Rangers news and notes

By Brandon LeBourveau
If you have watched the Rangers closely this season, Dan Blackburn has been a pleasant surprise. There were not many people who actually believed he could make the NHL at 18-years-old, but he is proving them wrong. In 6 games (5 starts), he is 2-3-0 with a 3.21 goals against average and a .899 save percentage. His numbers are not sparkling, but he has shown that he is not out of place in the NHL. The majority of the goals he has allowed have been mostly because of the Rangers’ horrible defense. There are not many goalies in this league who can consistently make 2 or 3 saves on one play. The Rangers’ defenseman have been horrible at picking up their man in the defensive zone and can’t clear the puck away from the net to save their life. Blackburn has made at least 1 or 2 outstanding saves in each game he’s played, and it was no different Friday night against Carolina. Blackburn was able to slide across the crease on one play with the pads stacked to stuff a Carolina attempt at a tap-in goal. The shot hit Blackburn right above the knee and he was down for a few minutes, but he shook it off and remained in the game. Minutes later he robbed another Carolina player in the slot with a lightning-quick glove save on a shot labeled to the top corner. That save was featured on ESPN’s Top Plays on Sportscenter that night.

Even though Blackburn has been impressive, the Rangers still have to ponder whether or not to keep him for the season or send him back to the Kootenay Ice of the WHL. Blackburn has up until 10 games before his contract kicks in and thus the Rangers have to pay him his full salary. The money is no problem to the Rangers, but the question is what will be better for Blackburn’s development. He could go back to juniors, dominate the WHL again, probably be the starting goaltender for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, which takes place in late December in the Czech Republic, or remain with the Rangers as the back-up to Mike Richter for the rest of the season. Dan still has 5 more games left to audition before the Rangers have to make a decision. The Rangers face a tough schedule this month, as they have games against the Islanders, Flyers, Penguins, Avalanche and Capitals, as well as a few other decent teams. It remains to be seen when head coach Ron Low will start Blackburn again, but expect him to get about a handful of starts this month. Now is the time for young Danny to continue to be impressive and force the Rangers to keep him on Broadway.

Honestly, who’s surprised that Ryan Hollweg has gotten off to an excellent start with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL? Hollweg is capable of becoming a Brenden Morrow-type player. There were two things that caused him to drop in the draft, the fact that he’s not that big (5’10 204 lbs) and the fact he played on a weak Medicine Hat team. The Tigers’ have improved this season, and Hollweg is right in the thick of things. He already has 9 goals and 22 points in 19 games this season, along with 34 penalty minutes. This comes after he only had 19 goals and 58 points in 65 games last season. Hollweg has a lot more confidence and it certainly shows. He stood out for the Rangers at the rookie tournament that took place in Kitchener, Ontario in early September and didn’t look too bad during training camp. The Rangers sent him back to juniors after a few days of camp. They wanted him to work on some areas of his game and hopefully bulk up a bit. They knew he was on the verge of a break-out season, and he’s proving them correct.

If he keeps up this current pace, he will likely end up with about a 35 goal, 85 point season. Depending upon whether he can turn it up another notch, he could score more than that. Playing with defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, one of the top prospects available for the 2002 Draft, doesn’t hurt his chances either. It’s too early in my mind to call him a sure-fire NHLer, but he has made some excellent progress this season and if he keeps it up the Rangers’ management will be extremely happy. Don’t be surprised to see Hollweg in the NHL in about three or four years.

David Inman is off to a good start. Drafted in the 2nd round (59th Overall) in 1999, the Rangers saw a lot of raw talent in the young center. However, he wasn’t able to step it up a notch the past two seasons in college, and some people began starting to write him off as a bust. With his skill level he should have been dominating college hockey, but he just wasn’t able to do so. One reason could be that he lacks good hockey sense. It appears that he doesn’t have the right mind for the game, but so far this season he’s been able to quiet his critics. Through 4 games, he has 4 goals and 8 points to rank second in scoring for the Fighting Irish. In 37 games last season, he only had 11 goals and 17 points. He’s on a 2 points per game pace, and This is his senior year, and he’ll certainly have to play well if he’s hoping to get a contract this summer from the Rangers.

Don’t think that just because he’s a 2nd round pick that they automatically are going to sign him. If he doesn’t develop the way the Rangers would like him to, they’ll pass on him. Look what happened with Patrick Leahy. He was coveted by the Islanders a few summers ago when the Rangers were discussing a deal for Zigmund Palffy, but that was probably the most recognition he had as a Ranger. Leahy played great as a junior for Miami of Ohio, but his play tailed off in his senior season and the Rangers felt he wasn’t worth it to sign. It’s taken him three years, but he may have just realized how good he can be. If that’s the case, collegiate goalies better watch out.

Filip Novak and Garth Murray have continued where they left off last season. Novak has 16 points in 19 games and is a +5 for the Regina Pats, while Murray has 19 points and 57 penalty minutes as the captain of the Pats. Both players are key to the success of Regina this season. Barret Jackman graduated to the AHL, thus Novak is left anchoring the defense. Up front Regina lost a lot of their fire power to the pro ranks as well, and Murray will need to continue his solid all-around play if they want to make it deep into the playoffs. So far, so good.

Three players drafted this past summer by the Rangers out of Europe made the jump across seas and are currently playing well in juniors. Fedor Tyutin, drafted in the 2nd round, has been the most impressive. In 16 games for the Guelph Storm, Tyutin has 6 goals, 15 points, 14 penalty minutes and is a +2. Everyone knew he would be solid defensively, but the offensive numbers are surprising for a player considered to be a stay-at-home defenseman. However, Tyutin is very mature for his age and he has adjusted well to the North American game. Look for him to continue his succes. Another defenseman, Leonid Zhvachin, drafted in the 8th round, also came over to play for the Storm. In 11 games, Zhavachin has a goal and 30 penalty minutes while posting a +/- rating of a -4. He has been a physical force on the blue line for Guelph. The Rangers’ 9th round selection, Juris Stals, has also had a successful start to his season. He’s averaged a point per game, and has 9 goals and 19 points in 19 games for the Sarnia Sting, and is a +4. Stals has good size and a nice set of skills, yet the offensive output to me has been a surprise. Hopefully he keeps it up, and we’ll have to see how he does with a few more years of development.

Pontus Petterstrom, drafted in the 7th round this summer, could possibly be out for the season with an injury.

Has any Rangers’ prospect fallen off the radar as much as Russian Evgeny Gusakov? Gusakov, an 8th round selection in 1999, came over to North America for the 1999-00 season and had 25 goals and 47 points in 61 gamesfor the Baie-Comeau Drakker of the QMJHL. He had 31 points through 32 games the following season before leaving the team and heading back home to Russia. He was being hyped up as a potential power forward when he was drafted, but now there is no information.

Pavel Brendl scored his first NHL goal last week. Brendl never seemed to be a favorite of Glen Sather, but he hasn’t been that bad. In the first game of the season for the Flyers Brendl was very impressive and unfortunately was robbed on two breakaways by Panthers’ goaltender Trevor Kidd. Brendl hurt his ankle later in the game, and just returned to the lineup recently. Hopefully this doesn’t turn into another Tony Amonte or Doug Weight nightmare.

Jamie Lundmark has adjusted pretty well to the pro game, as he has 4 goals and 8 points in 9 games for the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL. Lundmark has been playing on a line with AHL veteran Brad Smyth and Brad Mehalko. Smyth has been a dominant offensive force in the AHL and him on the same line as Lundmark has only helped the 20 year old center. Lundmark had a pretty solid pre-season, but was sent down to Hartford to get some quality ice time, which he would not have received had he stayed with the Rangers. Lundmark could be brought up by the Rangers later in the season for a brief audition, but expect him to spend the majority of the year improving his game with the Wolf Pack.

Has anyone noticed that Tomi Kallarsson has finally gotten on to the score sheet? Through 19 games with Timra IK of the Swedish Elite league, Kallarsson has 2 goals and 3 assists along with 47 penalty minutes. This comes after he didn’t register a point at all last season in 37 games. His first goal that he scored this season was his first in at least 4 seasons. He played a total of 87 games for HPK Hameenlinna in Finland from 1997-00, and only was able to manage 5 assists, and they all came in the 1999-00 season in which he suited up for 50 games. Originally drafted in the 4th round in 1997, Kallarsson has been compared by some to current Rangers’ defenseman Tomas Kloucek. If Kallarsson turns out to be anywhere close to as good as Kloucek has been, it will be surprising. Another season or so in Europe will likely be in store for Kallarsson before he comes across seas to play for the Wolf Pack.