Twenty-five young players participated in the Rangers 2007 Development Camp at the Madison Square Garden Training Center this past week. The five-day camp, which culminated in a 4-on-4 scrimmage on Friday afternoon, brought together 15 Rangers prospects and 10 young hopefuls for whom this week was the first exposure to the Blueshirts’ organization.
The camp included physicals and fitness testing, conditioning and strength coaching, as well as team-building exercises and on-ice drills. Head coach Tom Renney gave another reason for the camp. "We explain what the team’s philosophy is and try to get them to embrace it. We give them an idea of what it will take for them to become NHL players with this organization."
Hartford Wolf Pack Assistant Coach Ken Gernander, who worked with the young prospects all week, added that "while we always evaluate a little bit, this is more of a week of acclimation, letting the prospects know where they stack up against NHL guys with their conditioning and testing."
Several players stood out on Friday as being particularly skilled. The best offensive players on the ice were, without question, the pair of Russian 2006 and 2007 draft selections that were in attendance. Both Artem Anisimov and Alexei Cherepanov were very impressive. Each showed creativity, excellent puck handling skills, confidence, and a very good shot. According to Gernander "it was the first time that I have seen either of them play in a scrimmage situation. Anisimov [ who was the Rangers’ second-round selection in 2006] definitely has a nose for the net. With his skills, handwise and puckwise, he was a legitimate first round pick last year."
Gernander had some very flattering comments regarding Cherepanov, who played on a team with Tom Pyatt on Friday. Noting that the young Russian’s game really showed well in the scrimmage, Gernander was impressed with "his really heady plays. Offensively, he looked great."
Four other forwards also made noteworthy contributions to the scrimmage. Pyatt, who is expected to begin his professional career this fall in Hartford, was very quick coming up the ice and often was able to make very good centering passes to Cherepanov, allowing the Rangers’ 2007 first-round pick some excellent scoring chances. Gernander, who was able to see Pyatt in last year’s prospect camp and during some on-ice AHL workouts this past spring, commented that Pyatt "is one of the best conditioned athletes of this group. He is conscientious about playing in his own end too, and will not be a defensive liability this fall. A very good two-way player, and a team guy, he should fit in well."
Hillier gave his all on the ice, and showed quite a bit of creativity with the puck. Despite a few miscues with the puck that led to giveaways, in all an impressive performance by the Halifax Mooseheads winger.
The other notable performance put on by a forward was the play of Greg Beller. Beller, a sixth-round pick in 2005, recently completed his freshman season at Yale. Beller was solid defensively and quickly went down to block shots. Playing with Anisimov, Beller liked to go to the net in the offensive zone and wait for the Russian to get him the puck.
Defensively, Marc Staal was the best player on the ice. He made some outstanding plays, creating takeaways (both in the offensive and defensive zones), and making excellent breakout passes. Both his skating and his physical strength have improved, literally knocking the stick out of one of the opposition player’s hands as he went by.
Of the invitees, Justin DiBenedetto, a forward who played with the OHL Sarnia Sting last season, showed good skating skills and excellent puckhandling. Both of the Japanese invitees also made some nice plays. Worthy of particular mention was the speed of Masahito Suzuki, who came from nowhere to stop an opponent’s clear breakaway.
The Rangers plan a prospects camp later this summer and will once again be participating in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament in early September.
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