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.