The New York Rangers currently have 14 players on the roster of the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, including eight forwards, four defensemen, and two goaltenders. Of the 12, five are in their first year of professional hockey in North America.
With so many inexperienced players on the ice, it is not that surprising that the Wolf Pack struggled in the first few months of the season. However, in December, Hartford started to turn things around, and since the first of the year, the team is 6-0-1. Hartford sits second in the Atlantic Division, and absent a large number of untimely injuries hitting the team, the team should once again make the playoffs. With all the talent now on the roster and the expected addition of Marc Staal, after his post-Canadian Hockey League season, the team should be formidable, and have a good chance to carry the Wolf Pack further than their loss in the second round last season.
Stocked with eight very good NHL prospects up front, the Wolf Pack should be scoring a lot of goals. However, none of the team’s forwards are in the top 20 in scoring in the league. It has taken time for the forward lines on the young team to come together, which certainly has affected the scoring. Additionally, two of the veteran players, Nigel Dawes and Jarkko Immonen, who were top Hartford scorers last season have spent time with the NHL Rangers team, missing a significant number of AHL games. On the bright side, two of the first-year forwards are in the top 20 in rookie scoring. Ryan Callahan’s 37 points place him third in total points among rookies in the league. Dane Byers, who plays on a line with Callahan, is 14th in overall scoring for rookies (26 total points). As the team gets more and more comfortable playing together and continues to adjust to this level of play, one can expect that the scoring will increase proportionately over the rest of the season.
Nigel Dawes, LW
Drafted: Fifth Round, 149th overall, 2003
Height: 5’8; Weight: 190
After a very strong training camp and pre-season, Dawes won the one rookie forward spot on the NHL team. After the 21-year-old Dawes played 8 NHL games (from October 5 through November 1), and scored only 1 goal, he was returned to the Wolf Pack on Nov. 13. Upon his return to the AHL, Dawes wasted no time in contributing offensively. Before the end of November, Dawes had accumulated seven assists in six games. Despite a rather quiet December, when his offensive production was way down, Dawes has returned to form in the seven January games that the Wolf Pack have played. Dawes has four goals and four assists since Hartford has returned to action on Jan. 3, and 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists) in 27 games on the season. It is no accident that Dawes’ latest spurt in production has mirrored the team’s winning ways. The diminutive winger is a spark plug, who can raise the energy of the team both by scoring goals and by his hard work. It was Dawes’ work ethic that got him the spot on the Rangers’ roster to start the season, and it is his work ethic that will get him back there. That and lots of pucks in the back of the net. Until then, Hartford will be the beneficiary of his efforts.
Drafted: Toronto 8th Round, 254th overall, 2002
Acquired: 3/3/04 Trade that sent Brian Leetch to Toronto
Height: 6’0; Weight: 210
It was not long after the Rangers returned Dawes to Hartford that the club re-called Immonen to the NHL roster. The Finnish center was one of the last players cut from the team in late September, and in early December, when he was recalled, Immonen was playing exceptionally well offensively. While his plus/minus was a frightening –14 at the time, the Rangers were depleted by injuries and sought to give Immonen a chance to perform. This was his second tour of duty with the NHL team (the Finnish center had played six games with the Rangers at the end of last season), but it was short-lived. Immonen only played in 11 NHL games, including one where he scored the game-winning goal, before being relegated to the Rangers’ bench. There he sat until on Jan. 8, the Rangers returned him to the Wolf Pack. Now assured to play every game, Immonen will need some time to readjust to this level. Hopefully, he can do this quickly and go on to have a very productive last two months of the season. Currently, Immonen has played in 23 games and recorded 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists), with a –11 and 14 PIM. Whether or not Immonen regains the offensive touch he exhibited last season, there is no question that Immonen can help the Wolf Pack on face-offs; he is one of the best face-off specialists in the Rangers organization.
Ryan Callahan, RW
Drafted: Fourth Round, 127th overall, 2004
Height: 5’11; Weight: 185
Callahan is having a hockey season that most AHL rookies can only dream of having. With 37 points (24 goals, 13 assists) in as many games, a plus/minus of +8 and 47 PIM, the gritty winger leads the Wolf Pack in total points and is third in scoring among AHL first-year players. Named to the AHL All-Star Game earlier this month, Callahan will take his game to the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on the 28th and 29th of January. The skills competition and the All-Star Game are two more opportunities to impress from a player that has not always had a rosy future within the Rangers organization. After Callahan had a good, but not exceptional season with the OHL Guelph Storm in 2004-05, and followed it up with a good, but not exceptional Fall 2005 Rangers training camp, Callahan was offered an AHL contract. He turned it down and decided to return to the Storm (for an overage year) to prove his worth. During the 2005-06 season, Callahan took his game to another level, maturing both on and off the ice.
After signing the NHL contract he worked so hard to obtain on May 11, 2006, Callahan was not particularly impressive in either the Traverse City Prospects Tournament or in the NHL team’s main camp. He was assigned to the Wolf Pack training camp early on, and opened the season with the AHL team. By the end of October though, Callahan was on a tear. He has consistently been offensively productive during the season, and has played his gritty, up-tempo game throughout the season. The Rangers have noticed and rewarded him with two single-game call-ups to the NHL team in December. If he continues to produce as he has, Callahan will likely see more time in a Rangers uniform before the season ends, and who knows what next season will bring.
Dane Byers, LW
Drafted: Second Round, 48th overall, 2004
Height: 6’3; Weight: 190
After Byers had an excellent season in Prince Albert during the 2005-06 campaign, the Rangers’ signed the big forward to an NHL contract. He played 5 games with Hartford last spring, before being released from his Amateur Tryout (ATO) Contract, but was back on the team this past fall. Prior to joining the Wolf Pack for the 2006-07 season, Byers participated in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament. Although he only played in two games, he was very impressive, with and without the puck, and many of the scouts that were present took notice. Since then, Byers has continued to play extremely well. In 39 games, he has registered 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists), while maintaining a +2 and accumulating 110 PIM. Never afraid to throw his weight around, Byers is tough and aggressive. While these are two of his strengths, equally important is learning that first and foremost Byers is an offensive threat, who plays well with Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky. After taking three game misconducts early in the season, Byers appears to have gained some discipline and knowledge as to how to far he can take his physical game at this level and not be shown to the dressing room. Not afraid to crash the net to score, Byers plays an exciting, physical game. His continuing maturity will translate to excellent Hartford teams over the next couple of years.
Drafted: Second Round, 60th overall, 2004
Height: 6’1; Weight: 210
Despite being one of the higher profile rookies in Hartford during 2006-07, Dubinsky got off to a slow start this season. With five points in the first 18 games, it is possible that the high-energy center was recovering from the disappointment of being one of the last forwards cut from the Rangers’ roster in late September. This is particularly true given that it was the second consecutive September that the NHL club had to think hard before reassigning him. That said, with 14 points in the last 21 games, Dubinsky seems to be regaining the form he showed last year in the WHL, as well as in training camp this past fall. After he took Hartford’s playoff opponents by storm last spring in the post-season (scoring 10 points in 11 games), there were very high expectations this fall. However, this is professional hockey, and opponents are quick to adjust to how players make their moves. As one of the more offensively creative prospects in the organization, and a year younger than many of the players in Hartford, Dubinsky will be able to make the necessary adjustments. With his tremendous drive and work ethic, he should never be counted out. Even if Dubinsky has an AHL rookie season that is not up to his (and the Rangers’ organization’s) expectations, it will most likely only strengthen his resolve.
Drafted: Edmonton Eighth Round, 244th overall, 2002
Acquired: 3/03/04 Trade that sent Petr Nedved to Edmonton
Height: 5’10; Weight: 191
Helminen, known as a defensive center, had an excellent season in 2005-06. With 55 points in 77 games, and a +25, the former NCAA player took a huge step forward in development. He seems to have taken a step backward this season, as his numbers have plummeted. Part of the problem appears to be that Helminen does not have regular linemates. In every game, he seems to be playing with different forwards. Thus far, he has skated in 41 games and scored 17 points (7 goals, 10 assists), with a –5 plus/minus. Used often on the penalty kill, Helminen is a very good defensive zone face-off specialist, but his future with the organization will be in doubt if he does not pick up his overall game over the next few months.
Lauri Korpikoski, LW
Drafted: First Round, 19th overall, 2004
Height: 6’1; Weight: 190
After putting up good numbers in the Finland Elite League during the 2006-06 season, Korpikoski signed an NHL contract with the Rangers, and was sent to the Wolf Pack last April. After impressing in his five games with the team, he was very disappointing in the post-season. This season, he often plays on a line with lesser offensively minded forwards, and his numbers reflect this. In 41 games, Korpikoski has recorded 15 points (5 goals, 10 assists), a –4 plus/minus and 17 PIM. A speedster, with good defensive skills, Korpikoski has recently been playing mostly on the third line and on the penalty kill. To improve his numbers, he must earn ice time on other lines and play regularly on the power play. A European player’s adjustment to the North American game can take time, and because Korpikoski was a first round selection, he will be given even more time. Thus even if his entire 2006-07 season is mediocre at best, Korpikoski’s future will probably not be determined based upon this year’s numbers.
Greg Moore, RW
Drafted: Calgary Fifth Round, 143rd overall, 2003
Acquired: 3/06/04 Trade that sent Chris Simon to Calgary
Height: 6’1; Weight: 225
Moore had a fantastic training camp this past fall, and the Rangers kept him on the NHL roster until late September. Cast as mostly a defensive forward with the ability to score, it was with high expectations that Moore joined the Wolf Pack to start the season. Thus far, they have not panned out. In 40 games this season, Moore has registered 13 points (5 goals, 8 assists), with a –5 plus/minus, and 29 PIM. Like Korpikoski, Moore will have to pick up his game to remain a top Rangers’ prospect. However, Moore will be given less time to do so than his two years younger European teammate.
Hartford’s defensive corps was the most questionable part of the roster prior to the start of the season. Like the offense, the blueliners took some time for their game to come together. It appears that for the most part, this has happened. Led by newcomer, Daniel Girardi, the Wolf Pack defense pairs have been very solid in the last seven games. In total, opponents have scored only 13 goals this month.
Daniel Girardi, D
Acquired: Free Agent, 7/1/06
Height: 6’2; Weight: 200
The Rangers signed the 22-year-old Girardi this summer, after he had a tremendous rookie season in Hartford in 2005-06. He was undrafted, and played for five years in the OHL. Last season, Girardi played in 66 games with the Wolf Pack, recording 39 points (8 goals, 31 assists), with a +14 plus/minus and 44 PIM. This season, Girardi is the leading offensive defenseman on the team, playing the point on the power play and in the top pair at even strength. He has 22 points (2 goals, 20 assists) in 41 games, with a +4 plus/minus and 16 PIM. Girardi is smart, quick, and has excellent on-ice vision. At the same time, he rarely abandons his defensive responsibilities. An excellent free agency signing for the Rangers, Girardi continues to mature. He was recently named to represent the Wolf Pack in the AHL All-Star Game later this month. It was a deserved honor to an excellent blueliner.
Drafted: Second Round, 50th overall, 2003
Height: 6’3; Weight: 205
Baranka’s professional career has thus far has been marred by injuries. Last year, he broke his hand and missed the end of the season. This year, Baranka’s season was threatened by an injury to his pinky finger. But the big defenseman returned and has played regularly for the past six weeks. He is a very talented puckmover, who is not afraid to take or give a hit. In 30 games this season, Baranka has 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists), a +4 plus/minus and 30 PIM. A year behind Girardi in age, at approximately the same size, Baranka has a similar skill set. Unlike Girardi though, Baranka is somewhat fragile. His progress will be hampered by repeated injuries.
Drafted: Fourth Round, 113th overall, 2001
Height: 6’1”; Weight: 205
The oldest of the Rangers’ defensive prospects, Lampman is having a very good year at Hartford. A good solid blueliner, Lampman covers his own zone very well, can clear the crease, and has some offensive abilities. However, he can at times be undisciplined, hurting his team with unnecessary penalties. In 37 games thus far this season, Lampman has 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) with a +6 plus/minus and 46 PIM. He was recalled to the Rangers NHL team on Dec. 26, but never played a game. The Rangers returned him to Hartford four days later, without ever suiting up. But Lampman did get to practice with the team and the coaching staff was able to view how much he has developed. Unfortunately, that development was hampered by a season-shortening injury in 2005-06. Prior to the injury, Lampman was putting up some very good numbers, but he has never regained that form since. As the years go on, Lampman has more and more competition from younger teammates. Whether he can impress sufficiently to become an NHL player before the clock runs out is open to question.
Drafted: Colorado, Second Round, 63rd overall, 2003
Acquired: 3/8/04 Trade that sent Matthew Barnaby to Colorado
Height: 6’3; Weight: 210
Liffiton is having a rough season on Hartford’s blue line. He has trouble getting back to cover his own end, takes way too many penalties, and although he loves to fight, he often loses. In 40 games this season, Liffiton has six assists, a –6 plus/minus, and 97 PIM.
Drafted: First Round, 6th overall, 2004
Height: 6’1; Weight: 193
Montoya’s 9-10 record this season is very deceptive. He has played incredibly well, and has erased any doubts that anyone had about Montoya’s ability to come back from his shoulder surgery. In 22 games this season, Montoya has two shutouts, a 2.36 GAA, and a .914 save percentage. In the four games in which he has played in January, Montoya has an astounding GAA of 1.91 and a save percentage of .927. With his performances over the past two seasons, there is no question that Montoya has the ability to be a number one netminder in the NHL. However, whether he can achieve that goal will largely depend upon him staying healthy.
Drafted: Sixth Round, 180th overall, 2003
Height: 6’4; Weight: 230
Holt was just called up from Charlotte to Hartford today. Until now, Montoya and Steve Valiquette are the only netminders that the Wolf Pack have had between the pipes.
Notes: Hugh Jessiman (1st Round, 12th overall, 2003) began the season in Hartford and was playing with the Wolf Pack, until he was reassigned to Charlotte on Dec. 30. In 25 games with Hartford, Jessiman recorded five points (1 goal, 4 assists), while maintaining a –8 plus/minus and accumulating 23 PIM. Jessiman started off the season really strong, and it was hoped that he had overcome a lot of the confidence problems that plagued him last year. However, he had been ineffective of late, and the decision was made to send him down to the ECHL. In the last two weeks with the Checkers, Jessiman has played in eight games and registered 10 points, with a +4 plus/minus. In addition, the big winger (6’6, 231) has had three fights. If Jessiman continues to play in this manner, he will be recalled in a matter of weeks, but another letdown may doom him to play in the ECHL for an extended period.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.