Over the last week, 51 players have been at the New York Rangers‘ Madison Square Garden Training Center in Tarrytown, New York attending the NHL team’s 2007 training camp. Camp officially began last Thursday with medicals and fitness testing followed by a team meeting. Over the five days since then, 28 forwards, 17 defensemen, and six goaltenders have skated and worked out. Tomorrow morning, 39 of them will be off to West Point, New York for two days of bonding. A six-game exhibition schedule follows.
According to Head Coach Tom Renney, fewer players were brought into camp this season than in the past to allow the coaching staff to get a real opportunity to see each player on the ice for an extended period and develop team chemistry. "We are looking for a culture of accountability and discipline here. That’s how you become a winning team." The smaller camp appears to be a very successful strategy as almost every player was on the ice for a significant period over at least four of the last five days, and management was given a good opportunity to watch all the players at length.
The five-day on-ice portion of camp began Friday morning, when 45 skaters were divided into four teams (red, green, white, and blue). The six netminders rotated from team to team, with each playing at least one period of a scrimmage each day, and getting plenty of attention from netminding coach Benoit Allaire.
For the first three days of on-ice workouts, two teams at a time performed drills for an hour and then scrimmaged against each other (for two 15-minute periods). The members of the teams changed on a daily basis, giving players the opportunity to skate on lines with different teammates. A full three-period Blue/White game was played this morning, with 40 of the 51 camp attendees participating. Cuts were announced early this evening, with 12 players reassigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack’s AHL training camp.
Of the players invited to the training camp, 12 forwards, six defensemen, and three goaltenders are prospects. Six (Chris Holt, Matt Zaba, Alex Bourret, Brodie Dupont, Bruce Graham and Greg Moore) were among those reassigned earlier today. None of the reassignments was a surprise, given that, with the exception of Bourret, none had a particularly impressive camp. Bourret was reassigned because he has a muscle injury in his right shoulder, and is not expected to play for at least several days.
Among the prospects still with the Rangers, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Hugh Jessiman have been the most consistently impressive forwards over the course of the five days on the ice. Among the three, Jessiman, who scored the game-winning goal this morning while playing on the top line with Chris Drury and Marty Straka, seems to have made the biggest strides since last year’s camp. Over the course of the last week, Jessiman has made good use of his body, shown an excellent scoring touch, a quick release on his shot, fine board work and very good puck control. He has finally begun to show what the Rangers have expected from him over the last two seasons. Renney liked that Jessiman "seems more comfortable, sure of himself. We have been straightforward with Hugh that what we are looking for is … a north-south [game], for him to stick around the net, be a responsible two-way player, use his size and strength, protect pucks, and when necessary be prepared to protect his teammates. We like what we have seen, and we will see what evolves over the next few days. We’ll continue to give him a look."
Dubinsky, who played on a line with Lauri Korpikoski and Petr Prucha today, has shown speed, good board work, and positioning all week. Callahan has been taking faceoffs and played center for a large portion of the training camp, but was on the wing today on a line with Blair Betts and Ryan Hollweg.
It was not surprising that Artem Anisimov started slowly this week, in that he hardly speaks any English and knows very few of his fellow prospects. But his play got stronger as the days went on and, today he was particularly good. An excellent face-off man, Anisimov was creative and used his body well this morning.
Anisimov was on a line with Nigel Dawes, who showed nothing the first two days of camp, but has really shone since. Positionally sound, Dawes has great instincts and a very good scoring touch. Up and down last season, he is one of the favorites for what may be only one open Rangers forward roster spot.
On defense, both Marc Staal and Michael Sauer have had very good camps. Sauer has been solid in his own end, with physical play and a very simple game. He is excellent in his own zone and has good vision. According to Renney, "Michael has been really good starting in Traverse City. He has kept his game simple, playing to his strengths, doing a good job, and making a good first impression." Staal seemed to get better with each game he played. He put his size and long reach to good use this week and is expected to continue to improve over the next couple of weeks in exhibition games.
Renney also commented on the play of Bob Sanguinetti, who he called "a very proactive offensive player. What I liked about seeing him the last few days is his thought process, how he thinks the game, when to do certain things and when not to. He still needs to do some work in the defensive area. He has improved there, but he will continue to improve with good coaching."
In net, Al Montoya was the winning goaltender this morning and completed the week on an up note. Friday had been a bad day for the Rangers’ top prospect, but he seems to have improved as he spent more time on the ice over the last few days. He looked excellent between the pipes this morning, with good lateral movement, and a few nice glove saves.
According to Renney, he will continue to give the prospects time on the ice in the upcoming exhibition games.
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