Rangers CHL prospects season review

By Leslie Treff

Fifteen of the New York Rangers’ prospects played for CHL teams in the 2005-06 season. Two were members of Quebec Major Junior Hockey League teams; five played in the Ontario Hockey League; and eight in the Western Hockey League. Of the 15 CHL prospects, eight were drafted by the Rangers in 2005; seven were selected in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

QMJHL

Marc-Andre Cliché, RW
Lewiston MAINEiacs
Height: 6’1; Weight: 178; DOB: 3/23/87
Drafted: 2nd Rd (56 Overall) 2005 NHL Entry Draft

It was surprise to many when the Rangers traded down in the second round of the 2005 Entry Draft, and then chose Cliché above several other high-potential players still available. Although he had been chosen eighth overall in the 2003 QMJHL priority draft (and was ranked 49th among all skaters by Central Scouting going into the 2005 NHL Entry Draft), Cliché was considered a risk, as he was injured for most of the 2004-05 QMJHL season. Despite a paucity of evidence that Cliché would produce offensively, the Rangers saw a strong two-way player with soft hands and a lot of upside, and took the risk, knowing that it would take Cliché a little longer than some of the other 2005 picks to develop.

So far, it looks like the Rangers made a wise use of their pick. Projected as a second-line NHL winger, there was a lot of pressure on Cliché to produce in 2005-06. He responded by accumulating 82 points (37 goals, 45 assists) in 66 games, placed second in scoring on the MAINEiacs and was in the top 30 in scoring in the league. The winger was used in all situations, scoring 22 power play and three short-handed goals. Cliché had the most game-winning goals on the team (8), and a plus/minus of +4. Considered a face-off specialist, he took the majority of the team’s draws throughout the season (1575) and won 52 percent.

This was a solid season for the young winger, although his overall performance fell off somewhat in February and March. A natural scorer, Cliché forechecks well and rarely makes mistakes that hurt his team. Previously a bit slight, Cliché has started to fill out, and the combination of his good balance, excellent scoring touch, and controlled aggressive physical play will fit well into the new Ranger mold. Absent an overwhelming performance in training camp next fall, however, Cliché will be returning to the QMJHL in 2006-07 to develop his game further.

Jonathan Paiement, D
Lewiston MAINEiacs
Height: 6’1; Weight: 219; DOB: 3/07/85
Drafted: 8th Rd, (247 Overall) 2004 NHL Entry Draft

The Rangers chose the big defenseman as a late round pick, after Paiement had a breakout year in 2003-04. Always a very aggressive physical player, Paiement developed into an offensive defenseman during that season, registering 52 assists. After repeating his excellent offensive production (62 points in 67 games) in 2004-05, as well as spending time on the point on the power play, it was hoped that he would be ready for the AHL this past fall. But he was clearly overmatched in both the Ranger and Wolf Pack training camps, and Paiement returned to Lewiston to play in his overage year.

Unfortunately, he did not continue his offensive development this season, with 2005-06 statistics less impressive than those of the past two seasons, nor did he improve his mental game. Although older than almost all his opponents, in his fifth year of playing major junior, Paiement only registered 49 points (16 goals, 33 assists) in 63 games. In addition, Paiement, who has always had a tendency to take penalties without thinking, did not learn to better control his penalty-taking. For example, in the middle of Lewiston’s first round playoff series last month, he got suspended for five games for leaving the bench to enter an on-ice altercation. At the time, Lewiston’s series with Halifax was tied at two games each, and Paiement had accumulated two power-play assists. After Paiement’s suspension, the MAINEiacs lost two straight games and were eliminated from the playoffs. Although it is uncertain whether the team would have been able to win with the defenseman on the ice, Paiement’s actions and subsequent suspension clearly did not benefit his team.

Although the Rangers saw a late-blooming, very physical offensive defenseman when they drafted Paiement in 2004, thus far he has not developed into the player they had hoped. He has now completed his QMJHL career and will most likely begin his professional career on the ECHL level.

OHL

Marc Staal, D
Sudbury Wolves
Height: 6’4; Weight: 202; DOB: 1/13/87
Drafted: 1st Rd (12 Overall) 2005 NHL Entry Draft

It was no secret that the Rangers were looking for defensemen in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. At the 12th pick, Staal was the fourth defenseman chosen overall, and the first of four selected by the Rangers. At draft time, Staal was touted as a good, mobile skater, who was aggressive on defense. Additionally, he appeared to have some offensive upside (registering six goals and 20 assists in 65 games in 2004-05). After he played surprisingly well in the Rangers training camp last fall, Staal stuck with the NHL team through a couple of preseason games and signed an NHL contract. He did look raw and somewhat overmatched on the ice with NHL-level opponents, but the Rangers were very excited about Staal’s overall potential, including his offensive possibilities, which the team may have underestimated at the time they drafted him.

The Rangers returned Staal to the Sudbury Wolves to develop further during the 2005-06 season. Upon his return to the OHL, Staal was named captain of his team, and in his first full week with the Wolves was named OHL Player of the Week. He continued his good play throughout the season; in 57 games, Staal scored 11 goals and registered 38 assists, with a plus/minus of +12.

Among Staal’s 2005-06 accolades were being named captain of the Eastern OHL All-Star team at the league’s All-Star festivities in February, and appearing in the 2006 U20 World Junior Championship tournament. Staal put on a defensive display in the WJC, continually shutting down his opponents. As the result of his excellent play at the WJC, Staal was named the recipient of the Directorate Award (as the best defenseman of the tournament). Other accolades included being named by the OHL coaches as the third hardest worker in the Eastern Conference, and the second best offensive defenseman among the eastern teams.

After Staal’s great showing last fall and his accomplishments over the season, there are expectations that he will play professional hockey next season. Although his positioning, hockey intelligence, and work ethic will serve him well in professional hockey, he’s not a sure thing. He still needs to work on his conditioning to play consistently at the NHL level. Additionally, although he played the point on the power play for the Wolves for most of this past season, to continue to do so at the professional level, Staal will have to improve his shot. Whether these shortcomings will keep him in juniors another year will be evident shortly. It was announced last week that Staal been recalled by the Rangers and has been reassigned to play in Hartford.

Tom Pyatt, C
Saginaw Spirit
Height: 5’11; Weight: 182; DOB: 2/14/87
Drafted: 4th Rd (107 Overall) 2005 NHL Entry Draft

At the time the Rangers drafted Pyatt, they felt that he was a highly underrated center, and that his being available in the fourth round was an unbelievable gift. The Rangers instincts were correct, as Pyatt has progressed greatly in the past year. The coaching staff was very impressed with Pyatt’s play at the NHL training camp last fall, where he showed a smart, controlled game. Pyatt then returned to Saginaw and had an excellent season, registering 53 points (24 goals, 29 assists) in 58 games. The Spirit alternate captain also picked up his defensive game, and for the first time in his career with Saginaw had a positive plus/minus (+5).

Pyatt’s excellent play earned him a spot on Canada’s U20 World Junior team, as well as the opportunity to play for Canada in the two OHL ADT Canada-Russia Challenge games. Later in the season, he was chosen as an OHL All-Star, and after scoring two goals in the All-Star event, he was named the Western Player of the Game. As final confirmation of his outstanding junior season, the OHL coaches named Pyatt the best defensive forward in the Western Conference.

The combination of Pyatt’s good hands, hockey smarts, and strong skating make him an outstanding two-way player and a prospective NHL second or third line center. Pyatt matured enormously over the year, and his exposure to the international stage, as well as his elevation to the upper echelon of OHL players, will prepare him well for the next step. However, because the Rangers have so many prospects that will be playing in the NHL next fall, it is likely that Pyatt, who is able return to juniors, will remain in the OHL for one more year.

Ryan Callahan, RW
Guelph Storm
Height: 5’11, Weight: 185; DOB: 3/21/85
Drafted: 4th Rd (127 Overall) 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Callahan had an excellent season in 2003-04, and was chosen by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 2004 Entry Draft that spring. However, after a falloff in his offensive production at Guelph in 2004-05, Callahan came to Rangers 2005 training camp in a somewhat weaker position. He played decently in training camp, but showed nothing exceptional. After being sent to Hartford and offered a contract that he was not happy with, Callahan chose to return to junior hockey for an overage year. With renewed effort and determination, Callahan became an OHL star in 2005-06. In 62 games of regular season play with the Storm, he registered 84 points (52 goals, 32 assists) with a plus/minus of +29. To put it into context, those numbers were sufficient to make Callahan the leading scorer on the Storm and 15th in scoring in the OHL.

Improved offensive production was only part of Callahan’s changes. It was his second season as captain of the Storm, and, by his own admission, because the team was younger this season, the leadership position was challenging and career changing. As part of his duties, Callahan served as an on-ice example by displaying consistent work effort and tenacity on the forecheck. His level of play and leadership earned him the Leo Lalonde Memorial Trophy as the OHL’s top overage player for the 2005-06 season.

Additional accolades for Callahan this past season included being named to the OHL All-Star team, as well as being named by the league’s coaches as the second smartest player, the second best defensive forward, and the third most dangerous player in the crease area in the OHL’s Western Conference.

Callahan is a gritty, two-way player with few noticeable weaknesses. He has matured greatly over the course of this season, and is projected as a second or third line winger. Although he would have fit in at Hartford this past season, Callahan chose to increase his options by returning to junior hockey. It remains to be seen whether this gamble works out for him. The Rangers rights to Callahan expire shortly, and it will become apparent shortly as to whether the Rangers will offer him a contract that is to his liking.

Jakub Petruzalek, C
Barrie Colts
Height: 5’9; Weight: 172 DOB: 4/24/85
Drafted: 9th Rd (226 Overall) 2004 NHL Entry Draft

An exciting undersized playmaker, Petruzalek was considered a long shot when selected by the Rangers in the 2004 draft. He had been playing in Europe and was expected to come to North America in 2004-05, but there were questions about Petruzalek’s ability to transition to the North American game. The Rangers were encouraged when, in 2004-05, Petruzalek put up good offensive numbers (63 points in 59 games), and was able to achieve a plus/minus of +10 while playing for the Ottawa 67s of the OHL.

The new NHL rules would certainly help the diminutive center, and it was with this in mind that Petruzalek came into Rangers training camp last fall. What was immediately apparent was that Petruzalek could make things happen offensively, however, he disappointingly made repeated glaring defensive mistakes. This did not change when he was sent to Hartford’s training camp, which eventually caused him to be cut from the team. Petruzalek returned to Europe to play in the Czech League, where he was not very productive (2 points in 19 games, plus/minus-6).

In January 2006, Petruzalek returned to North America to play at least a portion of his overage season with the Barrie Colts of the OHL. In 24 regular season games, he had 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) with a plus/minus of +6. Additionally, he is having a fantastic OHL playoff season. In nine playoff games, he has registered 15 points (5 goals, 10 assists), including two game-winning goals in the last 10 days.

Petruzalek has tremendous offensive abilities, but questions still remain regarding his ability to play an even passable defensive professional game. As it does not appear that he has greatly improved that part of his game, it will be a huge risk for the Rangers to sign him to an NHL contract.

Trevor Koverko, D
Owen Sound Attack
Height: 6’3; Weight: 215; DOB: 3/22/87
Drafted: 5th Rd (147 Overall) 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Koverko, known as a defensive defenseman, was drafted in 2005 as part of the Rangers attempt to shore up their defensive corps. A big man with great hockey smarts, Koverko impressed the team with his tough, aggressive play in his own end, and his ability to clear opposing players from in front of Owen Sound’s net.

Koverko’s 2005-06 season was shortened by recovery from shoulder surgery, and when he returned he had a disappointing year. His play fell off both offensively and defensively, on a team that included the likes of Bobby Ryan and Bobby Sanguinetti. Koverko only registered three points (all assists) in 38 games, with a plus/minus of –15.

In the 2005-06 playoffs, the Attack made it to the second round, where the team was beaten by the powerhouse London Knights. Koverko’s defensive play was uncharacteristically ineffective during the series, and, he took a double minor for high sticking in the last minutes of the Apr. 10, 2006 game, which allowed London to score and win the game 4-3.

After his return from surgery, Koverko did not have the season that everyone hoped for. Shoulder injuries always raise questions, and given that Koverko’s defensive zone play never seemed to pick up as the season went along, his progress is in doubt. Hopefully, next season Koverko will show more of his old form.

WHL

Brandon Dubinsky, C
Portland Winter Hawks
Height: 6’1; Weight: 197; DOB: 4/29/86
Drafted: 2nd Rd (60th Overall) 2004 NHL Entry Draft

When the Rangers drafted Dubinsky in 2004, they knew that he was a gritty, chippy, player who could get things done on the ice — the kind of player that others did not want to be on the ice with, who was as likely to take an opponent out of the play as he was to score. What a pleasant surprise it was to find that he has more of an offensive upside than expected.

In the season following the 2004 draft, Dubinsky had a fall off in offensive production. But in 2004-05, he improved his defensive play, and for the first time in his junior career, he had a positive plus/minus. Then he attended 2005 Rangers training camp, and according the Ranger coaching staff, Dubinsky was one of the best prospects that participated. Not ready for the Rangers and with a year of junior eligibility left, Dubinsky returned to the Winter Hawks, was named alternate captain. There was an incident early in the season where he violated an unspecified team rule, causing him to be suspended for a game and the “A” being taken away from him. But Dubinsky was on fire offensively, when he was felled by an illegal hit in early January.

Luckily, the ensuing damage to his injured knee was not career threatening, and after a six-week respite, he returned to Portland’s line-up. Despite missing 20 games to the knee injury, Dubinsky finished the season with 67 points (21 goals, 46 assists) in 51 games. That performance was the best on the Winter Hawks team and ranked Dubinsky 17th in scoring in the league. His remarkable offensive performance was accompanied by a career-high plus/minus of +12 for the season. Late in March, Dubinsky was rewarded for his hard work by being named to the Western Conference Second All-Star Team by the Western Hockey League.

Dubinsky is a solid, all-around player, who is not afraid to take the body. An excellent playmaker, he combines agitation with excellent on-ice vision and great hands to create a huge offensive game. His current skill set gives him second-line potential, but given Dubinsky’s rapidly maturing game, a re-evaluation of that estimation may be in order next fall.

Over the last few days, it was announced that Dubinsky signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers. He is expected to report to Hartford shortly and to contribute to the team’s quest for the AHL championship.

Michael Sauer, D
Portland Winter Hawks
Height: 6’3; Weight: 210; DOB: 8/07/87
Drafted: 2nd Rd (40 Overall) 2005 NHL Entry Draft

When the Rangers selected Sauer in last summer’s draft, they took a risk on a player, who, although he had a large upside, was sidelined for most of the 2004-05 season with injuries. In fact, his junior career has been fraught with injuries. Although without his history of injuries, there is no doubt that Sauer would not have been available when the Rangers made their first second round pick last summer, what the Rangers saw in Sauer was an offensive defenseman who combined excellent skating with good hockey sense.

Unfortunately, Sauer’s injury woes continued into this season. After being sidelined with a hip injury that required surgery halfway into the 2004-05 season, less than a month into the 2005-06 season, Sauer suffered another injury, this time to his left shoulder. Despite this injury, which kept him out of action for a month early in the year, Sauer played 59 WHL games this season. He registered 31 points (8 goals, 23 assists) with a plus/minus of –1, which ranked second among defensemen on the Winter Hawks.

Sauer moves well for a big man, has an excellent outlet pass, and good on-ice vision. In addition, he is reliable in his own zone. If Sauer can stay healthy, he has a fine professional career ahead of him. It is expected that he will play at least one more year of junior hockey prior to beginning his professional career.

Ryan Russell, C
Kootenay Ice
Height: 5’10; Weight: 165; DOB: 5/02/87
Drafted: 7th Rd (211 Overall) 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Russell was selected by the Rangers in the last round of the 2005 Entry Draft, and, if his performance this season is any indication, the Rangers got a steal with the pick. The center was passed over by many teams because he was small and not very strong, but Russell has come on this season and shown his mettle. In 2004-05, Russell played well, registering a little less than a point a game (53 points in 66 games) with a plus/minus of +27. He rarely took penalties and was generally a reliable positive force on the team.

This season, Russell responded to being selected in the entry draft by picking up his game. He was a steady force, playing every game for Kootenay, and became even more of the playmaker that he will have to be to make it in professional hockey. In 72 games, Russell registered 75 points (33 goals, 42 assists) with a slightly decreased plus/minus of +17. Those statistics placed him second on the team in scoring, only behind overager Adam Cracknell, and ninth in the league in total points. Russell was solid in his own zone, rarely hurting his team with defensive lapses, although he took steps toward more aggressive play this season. His penalty minutes increased, however, the 30 PIM that he incurred over the course of the 2005-06 season is not a cause for concern.

Russell is a very fast skater, who is gifted with wonderful hands. Combined with wonderful hands, a great shot, and excellent on-ice vision, Russell has the potential to be a finesse player at the NHL level. He has started to become a grittier player, and while he will never be considered a physical force on the ice, Russell’s offensive creativity may overcome any shortcomings in that area. Russell is still developing his game, and needs to play at least one more year at the junior level before moving on to the professional game.

Dane Byers, LW
Prince Albert Raiders
Height: 6’3; Weight: 194; DOB: 2/21/86
Drafted: 2nd Rd (48 Overall) 2004 NHL Entry Draft

The Rangers drafted Byers, a big, power forward, hoping to get an aggressive winger who would crash the net regularly. Because it is well known that big men take more time to develop their game, Byers’ mediocre season in 2004-05 was not worrisome. This year, his fourth with the Raiders, Byers’ performance was substantially better, showing that the Rangers’ second pick in 2004 may become a very fruitful one.

In 2004-05, Byers played on a very offensively minded Prince Albert team and only registered 20 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in 65 games. There was no question that he liked to check opposing players and start fights, but a consistent effort eluded the big winger. This season, the Raiders as a team were less successful, finishing last in their division and not making the playoffs. However, Byers made great strides. Named the hardest working player on his team early in the 2005-06 season, Byers increased his offensive production and played consistently. He registered 48 points (21 goals, 27 assists) in 71 games, while remaining a physically dominant player on the ice. He reduced his penalty minutes from 181 to 157 and was somewhat more disciplined in his on-ice aggression.

Late last month, after the completion of his junior season, Byers signed an NHL contract and was assigned to Hartford. In five regular season games with the Wolf Pack, Byers registered two assists. He is now with the Wolf Pack participating in the AHL playoffs. There is no question that wherever he plays, Byers will be a big presence on the ice. He needs to continue to provide offensive production to be successful at the professional level. Whether he can maintain the consistent effort and concentration to be successful at the professional level remains to be seen.

Zdenek Bahensky, RW
Saskatoon Blades
Height: 6’2; Weight: 195; DOB: 1/03/86
Drafted: 3rd Rd (73 Overall) 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Another of a long-line of Czech players in the Rangers system, Bahensky is a two-way player who can perform in all situations. He has excellent skating abilities and great wrist shot, but does not ignore his responsibilities in his own end. His size, skating, and shot make the future very bright as Bahensky adjusts to the North American game.

Coming to Canada from Europe to play junior hockey for the Blades in 2004-05, Bahensky had a rather rough adjustment. His style did not fit in well with the physical Saskatoon team, which seemed to affect Bahensky’s offensive production. He had a disappointing offensive season (31 points in 66 games) in 2004-05 and took way too many minor penalties (101 PIM). In 2005-06, Bahensky seemed to be over his adjustment period, and he picked up his game, registering 55 points (19 goals, 36 assists) in 65 games. This season, Bahensky also settled into a more controlled game, only incurring 76 PIM.

Bahensky’s wrist shot, speed and agility make him a good candidate for the new NHL. However, he will probably need an overage year to prove to the Rangers that he is ready to make the jump to the professional ranks.

Brodie Dupont, C
Calgary Hitmen
Height: 6’2; Weight: 198; DOB: 2/17/87
Drafted: 3rd Rd (66 Overall) 2005 NHL Entry Draft

The Rangers selected Dupont in the third round for his grit and solid two-way game. Rated 77th among all North American skaters by Central Scouting, the Rangers were impressed by his physical game and good hands. After an excellent 2005-06 sophomore season with the Hitmen, it appears that the Rangers were correct in selecting him when they did, and that Dupont will only continue to improve over the next few seasons.

The offensive numbers Dupont posted in 2004-05 (25 points in 70 games) are not particularly impressive, but are somewhat deceptive. What the totals don’t show is that Dupont really blossomed at the end of the season. Sixteen of Dupont’s 25 points came in the last two months of the 2004-05 campaign. To open the 2005-06 season, Dupont was named alternate captain of Calgary, and was expected to lead his well-balanced team offensively. Dupont met those expectations by posting a team-leading 53 points (30 goals, 23 assists) in 72 games. Additionally he continued to play the very physical game that attracted the Rangers. Never known for shying away from an altercation, Dupont increased his PIM from 111 in 2004-05 to 123 this season. More importantly, his plus/minus improved from –4 to +6.

Dupont plants himself in front of the net and is hard to move. His increase in goals scored in 2005-06 reflects his increasing ability in that role. Additionally, Dupont is a big, strong presence, who battles through checks and more often than not comes away from battles along the boards with either a penalty or the puck. A hard worker, Dupont has come a long way this season. Continued development along these lines will guarantee a professional career.

Roman Psurny, LW
Medicine Hat Tigers
Height: 6’1; Weight: 179; DOB: 2/23/86
Drafted: 5th Rd (135 Overall) 2004 NHL Entry Draft

After being drafted in 2004, Psurny, another Czech native, went to Canada to learn the North American game. His adjustment was helped by the presence of his twin brother Michal, who also played in Medicine Hat.

In 2004-05 Psurny lead his team in offensive production, registering 49 points (21 goals, 28 assists) in 69 games, which ranked fourth on the team. It was expected that Psurny would improve his offensive production this season, however, in 2005-06, Psurny only garnered 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists) in the 66 games he played. His lack of production improvement was accompanied by a drop in his plus/minus from +29 to +13 in the two seasons. Some of Psurny’s total production issues may be traced to temporary lull after his brother was traded to Kootenay in January, because he bounced back late in the season. In eight games in March, Psurny registered 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists). He took that momentum into the playoffs, where he was on fire, scoring four goals and seven assists in eight games.

Psurny has good hands and is a more than adequate skater. There is no question that he is responsible in his own zone and can give and take a hit, if it is required. However, a professional career will depend on his continued adjustment to the North American style of play. It is expected that he will return to the WHL to play next season.

Dalyn Flatt, D
Kootenay Ice
Height: 6’3; Weight: 216; DOB: 10/07/86
Drafted: 3rd Rd (77 Overall) 2005 NHL Entry Draft

The Rangers drafted Flatt, a big defensive defenseman for his grit and presence on the ice. He played a solid defensive game for the Saskatoon Blades in 2004-05, with a plus/minus rating of +36, and 237 penalty minutes. Combined with his 19 points (1 goal, 18 assists) in 72 games, the Rangers saw the possibility of a defenseman in the mold of Ulf Samuelsson.

However, Flatt seems to have lost his way this year. On Oct. 31, Saskatoon traded Flatt to Kootenay. Flatt had often been scratched and was playing a completely uninspired game for the Blades. His play improved somewhat after he became a member of the Ice, but he never got on track. In total, Flatt played in 58 games, registering four points (all assists), with a plus/minus of only +5. His penalty minutes dropped somewhat, but his per game total remained stable.

Flatt’s value is in the combination of his physical presence and solid defense. If he does not demonstrate both of those skills in combination, Flatt will not be a viable candidate for a professional career above the ECHL level. He will need to improve upon the 2005-06 season at the junior level before he moves any further along in his career.


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