The 2002-03 season started with such optimism that many writers even called the Rangers “shots to winning the Eastern Conference” but of course turmoil charged through MSG at all levels causing a less than forceful coach Bryan Trottier to lose his job and old man of the sea Glen Sather take over as Head Coach.
This writing is not about the events that we all watched unroll throughout the season but an analysis of the younger prospects and what impact they had in New York this year. First we begin with Jamie Lundmark whom just two training camps ago lit the light and looked like he belonged. Ofcourse he found out the opposite. This season it was the same atleast to start. Lundmark played wing and center and was quickly dispatched to reenforce Hartford where he steadily improved. Lundmark was recalled to New York on several occassions and finally stuck and played well enough to earn regular minutes. Lundmark tallied 8 goals and 11 assists in 55 games and 2003-04 looks to be a blow out season for him.
Other prospects to have appeared in New York were up and comer Dan Blackburn who started as the no. 2 then was placed in the line-up as no. 1 when Mike Richter went down with an injury and then was pushed back to no. 2 as Mike Dunham arrived in New York. Blackburn played well from time to time all things considered but then played as well as can be expected for a very young netminder thrown behind a pourous defense with more wholes than a piece of aged swiss cheese. Blackburn appreared to sour upon Sather as Glen opted to go with Dunham in the stretch run. However Blackburn who is the Rangers future in the nets has to learn that it will take time before he is ready for 55 games. John Tripp appeared in 9 games and did not seem out of place. He tallied 1 goal and 3 points and his physical size was a true bonus. Tripp may be back for another cup of coffee in New York. Roman Lyashenko appeared in a couple games and did not seem to find the right spot. Roman, normally a center seemed lost on the wing. Ales Pisa, aquired from Edmonton in the Anson Carter deal played in the final three games for New York and looked ok. He has the offensive flare that so many other Rangers defenders have already. Pisa may see more ice time next year but may also become Mike Mottau and live in the AHL.
Some faces that came and left were Rico Fata who started to appear regularly in New York. Fata showed signs of high speed and agility but was dealt to Pittsburgh in the Kovalev deal along with defensive “suspect” Richard Lintner. Lintner never found a home in New York. Billy Tibbetts played some but was later released as his off ice issues with Rangers coaching signed his “contract” death warrant. Mike Wilson aquired from Pittsburgh appeared in one game and was injured. The big stay at homer on the blue line can possible make an impact next season after his injury has healed. We shall see. Mik Samuelsson played solidly as a checking no. 3 winger in New York and will do better in Pittsburgh, Joel Bouchard showed to have the skills of a NHL regular and in fact at one time he was the best Rangers defender. Johan Holmqvist was sent packing at the deadline. Holmie appeared in 1 game making 16 saves.
What will 2003-04 bring? Pat Aufiero a defender out of Hockey East as well as Bryce Lampman out of the WHL and AHL have a shot to make the club as do Lyashenko and John Tripp. Corey LaRose is also an interesting player but will have to make it on the wing. New York is clogged up down the middle with Holik, Lindros and Nedved then come Messier/Lundmark. Little winger Nils Ekman has tallied 30 goals in Hartford and has a shot as does Garth Murray although 10 goals is not exactly a resume builder for the NHL. However one has to be honest, the Rangers are deep and it will take some serious roster moves in order to free up some ice. The additions of Anson Carter and Alex Kovalev along with Dan LaCouture have filled up the wing. Tough guys Matt Barnaby and Sandy McCarthy also may be back but it is likely that the latter will be gone in the summer. Overall there is maybe a spot available if Pavel Bure`s return is delayed. Along the blueline the great question of Dale Purinton and Darius Kasparitis are at hand. What to do with these guys? We can handle that question at another time. It is not likely that a younger defender will make it up the ranks but they do have a shot.