Twenty-six young players attended the New York Rangers Development Camp at the Madison Square Garden Training Center this past week. From Monday through Friday, five of the 2009 NHL Draft selections joined six previous draftees, six free-agent signees, and nine invitees for the program. The attendees worked out, listened to speakers regarding nutrition and fitness, and took to the ice to show off their skills before the team’s GM, assistant GM, Director of Player Personnel, and other Rangers staff.
The players were on the ice every morning for close to two hours. For the first two days, both the skaters and netminders performed skating drills. Although only one five-on-five scrimmage was scheduled for Friday, by Wednesday morning, the skaters were divided into teams and skated three-on-three and four-on-four for at least a part of the on-ice session.
A review of the participants’ play follows.
Goaltenders — 2009 fifth round selection Scott Stajcer, the NAHL’s League MVP Keith Kinkaid, Cornell’s Ben Scrivens, and Swift Current’s Travis Yonkman were in camp. The standouts were Stajcer and Scrivens, both of whom showed good lateral movement and good positioning in Friday’s scrimmage. Scrivens, who has a somewhat unorthodox style, is expected to return to Cornell for his senior season, and Stajcer, who has a very good glove, to the OHL for the 2009-10 season.
Standouts among the defensemen were Gilroy, Heikkinen, Kundratek, and Dowzak. Gilroy is very fast, confident with the puck, and sees the lanes very well. He can move the puck quickly, but doesn’t panic with it. His passes are accurate and he also has a good shot. The combination of Gilroy’s offensive skills with his solid play in his own zone made Gilroy very impressive this week.
Heikkinen has very good on-ice vision, an excellent shot, and moves well along the blueline to find shooting lanes. He contributed to much of the offense in Friday’s scrimmage and should be competing for a spot on the Rangers blueline in September.
Kundratek has excellent speed, a long reach (which he uses to clog up lanes), and when he has the puck, Kundratek is confident and patient enough to make the correct pass almost all the time.
Dowzak is the most defensively oriented of the four, and is very strong along the boards.
Somewhat disappointing this week was the play of Del Zotto, who had not been on the ice for several months and looked rusty. He was often beaten to the puck, displayed poor positioning, and did not have good gap control. More will be expected of Del Zotto when he takes the ice in the Traverse City Rookie Tournament in September.
Forwards — Thirteen forwards were in attendance this week, including Ryan Bourque, Max Campbell, Evgeny Grachev, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Ethan Werek, Chris Chappell, Paul Crowder, Justin Soryal, Craig Cunningham, Trent Daavettila, Matt Maccarone, and Luke Pither.
Standouts included Bourque, Chappell, Grachev, Pither, Soryal, and Stepan. Bourque was the smallest player in development camp (Cunningham was listed at the same size as Bourque, but looked at least an inch taller), but Bourque was one of the fastest and most dynamic. His work ethic was one of the best in camp, and he has an excellent shot which he displayed every chance he got. However, Bourque often held onto the puck for too long or tried to make a fancy play, and either lost the puck or had it taken away. When Bourque made the correct decisions, he was very impressive, but when he did not, he created turnovers.
Chappell was signed by the Rangers earlier this week, after an excellent overage season with the OHL Saginaw Spirit. He displayed one of the hardest shots in camp and good speed for his size. Although he did not fight in development camp, Chappell has done so in Saginaw and may prove to be a valuable tough guy addition to the Hartford roster this fall.
Current Hartford tough guy Soryal showed much more than his fists in development camp this past week. Very confident on the ice, Soryal also displayed very good positioning and strength on the puck. Overall Soryal, who was the only member of the 2008-09 Rangers’ professional affiliates to be in camp, showed his experience, good shot, and solid two-way play this week.
Grachev was the best skater in camp. He may not have been the fastest during the timed laps, but he had the smoothest stride, and watching him entranced many of the scouts and reporters in attendance. With no wasted motion and excellent acceleration, Grachev stood above the others. Although his shots were often off the mark during the scrimmages and even the one-on-ones with the goalies, Grachev dominated while carrying the biscuit on his stick. There were times when it looked like he just flicked the opposition out of his path as he skated down the ice. He did not skate in Friday’s scrimmage, which we were told was due to some nagging aches and pains, but to that point, he was impressive in every way except hitting the net on his shots.
Pither is coming off an outstanding final season of eligibility in the OHL, and his performance this past week shows that he was not just a one-season wonder. Pither displayed very good puck control, a quick release on his shot, good skating, and excellent passing abilities.
Finally, Stepan’s on-ice work this past week is indicative of why the Rangers think he may be their first-line center of the future. His vision, decision-making with the puck, speed, acceleration, shot, and hard work were all superb. Perhaps the most creative player on the ice during Friday’s scrimmage, Stepan and Bourque on the ice together were an exciting duo. Although it was Bourque that got the winning goal on an excellent skate in on net, it was Stepan that stepped around defender after defender to make the plays during much of the scrimmage.
Over the entire week, there was no one player that jumped out above the others. The Rangers now have several young players that can be considered top prospects.
Friday’s scrimmage lines were as follows: