There have been many stories over the last few days about who the Rangers decided to keep on their opening night roster and who they sent down. In case you missed it, JT Miller stayed with the big team (no matter what anyone says, this was almost a given going into training camp), as did Jesper Fast (somewhat of a surprise, but it was deserved). Miller continues to grow into his role as a top nine player–ideally he will skate on a third line that can produce offensively but does a lot of checking.
Fast, however, projects to be a top six forward–a highly skilled player, who attracts the puck and makes things happen. It is not clear to me that he is actually NHL-ready, but, on the strength of his play over the last few weeks, he deserves this shot. Whether he stays in New York for any length of time is questionable though. Its hard to believe that Fast will adjust so quickly and make that big an impact, but it is possible. Not only will this depend on what he does on the ice over the next few weeks, it will also be a function of Carl Hagelin’s recovery, not to mention whether someone else in Hartford impresses–the organization will be particularly watching if Kreider comes out of the gate with guns ablazing in Hartford. Not to be a naysayer, but, absent additional injuries, I do expect Fast back in Hartford by early November.
Until then, what will the Wolf Pack look like? In total 21 were reassigned by the Rangers to their AHL affiliate over the last few weeks, and although Hartford is a different team than it was last season, it has talent than the Wolf Pack have not seen in a long time. Prospects Connor Allen, Marek Hrivik, Chris Kreider, and Oscar Lindberg were reassigned along with three others–Stu Bickel, Brandon Mashinter and Darroll Powe–this past Sunday. Bickel, Mashinter and Powe all had to pass through waivers and, as of Monday, all cleared. Cam Talbot, Tommy Hughes, Dylan McIlrath, Danny Kristo and Andrew Yogan, among others were sent down on September 25th, and Sam Noreau, Jason Wilson, Josh Nicholls and Michael St. Croix the week before. That’s quite a prospect pool.
Hartford could not keep all of them, however, and some decisions had to be made to get to the AHL season-opening roster. Monday night, the Wolf Pack announced the reassignment or release of 14 players, including four prospects the Rangers reassigned to their ECHL affiliate in Greenville–Sam Noreau, Jason Wilson, Josh Nicholls and Michael St. Croix. Wilson, who spent most of the last two seasons in the ECHL, was no surprise. To be honest, neither was Sam Noreau, a rookie pro, who is big, with a good stick, but has trouble with positioning and the speed of this level.
It is fellow rookie forwards Nicholls and St. Croix who are the surprises. Both are decent prospects who may at some point be NHL players, but neither player stood out in the Wolf Pack’s pre-season games, both are first year pros, and there just was not enough room in Hartford for players with their skill set–two way skaters without much grit–while Bickel, Mashinter and Powe are on the roster. Both are likely call-ups to Hartford at some point during the season.
That leaves us to look at the extremely strong Wolf Pack roster; it will look very different from last year’s team, but is a good mix of experienced players and rookie pros, as well as skill players and grinders. Believe it or not, one year after missing the playoffs completely, this team could compete for the Calder Cup if some of the rookie forwards perform anywhere near to what is expected.
Tomorrow, I will give an in depth analysis of the players that are starting the season with the team and give an idea of what to expect from the Wolf Pack over the coming months. Here’s a hint–even if you never have before, you should consider buying a subscription to AHL Live this season.