As the season passes the mid point, hopes of a playoff birth grow with the better play each day of our beloved New York Rangers. However with many players in key positions hitting the wrong side of their careers one has to ask where the future is. With this years “successful” draft taking Pavel Brendl and Jamie Lundmark in the first round and later taking Dave Inman, Pat Aufiero and Johan Asplund later, what about the other drafts, one`s that showed so much promise and turned out, well not that promising.
“It’s putting my 2 best defensemen together,” is how Coach John Paddock responded when asked about teaming the rookie with senior defenseman Terry Virtue.
Tomas played junior hockey from ’95 to ’98 in the Czech-Jr. League for Slavia Praha and last year for Cape Breton in the QMJHL. This year was his last year of junior eligibility and he said when asked about the Czech Junior Team winning the World Championship, “I almost went with the nationals. The National Team Organization decided to take only 5 players playing in North America, instead of 8. So, they dropped me.”
Coach Paddock assessed his rookie defenseman, “Well, Tomas Kloucek is a really, really good player and a really good prospect. He still could be playing junior hockey. He’s only going to be 20 next year. He’s a really solid defenseman and he kills penalties. His best assets are his skating, his strength, and his heart. He’s going to be a number 4 defenseman in the NHL sometime soon.”
Linemate Terry Virtue said, “Tomas is a big, strong player that skates well. He’s hard to knock down. He seems to be getting his feet wet on the ice more. He’s really coming along well. I think what he has to do now, is skate with the puck more and see the ice better. That’s going to come with time and experience. He’s going to get a lot better.”
The Wolf Pack’s new addition realizes that “there is always something to work on. I need to handle the puck better because here you clear the puck more.”
Pavel Brendl continues to impress the New York Rangers at the Junior Level. Brendl was named WHL player of the week after his 4-3-7 in 3 games performance and is currently leading the WHL in scoring with 33-31-64, one pt ahead of teammate Brad Moran(33-30-63).
The upcoming World Junior A Championships begin Christmas Day and several New York Rangers prospects are to be donning their national team jersey. A preliminary listing includes: Pat Aufiero and Dave Inman (TEAM USA), Manny Malhorta and Jamie Lundmark (TEAM CANADA), Johan Asplund (SWEDEN), Arto Laatikainen (FINLAND). Of this group, many eyes will be on TEAM CANADA captain and seldom used New York Rangers center Manny Malhotra (6-3 218). Malhotra fell out of favor in New York with the emergence of Mike York and the resurgence of Alexander Daigle. Malhotra may be packaged to acquire a Keith Primeau or Bill Guerin type player. The World`s will provide him with the opportunity to showcase his talents and possible gain more ice time in New York. But Team Canada struggled early in a training match , falling 7-1 to SWEDEN. The USA fell to RUSSIA 3-1 as well.
The baby Rangers continue to play well in Hartford (16-8-5-1) and one point behind Division Leader Portland. Derek Armstrong (11-20-31), Brad Smyth (17-13-30), Mike Harder (12-11-23) and Ken Gernander (8-13-21) are the leading scorers in Hartford and will represent Canada and Planet USA in the upcoming AHL all-star game. Tomas Kloucek has also been named to the Planet USA Team.
Sometimes in the world of professional sports we get so caught up in the state of the game we forget the underlying facts. As I visit sites on the Internet and listen to a million unemployed GM’s I soon realize that many of them simply have no idea what they are talking about. They talk about the Rangers prospects and obviously the first two to come up are the Rangers crown jewels, 1999 first rounder’s Pavel Brendl and Jamie Lundmark. Perhaps the most disturbing thing is how uninformed they are about the situations of these two very talented but very different players. They assume that they are simply draft day busts by looking at the stats, but the simple truth is that to understand where these kids are coming from you must look far beyond the numbers. Fortunately there are some observers (including the Ranger’s brass amongst others) who have realized this, but for the rest of the pack the answer simply isn’t clear to them.