After a month of nearly horrible hockey for the New York Rangers, it is grading time. Being the New York Rangers, this will be short as there are few rookies. So we will add grades to some other players as well, most of them 2nd year and those in the AHL, at Hartford.
Mike York 5.10 170 (USA)
York has taken full opportunity of being the No. 2 center by default. York possesses a nice touch, hard shot, and never say die work ethic. York has played well through the first month of the season, and is entrenched at No. 2 but receives No. 1 center minutes. York, now on a line with Adam Graves and Theo Fleury, has only helped bring up the play of the two struggling veterans. As of now, Mike York is the top center on this New York Rangers club.
Kim Johnsson 6.01 188 (SWE)
Johnsson came in to the camp as an unknown commodity. Being the last pick in the draft, Johnsson went out to prove something. He played as Sweden`s best defender at the World Championships in Norway catching the eye of General Manager Neil Smith. Johnsson still makes the rookie mistake, but has shown that he can hit, skate and pass. A solid team player, Johnsson has moved steadily up the depth chart and is more valuable than anyother Rangers defender this side of Brian Leetch. Johnsson plays like a seasoned veteran and if he is kept in New York through these worried times, he will be a top NHL defender. At this point, Johnsson is the best Rangers’ defenseman in my book. He needs about 15 pounds to his frame, but that will come.
As the season continues to move on in New York with a few bright new faces, Mike York, Kim Johnsson, Jan Hlavac and now Jason Doig getting some ice time, the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford continues to play well under coach John Paddock.
Rangers goaltending prospect and no.1 (AHL goalie) Jean-Francois Labbe stopped 26 shots in Quebec`s ice hockey return to Hartford. Quebec had not played in Hartford since 1995 when the Nordiques played the host Hartford Whalers. Center Derek Armstrong notched a goal and an assist to lead the Hartford Wolf Pack to their fourth straight victory, 3-1 over the Quebec Citadelles. Armstrong opened the scoring 6:50 into the opening session and helped set up Drew Bannister (ex-Tampa Bay defenseman), who gave Hartford a 2-0 lead with just under seven minutes left in the second. Stephane Roy scored 35 seconds after Bannister to cut the Wolf Pack lead to one, but Labbe, who improved to 4-1-3, protected the lead by turning away all 10 shots he faced in the final period. Daniel Goneau capped the scoring with just under five minutes to play. Dan Murphy stopped 30 shots for Quebec, which lost its third in a row after starting the season 9-2-2.
-Courtesy of the Hartford Courant and compiled reports.
As the veteran Rangers struggle to find chemistry many questions are being asked about the future. With a 4-7-1 Rangers club in New York trying to find goals after a 234 minute scoreless spree questions about chemistry, payroll and coaching have come into play. Other than 2nd line center Mike York and rookie soon to be star defenseman Kim Johnsson, Coach John Muckler has basically refused to play any of the few “once” bright prospects in his stall.
The ongoing philosophical differences between Muckler and now seldom used Manny Malhotra turned ugly as Malhotra benched the hulking Malhotra with the return of high priced free agent signee Tim Taylor. Muckler met with Malhotra afterward to discuss the situation. After 12 games Manny Malhotra has yet to register a point (19 games including exhibition) and has earned less than 8 minutes of ice time on average per match. Prior to the season start Malhotra was a solid candidate for the no.2 slot, now occupied by rookie Mike York, but ended up with minutes similar to 1998`s and those commonly coined “Bill Berg Minutes” as the former Ranger veteran logged an occasional shift here and there and still made the best of it. With the signing of Alexander Daigle and his tremendous play in Hartford(4-8-12 8gp) it is only days before he gets his shot to light up broadway with his skill and youth.
With the NHL season in Full Throttle the once dead Rangers are starting to head in the right direction. With Mike York adding two assists to his already impressive season the Rangers believe they have found their no.2 center. Swedish defenseman Kim Johnsson continues to play like a veteran with his smooth skating style and soft passes. Around the local media, Johnsson has been noted as New York`s Best Defenseman. Erstwhile Rangers first year goalie Milan Hnilicka did not fare well in his first game against Pittsburgh, getting beat through the “five hole”, Hnilicka stopped 4 of 6 shots but looked nervous between the pipes in MSG as the Rangers fell 5-2. With Mike Richter`s return against Atlanta in a 4-1 win, Hnilicka was returned to Hartford of the AHL.
Newly acquired Alexander Daigle garnered player of the week honors Daigle had two goals and three assists in two games for the Hartford Wolf Pack. He leads his team in scoring and ranks second in the AHL with 10 points with (3 goals and 7 assists) in five games.
The former top pick in the NHL draft has played for Ottawa, Edmonton, Philadelphia and Tampa before being acquired by the Rangers just two weeks ago. This may be Daigle`s last shot at reviving a once promising AHL career.
With the NHL regular season already one week old, the New York Rangers have already seen a bit of what their “kids” can do. Mike York and Kim Johnsson have already earned regular shifts on ice. Johnsson perhaps at this juncture, the Best Rangers back liner. His smooth skating style and soft hands have prompted him to the no.2 unit with Stephane Quintal. Quintal, more of a defensive defenseman, will cover for the often up wandering Johnsson, together making a potentially lethal no.2 unit, offensively and defensively. Mike York has nailed down the no.2 center for the time being. The smallish York has been perhaps New York`s top forward, showing excellent hands and a nose for open ice, somewhat remeniscent of Wayne Gretzky, although no one is comparing him to The Great One. York possesses a team attitude and will to work, something that dogged Marc Savard last year in New York, as his commitment was questioned from time to time by Coach John Muckler.
Other young Rangers Jan Hlavac and countryman Milan Hnilicka have yet to earn sufficient ice time to be fairly judged. Hlavac with the injury to Valeri Kamensky may earn additional ice time in the coming days. Hnilicka will assume the role of back up netminder behind Kirk McLean until Mike Richter resumes play. Hnilicka has proven on an international level, that he can play “the game” but can he play in the NHL? My answer is yes.