As the summer heats up the Rangers are looking for the right pieces to fix the problem now and for the future. The signing of Mark Messier was one move that was welcomed by all in Rangerland but the signing of enigmatic Vlad.Malakhov is one that caused the good shipmate Schneider too look elsewhere for employment and so continues the questions of which direction the Rangers are headed.
RANGERS INK 3:
Johan Holmqvist 22, appeared in 41 games with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League last season. He posted a solid 2.57 goals against average and four shutouts. Holmqvist was selected in the 1997 Entry Draft by the Rangers legendary Scandinavian scout Christer Rockstrøm and it is a wonder Glen Sather has kept him “sarcasm 101”. Holmqvist led Brynås to the Swedish Championship in 1999 and has played more than 100 games in the Elite Series. He is highly respected and the 6-1 190 pounder is thought to be the next great Swedish Goalie. He will likely play in Hartford of AHL next season to become accustomed to the North American style. Holmqvist joins new signee Vitali Yeremeyev Yeremeyev 24, who appeared in 26 games with Dynamo Moscow of the Russian League, he posted a league-leading 1.23 goals against average albeit in a very defensive minded system. Yeremeyev also posted a league leading seven shutouts. He appeared in 7 contests with Team Kazakhstan in the 1998 Olympics.Yeremeyev, New York’s 11th pick,in the 1994 NHL Draft.He has come about with much less fanfare than Holmqvist or Holmqvist`s teammate and fellow Ranger high prospect Johan Asplund at Brynås, Daniel Cloutier now of Tampa Bay (NHL) or even newly signed Jason Labarbera. Yeremeyev is thought to be a nice future no.3 NHL goalie with a shot at a higher position if he can adapt to the different North American style. He will likely appear in Hartford of the AHL and or Charlotte of the ECHL next season.
The third signing was announced later of 2000 pick and International Star Martin Richter (no relation to Mike), a smooth skating 6-1 200 pound 22 year old defender. Richter finnished last season with Saipa of the Finnish League. Spilt he added 1 goal and 8 assists in 50 odd games, 26 with Saipa and 24 in his native Czech Republic. Richter was a ninth round selection of the Rangers and maybe the most NHL ready of all the selections in 2000.
Look for him to play in Hartford and perhaps, just maybe in New York for a cup of coffee.
The previous two signings are interesting as there
is now a serious logjam in the nets. Holmqvist and Yeremeyev join AHLers Milan Hnilinka, JF Labbe and Jeff Heil along with Jason Labarbera and Bryce Wandler in the nets all fighting for 3 AHL positions and 2 ECHL positions. Only Heil and perhaps Wandler are possible ECHL material with Holmqvist likely to team with the two current AHLers for ice time. Thus… rumors have to persist… I would see Hnilinka perhaps joining former Czech National Boss Ivan Hlinka in Pittsburgh whom Milan played for in past Intl.tourneys including the 1999 World Championships. Milan is perhaps the most NHL ready of the Rangers crop but will not see ice in New York unless injury or trades have their way with Mike Richter and or Kirk McLean. If a deal is done… look for the Rangers to bolster their AHL defensive depth with a player like Sven Butenschon and perhaps a late pick. Labbe would be interesting in a deal with Montreal or to an expansion club and would be a nice no.2 in one of those places. Both Labbe and Hnilinka had cups of coffee last season in New York and both played in front of horrid defenses.
With little room in the inne until the Quintal deal is consumated or never realized it appears Hartford defender Alexei Vasiliev has been given the nod to take a shot in New York. Although he had a forgettable post season in New York Vasiliev is the most NHL ready defender in the Rangers system. He had a one game appearance last season and may have a shot at unseeding Jason Doig as the last man on the bench. Vasiliev does not bring much size 190lbs, but has a set of nice hands to go along with bad judgement. He is clearly not the answer for the future nor`is Doig who has done his best Eric Cairns/Rumun Ndur impersonation in trying to talk his way out of a job, albeit last man on bench position. The hulking defender has a shot and can move the puck around for a 230 pounder… he will see atleast some ice in New York but where?
Tomas Kloucek has also been given an open invite to apply for the last man job. This 200 pounder has excellent skating skills and plays a solid defense first style that the Rangers so badly need, especially with Kim Johnsson and Vlad.Malakhov in camp already. He will likely see a few games in New York until something is done.
Mike Mottau another under 200 pounder plays bigger than his size and has excellent eyes for attacking play. Although he is not under contract it is expected he will be prior to the opening of camp. Mottau has appeared in the last two World Senior Championships with Team USA and will be followed by fellow Hockey Easter and Ranger pick Pat Aufiero in the future. It is said the Mottau has matured even more by playing in the spring games with the USA against the NHL level competition. The difference between Mottau and the rest of the prospects is … he can play both ways, defense and offense. Pat Aufiero will likley return to college. Arto Laatikainen and fine skating 190 pound Finn defender has a chance to quietly steal a spot in the camps to come. Watch out for him. Even with but four goals last season this Finn can score in a more open system.
Jeff Dessner who tallied 11 goals last season at Wisconsin looks to add a few more pounds to his already physical 195 build. Dessner is about a year away from a solid shot at this club.
Evgeny Gusakov, the monster winger with a knack for the net is on the radar screen. Albeit a project this big winger may develop into Vlad.Vorobiev or….similar or… into a banging winger that Russia has yet to export to this side. With his junior experience… Gusakov scored 25 goals with Baie Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)and added 135 PIMs. He will likely return to juniors this season.
Rudolf Vercik appears on the screen again… although he tallied only 8 goals in the Czech Republic this kid is looking for a spot in Hartford. Felled by injuries Vercik is out to prove that he has not lost his abilities. But can he play in the hit and run AHL?
Brandon Dietrich, the 22 year old winger from St.Lawrence brings his 180 frame into camp with the Rangers. He tallied 20 goals in 1999 and is projected to be assigned to Hartford in the first week. He is overshadowed by recent pick Dom.Moore of Harvard but this may work to his advantage as the Waterloo, Ont. native has a skill of playing at a higher level in times like these. He may have something to prove. Look for him to see time in Hartford and the ECHL with Charlotte.
With the possible signing of Claude Lemeiux the Rangers just do not have many spots available for prospects. The middle position is taking already with Messier, Nedved, York and Taylor… thus Manny Malhotra will play in Hartford or move to wing… Johan Witehall, still a free agent may return to Sweden in the footsteps of former disgruntled Swede Johan Lindblom which is a shame as Johan is perhaps the top skater in Hartford without a chance in New York. Brendl, our Pavel may have a shot at wing…pending the situation of Lemeiux, MacLean and others… but not terribly likely… Lundmark will have to unseat Taylor for icetime which is not likely unless injury fells him… so basically we have one, perhaps two spots on defense open, looks to be one for Purinton, or Sather will be without a tough guy….Langdon still recovering… and perhaps , just perhaps one spot on offense. The guns are loaded… maybe we shall wait til waiver draft to find a spot for a kid… but as of now…looks like the timbers for this ship Ranger as the just as old last year.
Until Next Time…