Rangers training camp preview

By Leslie Treff

The Rangers opened their training camp in the Greenburgh, New York, Madison Square Garden Training Center, just north of New York City, on Thursday, Sept. 14. Physicals and measurements took place on the first day, and on-ice practices and scrimmage games will begin on Friday and continue through the weekend.

The team has just returned Tuesday evening from an eight-team prospects tournament in
Traverse City, Michigan, and all but eight of the players that participated in that tournament will be on the ice in the main training camp. In all, the Rangers have 30 prospects on the main training camp roster, including two goaltenders, nine defensemen, and 19 forwards. Hannu Pikkarainen, a defenseman who was originally included in the training camp roster, is now listed as injured, and will not play.

Forwards

The 2006-07 Rangers will most likely be composed of at least 13 veterans in either the winger or center positions. Therefore, there will be room for only one or two prospects to make the NHL team. Although the early favorites for those slots are Jarkko Immonen and Nigel Dawes, both Dwight Helminen and Brandon Dubinsky have outside chances to make the NHL team roster. Other players to watch, who realistically have no chance to make the NHL team this year, but are coming off a very good prospects tournament are Dane Byers, Brodie Dupont, Jakub Petruzalek, and Ryan Russell. Byers and Dupont will most likely play for the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack this season, and Dupont and Russell will be returned to their WHL teams.

Although center Tom Pyatt did not put up any real numbers offensively in Traverse City, he played very well as a defensive forward. Because of his defensive abilities, and the fact that he was one of the best prospects in last year’s main training camp, he is a player to watch over the next week or so. Look for him to once again put forth a tremendous effort in the main camp, once the on-ice portion of the main camp starts on Friday. If Pyatt performs as well as he did in the fall of 2005, he may possibly stick around for a couple of preseason exhibition games before being returned to his OHL team in Saginaw, Michigan.

Four other forwards who will begin the season in Hartford will be looking to impress during this week’s training camp. Zdenek Bahensky, Ryan Callahan, Greg Moore, Rick Kozak, and Lauri Korpikoski all were in Traverse City and each player showed some weaknesses that need to be addressed prior to being NHL-ready. But each of the four has quite a bit of potential and will be looking to develop that further over this season in the AHL.

Bruce Graham, who played very well in the first Traverse City game, was injured with a hip pointer early in the second game, so a demonstration of the amount of progress he has made since coming back for his lingering virus last season has been delayed. Graham is expected to begin the season in Hartford and either play there or be returned to the ECHL Charlotte Checkers. Hugh Jessiman, who is running out of time to show that he was worthy of being a first round NHL Entry Draft selection, will also begin the season in Hartford. This is a make or break season for the big winger, and a good camp would surely go a long way toward improving Jessiman’s confidence.

Defensemen

The Rangers have five defensemen who played for the NHL team in 2005-06 and will be returning to the club for the 2006-07 season. Additionally, the team signed unrestricted free agent Aaron Ward during the offseason. Additionally, the Rangers have signed two European players, Martin Richter and Karel Rachunek, who will be attending training camp. It is expected that both of those players will be on the Ranger roster at the start of the season. Further, there will be other non-prospect camp invitees who will battle for slots on the NHL team. Thus, there are at most only one or two slots for prospect defensemen. Thomas Pock and Marc Staal are the prospect blueliners that have the greatest chances of being members of the NHL Rangers at season opening. However, it is more likely that Staal will be returned to his OHL team, the Sudbury Wolves, at the end of the exhibition season than it is of him staying in New York. On the other hand, Pock has a very good chance of starting the season with the big team. It is imperative that he has a really good training camp and exhibition play. If he does so, Pock will break camp with the NHL team, and be given a shot to become a permanent member of the Rangers’ blueline.

Other defenseman who played either in Hartford or with Charlotte last season will return to those teams to begin the 2006-07 campaign. Players such as Ivan Baranka, Bryce Lampman, and David Liffiton may be able to get opportunities to play when injuries to the regular defensemen occur. If any of the three really impress when they are called up, any one of them could stick with the NHL club. Expect Marvin Degon and Daniel Girardi to each play at least one more year of AHL hockey; while Canadian Hockey League prospects Bob Sanguinetti and Michael Sauer (who missed the Traverse City tournament due to an injury he sustained at his junior hockey training camp) will be returned to play junior hockey after camp.

Goaltenders

The Rangers have six netminders in camp this week. It is expected that the duo of Henrik Lundqvist and Kevin Weekes, who were the netminders on the roster for the first game in 2005-06 will also be on the team for the first game this season. The only difference will be the fact that this year, Lundqvist will be the starting goalie and Weekes will be the backup. Al Montoya, who is returning from shoulder surgery, will test the shoulder in training camp. No matter how good he plays though, he will be returned to Hartford to begin the season. It is likely that he will be called up to the NHL this season to fill in upon injury to either Weekes or Lundqvist, but he will not be a regular member of the NHL team this season. If he continues to play at the level he did last season and even develop further, Montoya will be ready to play in the NHL full time in 2006-07. At that time, the Rangers will have to make the decision as to who will be the No. 1 netminder for years to come.

Chris Holt, who had an excellent playoff run with Hartford last season, but did not play particularly well in Traverse City, looks like he may become a journeyman goaltender in the future. He has skill, but just does not appear to have what it takes to be a number 1 netminder down the line. He will probably begin the season in Hartford, however, it would be much better for his development to be sent to Charlotte, if the Rangers are promised that Holt will get to play a lot of games. Holt is a long-term project and is nowhere near ready to play in the NHL on a regular basis.

Preseason Schedule

9/19/2006 at New Jersey 7:30 p.m.
9/20/2006 vs. New Jersey 7 p.m.
9/23/2006 at Florida (in San Juan, Puerto Rico). 7 p.m.
9/25/2006 vs. NY Islanders 7 p.m.
9/27/2006 vs. Boston 7 p.m.
9/29/2006 at NY Islanders 7 p.m.
9/30/2006 at Boston 4 p.m.

Conclusion

The Rangers are a team that has a large number of veteran players, and despite management’s commitment to a “rebuilding process”, it is likely that only two or three prospects will make the team to open the season. The Rangers do have a large number of excellent prospects that the team is bringing through the system. Most are at least one more year away from being ready to play in the NHL.


Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.