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.
The New York Rangers revamped line-up featuring Theo Fleury, Valeri Kamensky, Kirk McLean, Stephane Quintal, Sylvain Lefebrve and Mike York to name a few took the ice after an emotional tribute to Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton. The Rangers started early to show their speed and looked like a much better club than those of the past two years…however the Power Play Problem continues. After the first two games, the Blue Shirts were 0-12 (0 for 6 in each game) albeit a couple were less than 30 second powerplays coach Muckler and General Manager begin to wonder what it will take for this preseason awesome Power Play to translate into regular season goals.
The first game featured a Rangers high speed attack against Sweden`s Tommy Salo. Salo played superbly allowing only a goal to red hot Tim Taylor. Mike Richter was equal to the task, thwarting Ryan Smyth and the Oilers attack under Doug Weight and company. The standouts in games one and two were Mike Richter(51-48svs),Tim Taylor(1goal) and Mike York(1goal). Other noteables included Darren Langdon who had his first scoring attempt of the season stopped by Tommy Salo and his first scrap as he fought the behemoth Georges Laraque to a draw.
As the Rangers skated off the pre-season ice after a 5-2 victory over the Red Wings on goals by Theo Fleury, Valeri Kamensky, Petr Nedved, Tim Taylor and Adam Graves and strong goaltending by Mike Richter, the roster was basically set with the exception of a little tinkering here and there.
The final lines, no one knows for sure what they will be but it looks as though Petr Nedved, Theo Fleury and Val Kamensky will man the first unit with Brian Leetch and Stephan Quintal at no. 1 defense, the hotly contested no. 2 center slot has at least been filled with rookie Mike York who had an outstanding pre-season. The smallish center with crisp cuts and hands will man Adam Graves and perhaps John MacLean. The No. 3 unit is Manny Malhotra with Jan Hlavac and Mike Knuble/Kevin Stevens… Stevens a known dressing room leader had a strong pre season and was protected by the Rangers in the Waiver Draft.
The fourth line on Muckler`s three line team will be made up of Tim Taylor (he will see lots of ice time on the no. 2 and 3 units as well), Eric Lacroix, Darren Langdon, Knuble/Stevens and others….will audition. Defensively, Kim Johnsson and Sylvain Lefebvre will man the no. 2 unit with Mathieu Schneider and Peter Popovic at no.3 while Jason Doig will take the no. 7 spot or perhaps Ulf Samuelsson will be called back to MSG at the seasons` start.
The New York Rangers made available their list of available players for today`s Waiver Draft. General Manager Neil Smith expects not to sign or lose anyone. However the most intriquing player is Swedish Import, Johan Witehall. Witehall may go the way Maxim Galanov and Vladimir Vorobiev did….via the waiver wire. Witehall has the skills to compete at the NHL level but is mired behind too many NHL level wingers in NY. Derek Armstrong and Brad Smyth are interesting players that could fill roles elsewhere in the NHL. J.F.Labbe had a strong camp and is also interesting but will likely remain in Hartford(AHL).
Camp news, Tim Taylor played with tight legs in his first game as a Ranger, yesterday at the Hartford Civic Center before 9108 and a Rangers 1-0 win over Boston on a goal by Kevin Stevens early in the first. The game was less than a sellout but drew nearly three times as many as the former Whalers now Hurricanes drew and double as many as season tickets as the `Canes have sold for their innaugral season in Raleigh. With chants of Let`s go Rangers, chants from the ghosts of Let`s go nobody and Let`s go Whalers filled the arena as the fine people of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts expressed their displeasure with the NHL`s handling of the Hartford Whalers in 1996-97. Hartford is now home to the rival New York Rangers AHL club, the Hartford Wolfpack whom have also outdrawn the Hurricanes on a nightly basis.
With each passing day the Rangers team continues to mould itself into a finer well oiled machine, one that looks to be without 1st round selections Pavel Brendl and Jamie Lundmark. Brendl has been less than impressive of late due to his conditioning or lack of. His skating needs work as it appears he is NOT ready for NHL action. During the Rangers latest day of practice Captain Brian Leetch had Brendl lead the skating group in laps. Veteran Kevin Stevens started a group chant that included “come on Pavel, you can do it…”. It seems as the one time roster lock has just about had his bags packed and is headed back to the Western League and Calgary Hitmen for an encore. Many outside of the Rangers management believe that Brendl can still score 15-20 goals at the NHL level this year if he is given the proper amount of ice time but not under John Muckler`s system. With Brendl just about out of the running one has to wonder about the draft day trade that sent a first rounder as well as up and comer Daniel Cloutier and Niklas Sundstrøm to Tampa. The positive is Brendl can learn from his first NHL camp and flourish in the WHL and hone his skills for the 2000-01 season in NYC and open a spot on the wing allowing Mike Knuble to gain more ice time as he has deserved with a strong pre-season.
Erstwhile Jamie Lundmark has been most impressive and looks most ready for the NHL although his size(strength) has been his downfall. Another year of Juniors and an NHL strength training regimen could very solve this problem.