Earlier this month, three of the New York Rangers Top 20 prospects participated in the Ontario Hockey League All-Star Classic in Belleville, Ontario. Marc Staal, who served as captain of the Eastern team, was one of three Sudbury Wolves players to participate in the festivities. Guelph Storm captain Ryan Callahan and the Saginaw Spirit’s Tom Pyatt were named to the Western squad.
Hockey’s Future caught up with each of the three Rangers prospects during the two-day festivities and asked them about their year thus far and what they are doing to prepare for the Rangers’ fall training camp.
Callahan (4th Round, 127 overall, 2004) was clearly enjoying being chosen to play in his second consecutive All-Star Classic. He was relaxed throughout the festivities and scored one goal in the game. He was also honored by the league for choosing to return to Guelph for his overage year. When asked by HF about the usefulness of this overage year, Callahan said, “coming back for the extra year did not hurt me at all. If anything, the year is going to help me a lot, because I am putting up really good numbers.” He continued, saying that he “was excited to come back to Guelph, having been here for four years, I know a lot of people, and I have felt comfortable. All in all, this extra year has been a very positive experience.”
After a disappointing season last year, Callahan currently has 69 points (43 goals, 26 assists) and is +21 in 53 games this season. Asked what he was doing differently this year, Callahan credited his teammates at Guelph. “Our team is doing well, which is huge for individuals.”
He also credits trust invested in him by the team by naming him captain for the second year. Callahan says he has been really changed by the experience. Aware that professional teams really want leaders, he feels that his experience bringing up younger players over the two-year span of his captaincy, particularly last year when Guelph had a younger team, has allowed him to develop some of the so-desired skills. What Callahan does not say, but is immediately apparent when you watch his on-ice play, is that he sets an example for the younger players with his work ethic. He plays hard every shift and will not let up on the ice, even when his team is far ahead in a game.
As far as next Ranger training camp, Callahan believes that his offensive numbers and his leadership skills will help him going in, but that he will have to work hard and show well when the time comes. All in all, Callahan feels that all four years of his OHL play have prepared him well to begin his professional career next fall.
Both Staal and Pyatt played for the gold-medal winning Canadian team in the 2006 U20 World Junior Championships, and each told HF that they were still very excited about participating in the tournament. Staal said that playing in the WJC “was unbelievable. It was an incredible experience; something I will never forget.” Pyatt described the experience as “the greatest hockey experience thus far in my life. It was such a great time. Playing for your country is amazing.”
Staal (1st Round, 12 overall, 2005) spoke about the WJC as part of this year of growing confidence. He stated that the confidence started with being able to stay with the Ranger team through a couple of exhibition games this past fall.
“It was big,” he said. “Going in I wasn’t expecting to stay too long and to be around all those guys for so long was great. It really helped my confidence, and anytime you get confidence going into your year, it really can help you all year.”
In the World Juniors, Staal was told when he got there that he and Ryan Parent “were paired as defensive guys and we took that role and just went with it.” A humble shy guy, Staal did not remind HF that he “went with it” sufficiently to be recognized by the IIHF as the outstanding defensive player of the tournament. His only comment regarding his own level of play was, “playing well as a team really helped each individual.”
Staal got very serious when HF asked him about expectations that he make the NHL club next season. Asked if he feels the pressure, Staal admitted “yeah, a bit. I think staying late this year and then signing with them at the beginning of the year has people talking about me being on the team. But I am trying not to think about it too much.”
Despite such protestations, Staal said it was on his mind, and that “as soon as my season is over, I’ll start concentrating on having a good training camp and hopefully to be on the team.”
Pyatt (4th Round, 107 overall, 2005) was having a good deal of fun playing in the All-Star Classic. His offensive prowess was very visible during the game, and, after scoring two very pretty goals, he was named the Western All-Star’s Player of the Game. Thus far this season, Pyatt has registered 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) in 47 games, and has a plus/minus rating of +4.
When he talked about his Fall 2005 training camp, Pyatt reflected on what skills he needed to work on. He stated that “it was nice to go … and play with the professional players and see where I am at as a player. It showed me what I needed to improve on.”
Pyatt realizes that the NHL is a lot faster game than that played in juniors, and he said, that to succeed on that level, “I will have to improve my skating and get a lot faster.”
He enjoyed seeing where his skill level was compared to professional players, and is looking forward to seeing how much he has improved this coming fall.
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