Rangers CHL prospects season review

By Leslie Treff

The Rangers had 15 prospects playing in the CHL during the 2006-07 season, and although the regular CHL season ended in late March, most of the Rangers young talent were playing into the post-season. One prospect, Michael Sauer, is still playing with the Medicine Hat Tigers for the Memorial Cup.

Seven of the Blueshirts’ CHL prospects played in the OHL this season; five were members of WHL teams, and two played in the QMJHL. Of the 15 Rangers’ prospects, nine are forwards and six are defensemen.

OHL

Seven of the Rangers’ prospects playing junior hockey this past season were members of OHL teams. Four are defenseman and three are forwards.

Marc Staal, D
Team: Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
Acquired: Draft, 1st round, 12th overall, 2005

After his pre-season performance with the Rangers dictated a return to the junior ranks, Marc Staal started the 2006-07 season very slowly. Staal’s initial disappointment to be back in the OHL was reflected in his play, and in fact, the big blueliner’s entire regular season was not quite up to par. His 34 points (5 goals, 29 assists) in 53 regular season games with the Sudbury Wolves (68 PIM, +7) was respectable, but not progress. Of more concern was the fact that he was not consistently dominating the league on defense.

Once the post-season started, Staal was a completely different player, and on both ends of the ice. In total, the Wolves team captain skated in 21 playoff games and registered 20 points (5 goals, 15 assists), while maintaining an amazing +17 rating. In four of those games, he was named first star; he was named the second star in one game and the third star in two others. Named the CHL Player of the Week for the last week in April, Staal was completely dominating on defense while showing creativity, passing abilities and hockey smarts on offense during the six weeks that Sudbury was in the playoffs.

Staal’s post-season play was an integral reason that Sudbury made it to the OHL finals. And even though the team lost the J. Ross Robertson Cup (league championship), Staal received the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as the OHL playoffs MVP. Previously Staal had been named to the First Team OHL All-Stars. To add to his accolades, Staal also received the 2006-07 Max Kaminsky Trophy as the league’s most outstanding defenseman. In the OHL Coaches poll, he was named the second hardest working player in the OHL’s Eastern Conference, second best body checker, and first among all the penalty killers in the Eastern Conference. Finally, he won several team awards last week, including being named co-MVP for the playoffs.

There is some expectation that the big defenseman will begin the 2007-08 season with the Rangers. Whether or not that happens will depend upon what he shows in the camps over the next several months, but it certainly is not out of the question that he will begin next season on Broadway.

Bobby Sanguinetti, D
Team: Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Acquired: Draft, 1st round, 21st overall, 2006

The Rangers’ 2006 first-round draft selection had a good season offensively in Owen Sound (23 goals, 30 assists, in 67 games), but he often was beaten in his own end and had some positional troubles on defense. When the Attack’s season ended after four straight losses in the playoffs, Sanguinetti’s defense in the series can only have been decribed as disappointing.

In early April, Sanguinetti was signed to an ATO by the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, and the young blueliner really blossomed playing with professional teammates. After NHL call-ups and season-ending injuries, Hartford desperately needed defensive help, and Sanguinetti stepped right in. He proved to be a very able and reliable in his new role, "seeing the ice well, showing poise with the puck, with an excellent shot," according to Hartford Head Coach Jim Schoenfeld. Sanguinetti showed more than offensive skills, however. He was also was very solid in his own end. In five regular-season AHL games, the blueliner had three assists, had an even plus/minus rating, and often played on the first pairing. Sanguinetti continued his fine play into the AHL playoffs, where he was steady and confident under pressure (7 games, 1 assist, +1 rating).

Sanguinetti’s excellent AHL performance during the month of April earned him an NHL contract late in the month. His February 1988 birthday will require him to either join the Rangers next season or be returned to junior hockey, so it is almost a certainty that he will be back in the CHL. But his experience in Hartford should prove invaluable and he will return to Owen Sound a much more mature player than when he left the OHL last March.
 

Tom Pyatt, C
Team: Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Acquired: Draft, 4th round, 107th overall, 2005

Tom Pyatt changed his style of play this season and the results were impressive. After deciding to take a more aggressive mindset into his final junior hockey season, the previously defensive forward had an outstanding final OHL season. In 58 regular season games, Pyatt recorded 81 points (43 goals, 38 assists), including 13 power-play and six shorthanded goals. Playing in all situations on a team loaded with talent, Pyatt was one of the Spirit’s most reliable and offensively productive forwards.

Almost as impressive as his offensive production was Pyatt’s +33 plus/minus rating and stingy 18 PIM. In the playoffs, the disciplined center became Saginaw’s leading scorer (6 games, 8 points, 0 PIM, +2). This combination of great offensive production with intense discipline earned Pyatt participation in three tournaments this past season. He appeared in the 2006 ADT Canada-Russia Challenge, where he registered an assist in the one game in which he played. Pyatt also won a gold medal with Team Canada in Sweden at the 2007 World Junior Championships. In that tournament, he had a goal and three assists in six games. Finally, Pyatt participated in the 2007 OHL All-Star Classic, where he was named Western Conference team captain.

Awarded the William Hanley Trophy as the OHL’s Most Sportsmanlike Player for the 2006-07 season, Pyatt plays a principled, smart hockey game. He knows how to play within himself, and rarely lets his emotions get the better of him. When his mental game is combined with strength on the puck and excellent playmaking skills, Pyatt has all the tools to be a fine NHL player for the Rangers.

It is expected that Pyatt will join the Hartford Wolf Pack next fall and spend at least one season in the AHL prior to joining the Rangers.

Tomas Zaborsky, LW
Team: Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Acquired: Draft, 5th round, 137 overall, 2006

Tomas Zaborsky had a very good rookie OHL season, playing in North America for the first time. Like his teammate Tom Pyatt, Zaborsky skated with some very talented players in Saginaw, and ice time was very hard to come by early in the season. The self-proclaimed sniper earned his way to more and more ice time as the season went on. "After I returned from the [World] Juniors, things changed. The ice time got much better and I really liked playing here. Before that it was very hard coming to play [in North America]. It is a very different system here," said Zaborsky.

In 59 regular season games, Zaborsky recorded 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists), while accumulating 18 PIM and a +18 rating. He added three more points in the six playoff games that the Spirit played. The 19-year old returned to Europe last December to represent his home country, Slovakia, in the 2007 World Junior Championships. Although his team did not win a medal, Zaborsky was very visible on the ice, scoring three points (1 goal, 2 assists) in six games, and taking 19 shots on goal, the most on his team.

A very good two-way player, with a quick release and a nose for the net, Zaborsky will be eligible to play in Hartford next season. However, he told Hockey’s Future that he intends to return to Saginaw for the 2007-08 season. "I want to be one of the best players in the league and show the Rangers what I can do."

Zaborsky has already shown that the Rangers made a sound selection when they drafted him in the fifth round last summer. If he continues to work on his strength on the puck and quickness on the ice, Zaborsky should be NHL-ready in two or three seasons.


John Seymour, LW

Team: Brampton Battalion (OHL)
Acquired: Trade with Los Angeles, 2/5/07

John Seymour became the property of the New York Rangers in the trade that brought Sean Avery to New York and sent prospect Marc-Andre Cliche the other way. Seymour had been selected by the Kings in the seventh round (226th overall) of the 2005 NHL Draft, and was seen as a project. Solid in his own zone, with decent mobility for his size, the Kings hoped that Seymour’s offensive upside would manifest itself and grow over the next two years. Unfortunately, that has not materialized. During the 2006-07 season, Seymour played in 47 regular season games, and recorded nine points (3 goals, 6 assists), while accumulating 40 PIM, and a -7 plus/minus rating. The Rangers’ rights to the big winger will expire next week, and it is unlikely that the team will sign him to an NHL contract prior to June 1.

Trevor Koverko, D
Team: Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Acquired: Draft, 5th round, 147th overall, 2005

Known as a good skater who is solid in his own end, Koverko was traded from the OHL team that drafted him, Owen Sound, to the Oshawa Generals last summer. From the beginning, the team and the player did not seem to be a good fit, and the problems just got worse as the season wore on. On the ice, Koverko appeared in 68 regular season games and accumulated 18 assists, with 49 PIM, and a -8 rating. Off the ice, there were disciplinary problems, which eventually led to him leaving the team prior to the start of the post-season.

A big tough defenseman who is hard to move off the puck, Koverko has never matched the stats of his 2004-05 draft season. When his decreased statistics are combined with his discipline problems (on and off the ice), it is unlikely that a team that only can have 50 NHL contracted players will sign Koverko. Look for Koverko to sign a minor league contract for the 2007-08 season, and probably play at the "AA" level.

 
Dalyn Flatt, D

Team: Brampton Battalion
Acquired: Draft, 3rd round, 77th overall, 2005

Dalyn Flatt played for three CHL teams this season. After starting with the WHL Kootenay Ice (4 games, 25 PIM, -1), he came to Ontario to play for Owen Sound (32 games, 3 goals, 3 assists, 90 PIM, +8). Traded to Brampton as part of a blockbuster deal that brought six draft picks to the Battalion, Flatt played 26 regular season and four playoff games with the team (3 assists, 76 PIM, -7 during the regular season; no scoring during the playoffs).

Strong in his own zone, with a nasty streak, Flatt had by far his best season in Saskatoon in 2004-05. He has never come near his totals that season in his subsequent junior play. Nor has he been particularly impressive in training camp. It is highly unlikely that he will be signed to an NHL contract over the next week. Look for Flatt to play an overage year in the CHL next season.

WHL

Six of the Rangers’ junior players spent the 2006-07 season as member of WHL teams, including four forwards and two defensemen.

Michael Sauer, D

Team: Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
Acquired: Draft, 2nd round, 40th overall, 2005

Michael Sauer is the only Rangers’ prospect that is still playing in the post-season. Currently competing for the Memorial Cup in Vancouver, Sauer is an alternate captain and one of the Medicine Hat Tigers’ top defenseman. Traded to the team on Dec. 27,Sauer had served as captain of the Portland Winter Hawks during the first half of this season.

The 2006-07 campaign has been the first WHL hockey season in which Sauer was not plagued with serious injuries. His combined regular season statistics reveal solid, consistent play (65 games, 23 points, 75 PIM, +1), and he stepped up his game even more during the playoffs, where he registered six points in 23 games and had a +11 rating. Since the start of the Memorial Cup competition last week, he has played in two games and has 12 PIM. While not actually part of the Monday night scrum that got both the Tigers and Plymouth Whalers a disciplinary fine, Sauer did receive a 10-minute misconduct penalty late in the third period.

Not afraid to jump in to defend a teammate, Sauer is a character player, with strong leadership skills, and solid play in his own zone. This next few days will be his final ones as a junior hockey player, with Sauer expected to join the Hartford Wolf Pack next fall. His skating and puck movement are excellent and he is working on the offensive side of his game. If Sauer can stay healthy, he projects to be a solid second-pairing defenseman for the Rangers after at least one year of professional play in Hartford.

 
Brodie Dupont, C

Team: Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Acquired: Draft, 3rd round, 66th overall, 2005

Just recently signed to an NHL contract by the Rangers, Dupont completed his junior hockey career with a flair last month. The big center appeared in 18 playoff games, recording 16 points (9 goals, 7 assists), with 33 PIM, while maintaining a +1 rating. The Hitmen’s alternate captain was named "first star" in two of the 18 games, "second star" in one game, and "third star" in two more.

Earlier in the season, he had shown his skills in an international exhibition game, the final 2006 ADT Canada/Russia Challenge game in Kamloops, BC. Dupont had three goals and one assist, and although no stars were awarded after this game, Dupont was without question the top among some of the WHL’s best players.

During the regular season, Dupont was outstanding. With 70 points (37 goals, 33 assists) in as many games during the 2006-07 season, the center accumulated 90 PIM, while maintaining a +23 plus/minus rating. Of his 37 goals, 11 were on the power play (tied for first on the Hitmen), and two were while his team was shorthanded.

Dupont is a gritty, two-way player, with good hands and a nose for the net. Strong on the puck, with a very good work ethic, Dupont will have no trouble adjusting to professional play next fall.
 

Ryan Russell, C
Team: Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Acquired: Draft, 7th round, 207th overall, 2005

Ryan Russell, a 2005 draft pick, must be signed to an NHL contract by next week or the Rangers will lose his rights. A smaller player, who is an excellent playmaker, with good instincts, Russell is certain to be a very good professional player. The question still is whether or not he can play at the NHL level.

That said, he had a very solid season with the Kootenay Ice in 2006-07. Russell, the team captain, was the team’s second leading scorer during the regular season, posting 76 points (30 goals, 46 assists) in 58 games, while accumulating 40 PIM, and maintaining a +24 plus/minus rating. Russell continued to shine in the playoffs, where he recorded nine points in seven games (2 PIM, +6).

Recently named the Ice fan-favorite player for 2006-07, Russell also received an award for community service, and an award voted on by his teammates. Additionally, Russell participated in the annual ADT Canada/Russia Challenge last fall, scoring a goal in the second game.

Eric Hunter, C
Team: Prince George Cougars (WHL)
Acquired: Draft, 6th round, 174th overall, 2006

Eric Hunter had a very good season with the Prince George Cougars. Not quite as good as the one he had last year prior to being drafted by the Rangers, but still respectable. In 69 games, Hunter recorded 55 points (24 goals, 31 assists), 109 PIM, and a +1 rating. The team captain, Hunter plays a gritty game, loves to agitate, has very good hands and excellent offensive instincts.

Those will serve him well as he moves on to professional play next season. For although he was drafted by the Rangers in 2006, Hunter was an NHL draft re-entry, and is now less than three months shy of his 21st birthday. The Rangers will continue to own his rights until June 1, 2008; however, he will be eligible to play minor league hockey next season.

Lukas Zeliska, C
Team: Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Acquired: Draft, 7th round, 204th overall, 2006

It took some time for Lukas Zeliska to adjust to playing in North America this season. But by the time the post-season began, Zeliska was able to make a major contribution to the Prince Albert Raiders’ playoff efforts. In the five games the Raiders played, Zeliska had a team-leading five points (1 goal, 4 assists). During the regular season, he recorded 29 points (4 goals, 25 assists) in 61 games, while accumulating 77 PIM, and a -1 plus/minus rating.

Zeliska is a playmaker with very good hands and good on-ice vision. The Rangers have another year to watch him develop prior to making a decision as to whether he will fit into their plans. Expect Zeliska to return to Prince Albert next season and be much more comfortable with the environs there.

 
Michael Busto, D
Team: Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Acquired: Free Agent

The Rangers signed Michael Busto to an NHL contract on May 2, 2007. The free agent defenseman had just completed an excellent overage season with the Kootenay Ice, registering 63 points in 70 games (79 PIM, +21).

Recently named to the WHL Eastern Conference First Team All-Star Team, Busto is a very competent blueliner, who is expected to play in Hartford this fall. At 6’2, 210, Busto is solid in his own zone and has a big offensive upside. With Bobby Sanguinetti required to return to his junior team this coming fall, Busto is expected to quarterback the power play and be a first-pairing defenseman at even strength for the Wolf Pack.
 

QMJHL

The trade that sent Marc-Andre Cliche to Los Angeles, left the Rangers with only two prospects playing in the QMJHL. Both are forwards selected in the 2006 draft.

Ryan Hillier, LW

Team: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Acquired: Draft, 3rd round, 84th overall, 2006

Ryan Hillier had an up and down season. At times he seemed not to be putting in the effort required to more forward in his career. At others, he was a pleasure to watch. There is no question that Hillier possesses excellent offensive skills, but whether he can he put it all together consistently remains to be seen.

Statistically, Hillier had a very good season, second on the Mooseheads in points (59 in 70 games) and first in power-play goals (14). After Halifax’s season was completed in April, Hillier signed an ATO with Hartford and spent a week practicing with the team and getting a taste of professional hockey. He is expected to return to Halifax in the fall to complete his final season of eligibility.

 
David Kveton, C

Team: Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL
Acquired: Draft, 4th round, 104th overall, 2006

David Kveton had a very difficult time adjusting to playing in North America this past fall. Relegated to the third and fourth line for the Gatineau Olympiques early in the season, Kveton said that it was very hard for him and he was frustrated. When his former Czech team offered him the opportunity to return to Europe, promising Kveton more ice time, he jumped at the chance. Kveton now admits that the move was a mistake and after Christmas, he decided to return to Gatineau. Upon his return, Kveton’s season turned around. In total, Kveton appeared in 31 regular season games this past season, posting 32 points (5 goals, 27 assists), 17 PIM, and a -2. However, after his turnaround, in the months of January through March alone, Kveton recorded 27 points in 26 games.

Not as effective in the playoffs (0 points in 5 games), Kveton was again not given much ice time with which to work. Following the playoffs, the Czech center was signed to an ATO by the Hartford Wolf Pack, where he spent a week practicing with the AHL team before returning to Europe.

A great playmaker with very good on-ice vision, Kveton is highly skilled offensively, and does not shy away from physical play. The Rangers will be watching closely over the next year to monitor his continuing adjustment to the North American style of the game.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.

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