won’t be tweeting tonight, but will try to get the inside scoop of what goes on.

Hartford Wolf Pack Defeat Worcester 5-2

When the Wolf Pack took the ice in Cromwell tonight, there were very few players who were on last year’s team. Yet, after initially looking a little tentative, they took over the game and defeated the Sharks 5-2.

Goals for Hartford were scored by ex-Rangers prospect Brodie Dupont, Tyler Gjurich, and Brandon Hynes (2). Michael St. Croix then topped off the victory with an empty netter with 39 seconds left in the game. Worcester goals were potted by Josh Kidd and Marek Viedensky.

The game really was not close, as toward the end of the first period, the Wolf Pack took over the play and never looked back. It was the third and the fourth line that did most of the scoring, with two goals from the third and one from the fourth line. The team played short one skilled forward, after Angelo Esposito was hit hard early in the first period and did not return. Had that not happened, the Pack might have won by an even larger margin, as the other members of that second line were going well tonight.

The lines for the game:

Forwards
Starters: Ryan Bourque/Brodie Dupont/Shawn O’Donnell
Josh Nicholls/Angelo Esposito/Michael St. Croix
Andrew Rowe/Sean Ambrosie/Brandon Hynes
Jason Wilson/Jean-Phillip Chabot/Tyler Gjurich

Defense
Starters: Brendon Nash/Sam Noreau
Brad Cole/Charlie Dodero
Mike Marcou/Bretton Stamler

Goal
Starting: Jeff Malcolm
Jason Missiaen

The first thing you will notice regarding this lineup is how few names you have ever heard of. Many of these players are new and on either ATOs or PTOs. In other words, they are playing for a contract during the pre-season. With probably another five to seven players coming back to Hartford during or soon after the weekend, several of these guys will not be here next week. So, it is no wonder that the level of intensity was high tonight.

Let’s focus on a few of players that either stood out or are Rangers’ prospects:

Malcolm: We should all agree that without Malcolm, Yale would never have won the NCAAs last season. I am not an NCAA expert, but its not likely that the Elis will repeat this year without him. Malcolm, who signed an AHL contract in July, is looking for a job at this level, and although, with Cam Talbot coming back and Jason Missiaen here, Malcolm is likely to play in the ECHL to start, he played well tonight. Malcolm uses his height very well and is very quick, and he is willing to stop the puck with any part of his body (tonight he stopped one of the pucks with his head), but generally the former Eli plays too deep in net and moves around too much. Malcolm does not go out to challenge the shooter often (even though when he does, he is successful), and sometimes, he goes down too early. He has the potential though to be a successful goalie at this level though and with some goalie coaching by Benoit Allaire, Malcolm could be an NHL prospect.

Noreau: Noreau is a work in progress. Tonight, he often got caught out of position, but is he very good with his very long hockey stick. At 6’5″, Noreau has an excellent wingspan, and he knows how to place his stick in a position to break up plays. Several times, I saw an opposing player go around Noreau and for him to reach back and in and break up the play. I am not sure that this would work at the NHL level, but the rookie will have a couple of years to learn more about playing D–maybe at this level, maybe in Greenville.

Bourque–He played in all situations tonight. There is no question that Bourque has the speed to play at this level. He made a couple of beautiful moves and excellent passes, where his teammate shot the puck and either missed the net or it resulted in a save. He was very active tonight and played very well with returning player Brodie Dupont. They seemed to have chemistry, which likely will be explored further in coming games. Bourque’s challenge seems to be strength on the puck. He is easily knocked over and the puck stripped from him–when he is caught by a defender. He has his work cut out for him in this contract year, but he does have a chance if he can build more upper body strength.

Dupont–The former Rangers’ draftee is back on a PTO and should earn himself a contract for the season. A good AHL veteran leader, Dupont brings both face off ability and maturity and leadership to this young team–not to mention offensive production. He could be the next captain of the Wolf Pack.

St. Croix–St. Croix scored an empty netter and assisted on the other third period tally (by Hynes). He seems to attract the puck and to make things happen with it. We shall have to see what happens when he has a full complement of skill players on his line, but St. Croix has the potential to stand out this year and get a real chance with the NHL team nexgt season.

Nicholls–No points, no mention anywhere, but he showed very good ice awareness and hockey IQ tonight. Nicholls did the little things that do not show up on the scoresheet. I was very impressed with his awareness and poise on the ice.

Hynes–Here on an ATO after completing 5 years in the Q, Hynes is a very small player, who has great hands and a nose for the net. He can be explosive and has a high hockey IQ. Hynes can finish and can wind up being one of the go to guys on this team. Expect Hartford to sign him before the beginning of the season.

Just a final word–Rangers prospects Kyle Jean and Scott Stajcer were scratched tonight due to injury.

See you tomorrow night in Hartford. You can also follow me on twitter @HFNYRANGERS.

Rangers Send Nine Players to Hartford, Cutting Short Certain Prospects’ Western Canada Trip

The Rangers announced this afternoon that nine players were reassigned to Hartford, including forwards Michael Haley, Michael Kantor, Danny Kristo, and Andrew Yogan. Defensemen Dylan McIlrath, Tommy Hughes, Aaron Johnson, and Danny Syvret were also assigned to the AHL. Finally, netminder Cam Talbot was sent back.

So, lets be honest here and say there was only one surprise among the group–Danny Kristo. Kristo was expected to be one of the last cuts, certainly after Marek Hrivik and most likely Jesper Fast. But, over the last week, it became clear that he was not ready. He was unable to finish or to show his flashy evasive moves with the puck. He needs to get used to the pro game. The top line in Hartford will be perfect for him.

The other big name on the list is Dylan McIlrath, who the Rangers were really hoping would be the seventh defenseman this season. But he just was not ready. He says his knee is 100%, but frankly, his pivoting was not the best. Neither was his defensive positioning. His game is just not there.

Both Kristo and McIlrath could be ready during the season, but sending them back early to get an AHL pre-season game in this weekend in Cromwell is a good idea. The Wolf Pack need the skill of both players right now.

As for Cam Talbot, the idea that he was in the running for NHL backup was never to be taken seriously. If he does get that spot this season, it will be because one of Henrik Lundqvist or Marty Biron is injured. He should be ready next season though, and that’s when the Rangers will be ready to make the choice of whether or not he will be backup to Henrik (of course, I am assuming that Lundqvist re-signs).

Expect the Rangers to make further cuts this weekend.

Season for Rangers’ CHL Prospects Begins Tomorrow Night

Four Rangers’ prospects will be playing in the CHL this season–Mackenzie Skapski, Anthony Duclair, Ryan Graves and Troy Donnay. Although the season for the each of the three CHL leagues–WHL, OHL and QMJHL–begins tonight, each of the Rangers’ prospect’s team does not play until tomorrow.

Skapski, the Rangers seventh round selection in 2013, was returned to the WHL Kootenay Ice after the Traverse City prospects tournament was completed earlier this month. Facing the Red Deer Rebels at home tomorrow night, Skapski is expected to be in net. In the only WHL pre-season game Skapski appeared in, last Sunday, Kootenay defeated the Calgary Hitmen 6-3. Skapski played all 60 minutes and stopped 29 of 32 shots.

Duclair, the Rangers third 3rd rounder in this summer’s draft, was just returned to the QMJHL Quebec Remparts this past Sunday. In camp until then, he impressed everyone with his skating abilities. I did a lengthy private interview with Duclair over the weekend, which will be published over the coming week on the Hockey’s Future main site, so watch for it, but suffice it to say that he owned up to a less than stellar 2012-13 and is looking to step forward from his excellent 2011-12 rookie QMJHL season. He will get a fresh start under new head coach Philippe Boucher, playing with the Remparts in their first game tomorrow night at Baie-Comeau.

Graves,a fourth round selection in 2013, will also begin his season tomorrow night. He will appear for the first time in a Charlottetown uniform (the PEI Rocket having been renamed after last season), anchoring a defense that should play a big part in Charlottetown’s hopes for the 2013-14 season. The team will play in Cape Breton, and Graves, who is returning to the team for his third season, should be a cornerstone of the Islanders blueline.

Finally, 19 year old Donnay, who the Rangers signed as a free agent this past summer, will also begin his season with the OHL Erie Otters in Guelph. This should be the last junior season for the very big blueliner, who served as an Otters alternate captain last year. Donnay was very noticeable for his size in training camp, but he was clearly not ready for prime time. Returned to Erie earlier this week, he will almost certainly turn pro after this season.

This is almost certainly the smallest group of prospects that the Rangers have had playing in the CHL in many years. Due in large part to a change in drafting and development philosophy since Gordie Clark took the reigns, more players have arrived at the pro ranks in shorter periods of time than used to occur. Most of the players selected in the last few years have been either college bound or European players, and while many of the Euro players used to come over and develop in the CHL, recently, more have stayed home to develop (eg, Jesper Fast). Those who have been drafted on the route to college have either stayed in school for several years or played in the CHL for one year and then turned pro (eg, JT Miller). Consequently, those of us covering prospects have fewer players to watch in the Canadian major junior leagues. But many more in Hartford. It is a trend that bears watching, and talking more about as the season moves along.

Hartford Announces Training Camp Roster and Schedule

The AHL Wolf Pack Training camp started today–with physicals and off-ice testing. The first practice will begin Friday and go through Tuesday. Wednesday is the first pre-season game, to be played against Worchester (the Sharks AHL affiliate) in Cromwell, CT, with another game the following night at the XL Center in Hartford against the Albany Devils. Friday September 27, there will be a game in Albany, with the Wolf Pack’s pre-season ending in Cromwell on Sunday, September 29, against Springfield in Simsbury, CT. The regular season opens Saturday night October 5, 2013 at home against the Norfolk Admirals (affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks).

The training camp roster is as follows:

Goalies: Jeff Malcolm, Jason Missiaen, Scott Stajcer
Defensemen: Brad Cole, Jace Coyle, Charlie Dodero, Sam Klassen, Jason Lepine, Mike Marcou, Brendon Nash, Samuel Noreau, Bretton Stamler
Forwards: Sean Ambrosie, Scott Arnold, J.T. Barnett, Ryan Bourque, Andrew Carroll, Jean-Philipp Chabot, Brodie Dupont, Angelo Esposito, Tyler Gjurich, Brandon Hynes, Kyle Jean, Matt Kirzinger, Josh Nicholls, Shawn O’Donnell, Andrew Rowe, Michael St. Croix, Matt Thurber, Jason Wilson

So, that’s the official stuff. Let’s take a closer look at who’s on this roster.

Goalies
All three goaltenders were in the Rangers training camp. Malcolm is the NCAA champion Yale’s former netminder, who looked good in Traverse City and okay in camp, but not enough to win an ELC. Both Missiaen and Stajcer are Rangers’ prospects. Stajcer is coming off hip surgery and will just be skating for the first time this week. I expect that it will take him some time to be ready to play in a game. Missiaen should be Talbot’s backup to start the season. Currently with the Rangers on their Western pre-season trip, it is pretty sure that, absent injury, it will be Biron that is the NHL backup this season. Stajcer, when he returns likely will play in Greenville, in the ECHL. Malcolm may start there as well, if he signs within the Rangers organization.

Defensemen
The Wolf Pack will open camp with nine defensemen, but how many of these players will be on the roster by October 15th? The Rangers have 13 defenseman that are still on their pre-season roster after today’s cuts–all under contract. Even if New York keeps eight of the 13, which is unlikely, that’s still five blueliners coming down to Hartford. One or two of those could be sent to the ECHL, but there’s not much room for new D-men on this team.

That said, let’s go over who will be at camp on the blueline.

Brad Cole is 26 and has spent the last two seasons skating in Austria. He played both in the AHL and ECHL previously. He is mostly a defensive blueliner, with good size and some nastiness.

Jace Coyle is 23 and big (6’4″). He has spent the last two seasons in the Dallas Stars organization, mostly in the ECHL.

Charlie Dodero, age 20, is in his rookie pro season (after four years of OHL hockey). He played in Traverse City this fall and was brought to the Rangers training camp, but reassigned to the Wolf Pack this past Sunday.

Sam Klassen, 24, a former Rangers prospect. After spending most of the first two seasons of his pro career with Greenville in the ECHL, Klassen skated with the Connecticut Whale last season. A decent size defensive blueliner, with all the defensemen that may come down from New York, Klassen’s position on this team is not secure this season.

Jason Lepine, 28 years old, has been playing in Europe the past few seasons. Most of his North American professional career has been spent at the AA level.

At age 24, Mike Marcou is a former collegiate blueliner who showed some offensive abilities in Greenville last season, but the question is can he skate well enough to be able to show off that skill at this level.

Brendon Nash, 26 years old, is a free agent after playing in three organizations last season. He only saw action at the AHL level and is expected to be a regular member of the Wolf Pack this season.

Twenty-year old Sam Noreau was recently signed to an ELC by the Rangers. Very big, with some skating issues, he has improved his positioning and decision making since being drafted in the 5th round in 2011. Noreau is someone on the bubble. If he can show that he can keep up with the skating at this level during training camp, he will stay in Hartford, even if his defense is not quite up to par.

Bretton Stamler is a 26-year old defensive defenseman, who skated in the ECHL the past two seasons. Although he will get a look in this camp, he is likely to start the season back with Greenville.

Forwards
Where things get interesting is here–among the forwards. There are some familiar names–in Ryan Bourque, Kyle Jean (who is injured), and Jason Wilson–all of whom are Rangers prospects and played with the team last season. Brodie Dupont, 26, a former Rangers prospect, who was a character player, a leader on this team, who also has the ability to create offense, is back in camp. Dupont played in Europe last season and could be a long term addition to the team.

Then there is Angelo Esposito. For those of you who don’t know, for several years before the 2007 draft, Esposito was expected to be the number one pick overall in the draft. He had amazing skill, creativity, vision. By his draft year, things had changed–there were questions about his game–whether it would transfer to the pro level. Could he be successful when he was not the star player on the team. I watched him in those years and Esposito was a wizard. By the time of the draft, Esposito dropped to 20th overall–it was the Penguins that selected him. But then they traded him to Atlanta less than a year later–at the trade deadline–as part of the deal that sent Marian Hossa to Pittsburgh. He suffered injuries and languished in the Thrashers organization. He wound up playing out his ELC in a combination of the AHL/ECHL in 2011-12. Last year, he played in Europe, and did not exactly light up the ice. The question is who is he at age 24? Can he be anything like what he was at age 16? If so, and the Rangers can sign him as a UFA, that would be very exciting. Otherwise, it would be a terrible shame–Esposito was unquestionably one of the more talented juniors I have ever had the pleasure to see play this game.

As for the other forwards:

Sean Ambrosie, 24, C, who just graduated from the University of Connecticut, and was one of the team’s leading scorers.

Scott Arnold, 24, RW, who spent most of last season in the ECHL with the Gwinnett Gladiators.

JT Barnett, 21, RW, who was in Rangers training camp and Traverse City. He is a good two-way player out of the WHL.

Andrew Carroll, 28, C, a tough guy, who split his time between the Connecticut Whale and the ECHL last season.

Jean-Philipp Chabot, 25, C, an enforcer who has spent the last two seasons in the Central Hockey League.

Tyler Gjurich, 21, a small forward who was an offensive wizard for the OJHL Buffalo Jr. Sabres.

Brandon Hynes, 21, RW, who spent five years in the QMJHL. A good offensively gifted diminutive forward, Hynes may be able to provide offense for the club.

Matt Kirzinger, 25, C, just completed four years of eligibility at Ferris State University. Injured last season, he did not get to show his full abilities, which he should be able to display in the coming weeks.

Josh Nicholls, 21, RW, is a Rangers prospect. Signed as a free agent last spring, Nicholls was very impressive in training camp this fall. Offensively gifted, he is expected to stay at this level this season.

Shawn O’Donnell, 25, RW, was invited to Rangers training camp and even played in a pre-season NHL game this past Monday. O’Donnell just completed four years at St. Mary’s University and has some offensive upside. He will get a good look in the Wolf Pack camp. I saw some skating issues over the past week, but he has good strength and may be able to stick in the AHL.

Andrew Rowe, 25, LW, is a fourth year pro, who spent most of last season with Elmira in the ECHL.

Michael St. Croix, 20, is a Rangers prospect, who is expected to be a very good two-way player. A veteran of Traverse City and Rangers training and development camps, St. Croix has yet to show his best talent outside of his play with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL.

Matt Thurber, F, 23, completed his collegiate career last spring. The small forward had excellent numbers for his last two seasons at Northern Michigan and could be a welcome addition to the offense-challenged Hartford team.

So that’s who will be in camp for the next week. Of course, there will be more additions as the Rangers re-assign more players over the coming weeks.

Rangers Send Five Players to Hartford

The Rangers announced this morning that they have sent five players to Hartford, and will take 39 players on the Western pre-season trip (not including Derek Stepan).

Included in the group reassigned are Brendon Nash, Ryan Bourque, Josh Nicholls, Shawn O’Donnell, and Michael St. Croix. Nicholls and St. Croix, both of whom will be first year pros this season, did not appear in either of the two pre-season games this week. Neither Nicholls nor St. Croix had a chance of making the NHL team, but each had a decent camp, so they were likely kept with the big team after Sunday’s first cuts.

Bourque, who is the final year of his ELC, did not play in the pre-season games either. He did improve his play significant last season in Connecticut, but will have to continue on that same or an even better trajectory for the Rangers to re-sign him.

As for O’Donnell, who played on Monday night in New Jersey, the former St. Mary’s University player is likely to be offered an AHL contract sometime over the next couple of weeks.

Twenty-six year old Brendon Nash, is a defenseman who has spent two seasons with three AHL teams thus far–Hartford will be his fourth team in the league since 2010. He had an excellent rookie pro season after Cornell (30 points in 75 games with Hamilton) in 2010-11, but has never come near replicating that achievement again. His ELC expired at the end of last seasons and he was hoping to catch on in New York, but it did not happen.

As far as the backup goalie battle is concerned. The Rangers announced late this morning that Johan Hedberg, who did a good job between the pipes during camp, has been released from his PTO. So, it will be Henrik Lundqvist, Marty Biron and Cam Talbot going on the Western trip.

Rangers Win 3-2 in Second Pre-Season Battle

The Rangers traveled down the New Jersey Turnpike last night to take on the Philadelphia Flyers in their second pre-season battle in two nights. The result was a positive 3-2 win for the Blueshirts, as the coaching staff and front office got an excellent opportunity to evaluate both the lines and pairings, in preparation for reassignments today.

The first period was a lot of back and forth, with the Rangers dominating in both puck possession time and the face-off circle, but they were not able to beat Phillie netminder Steve Mason. What was very noticeable about New York was how aggressive they were, attacking the puck, with the defense pinching into the offensive zone, and with the third and fourth lines hitting hard and active on the forecheck. The Flyers were limited to three shots on the period, but all were good scoring chances, and Marty Biron, who was supposedly auditioning to be Henrik Lundqvist’s backup this season, did very well between the pipes.

At 1:10 in the second period, Mats Zuccarello passed from behind the net to Derick Brassard in the slot and, on a quick release, the Rangers went ahead, 1-0. The Brassard line, which had Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot on it last night, looked like they already had developed some chemistry in the scrimmage last weekend. Expect to see more of them together, as the new coaching staff’s philosophy is much more pre-disposed toward established lines than was John Tortorella and his staff.

Brassard’s goal was the first of two for the Rangers in the period. However, a Dylan McIlrath turnover led to a Flyers’ goal in between. Biron, who made some more big saves to start the period, had been replaced as planned by Cam Talbot in net, but this one was hardly Cam’s fault. Former Ranger Kris Newbury took the puck, got it to Hal Gill, who fed it to an open Maxime Talbot. Easy goal, embarrassing mistake.

Darroll Powe was credited with the Rangers’ second goal of the game, but frankly, although Powe did a good job of going to the net, it was Andrew Yogan who shot the puck from almost along the goal line to the front that should get most of the credit. Yogan, who needs to make an impression this season and had the least amount of ice time of any Rangers’ player last night, will start the season in Hartford.

The second period ended with the Rangers leading 2-1.

Early in the third, another McIlrath error led to Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier tying the game at 2 goals a piece. The final score of the night was by the Rangers–that same Brassard line that showed so much chemistry earlier in the game. This time, the goal went to Pouliot, off a feed from Brassard. McIlrath got the secondary assist, getting the puck to the scoring area.

Notes

1. The Brassard line is likely to be the second line to start the season with Nash, Richards, and Kreider line being considered number one. The line is effective thus far on the ice, but Brassard was not very good on face-offs last night (winning only 9 of 21–43%). He will have to improve that figure for this line to be successful during the season.

2. Jesper Fast, who played with Oscar Lindberg and Tom Pyatt, was one of the better players on the ice last night. Although he did not figure in the scoring, he is a very speedy and shifty skater, and he handles the puck very well. The only problem I saw was some lack of strength with the puck–he was knocked off the puck several times by bigger stronger players. Oscar Lindberg, who was so impressive in Traverse City and earlier in camp, did not stand out much last night. He was less than 50% in the face-off circle and did not get any outstanding scoring chances. He played in all situations, including on the PK, but had none of the pizzazz he showed earlier.

3. Although Powe got a goal last night and he won more than 50% of the face-offs he took, he had a very difficult evening. Positioning issues plagued him, and his taking a penalty in the second period added to the momentum the Flyers had built up from Talbot’s goal. Powe will need to play better to stay with this team.

4. Michael Kantor had six hits last night, which was a team high for the game. No question that he is a tough customer–he does not look NHL-ready though. He had a very difficult night with his defensive game.

5. Dylan McIlrath has started to show why the team was so high on him going into the draft. As mentioned above, he made some major errors last night. Most of that was decision-making, which he certainly will need to work on. But, he has a very good shot and he can be very difficult to get past when he stays in the defensive zone and protects his netminder. I know that the coaching staff is encouraging the defense to step up when they see the opportunity, but I am not sure that this should be McIlrath’s game right now. If he stays back and just defends, he looks almost ready.