The New York Rangers have three prospects that have spent most of the 2008-09 season in the ECHL. Two, Mike Busto and Ryan Hillier, are skating for the Rangers affiliate Charlotte Checkers, while Tomas Zaborsky was recently reassigned from the Checkers to the Dayton Bombers.
Michael Busto, D
Acquired: Free Agent, Signed May 2, 2007
Busto was signed as a free agent after the completion of the 2006-07 WHL season. A big tough, blueliner, who showed a scoring touch for the Kootenay Ice in his fourth and fifth year of major junior, Busto is in his second year of ECHL hockey, but is not yet an effective pro player.
Head coach Derek Wilkinson said of Busto last month, "his skill set is getting better, but his intensity level needs to improve, and he has just got to get a little more assertive. The talent is there now, the drive just needs to match it."
Thus far, Busto has been in and out of the Checkers’ game lineup, and has had a -11 in the games in which he has played. Even though Busto missed part of last season due to injury, according to Wilkinson, "the bar was set higher for him this year as a second-year guy. There are days he matches it and days he falls short."
Busto only has a year and half more of his contract to show the Rangers that he can play at this level and higher. Although Wilkinson did not say so, the kind of inconsistency that Busto has shown will keep him from being a regular in the AHL, no less with the Rangers. At this point, Busto is a long shot to make the NHL.
Ryan Hillier, LW
Acquired: 3rd round (84th overall) 2006 NHL Entry Draft
Slowed early on by a groin problem, Hillier took quite a bit of time to make the difficult adjustment from junior to professional play.
According to Wilkinson, Hillier came to Charlotte with some habits that were difficult to break. He "admits that he had no concern for D-zone, for play away from the puck," Wilkinson said.
That said, Wilkinson admires Hillier’s skill set and thinks that Hillier "is a great kid. He’s starting to figure out that doing it on the ice and the right way is what is going to get him ahead. I’m proud of him for turning it around. It took him awhile, but [Hillier is] asking the right questions, making smart plays, getting more chances. He’s maturing and getting it. The light bulb has gone on. He’s trending in the right direction."
Since the end of December, Hillier has seven points in 10 games, and he looks completely different on the ice. Defensively responsible, confident, and choosing his spots, Hillier has become a professional hockey player. It is very possible that he will spend the en tire season with the Checkers, but, if he continues to play as he has of late, Hillier should be ready to start next season in Hartford.
Tomas Zaborsky, C/LW
Acquired: 5th round, 137th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft
Zaborsky’s rookie professional season has been a roller coaster ride. He started in Charlotte and, after a turbulent three months there, now plays for the Dayton Bombers. Since being reassigned to the Bombers during the holidays, he has been very productive offensively, having scored three game-winning goals in the last week.
His former coach Wilkinson admitted in December that Zaborsky, "has a great mind for the game," but wanted the young forward to become "a two-way player, who can play on any line. Play in all kinds of situations. Not just get points."
Zaborsky, however, was very unhappy with how he was being used by the Checkers and wanted a change. Since the reassignment, his ice time has increased, he is now a first line player, and is being given a chance to showcase his offensive skills. However, Zaborsky’s offensive talents were never in question. Consistent effort on both sides of the puck is what the Rangers have been looking for. Whether the change in teams will inspire the talented young forward to become a complete, two-way player is unclear, but he is happier in his new environs, which will give him the best chance to reach his goal of becoming an NHL player.
Note: Mike Taylor, a forward on an AHL contract and playing for the Checkers, is worthy of mention here. The Harvard University graduate has shown that he has the ability to become an excellent professional player. Used in all situations, and giving a consistent effort each night, Wilkinson says Taylor "can do it all." Taylor was not offered an NHL contract prior to this season, however, the 22-year old is a player to watch as he has improved his skating and shown that he is a smart, gritty two-way forward.