Rangers Trim Camp Roster, Who Will Be Next?

By Evan Andriopoulos
The Rangers continued to downsize their roster by sending veteran AHLer`s Kenny Gernander and Brad Smyth to Connecticut for reassignment. Moments after the Rangers announced prized rookie Mike Mottau would attend camp on a tryout basis after a call from Glen Sather. For Mottau he will be on ice with the Rangers in Rye on Wednesday and will likely play against Atlanta and Milan Hnilinka later this week. Sather commented that negotiations are tough when you have never seen a guy play…so this will be the chance for Mottau to shine and earn a spot. Mottau has added 11 pounds to his frame since the start of the 99-00 season at Boston College and looks more and more like a NHLer. Mottau will compete not only for a roster spot but a contract which may be a lot for a rookie to handle on one plate.

Competition for the final spots on defense remain between Dale Purinton (1 game-NHL), Jason Doig(NHL -Rangers) and Tomas Kloucek. All three would rather develop in New York than Hartford. While Purinton brings personality, a physical presence and some skill, Jason Doig, who struggled in scrimmage brings a hard shot, size and some offensive ability… Kloucek does nothing great… but almost never makes mistakes. This will be interesting up until Game 1, year 2000-01.

Erstwhile the Rangers bid adeu to Brad Smyth, a banging winger who could have only helped the Rangers last season. Smyth a prolific AHL goal scorer has yet to earn enough ice in the NHL to show his talents and worth. Smyth will likely be back for another look this season. For Ken Gernander playing in the AHL has become a profession. While playing admirably several seasons ago on a call up basis in the playoffs for the Rangers against Philadelphia his run was ended by brother-in-law Trent Klatt who hammered him along the boards causing a seperated shoulder. Gernander will return to Hartford to “run his team”. As the clock ticks away on the career of Ken Gernander atleast he can say “he had a cup of coffee in the NHL”.

As camp hits the final stretch there are some true battles and some suprises… Filip Novak who is in for a look has dazzled with his skating ability and puck control. Although still a long shot and as much as two years away, Novak has the tools to become a possible future Ranger mainstay. His one weakness is his size as he looks a bit too thin to play an 82 game schedule. But this is nothing that another season in juniors and some weightlifting could not handle. Veteran AHLer Derek Armstrong remains in camp and the question around him is where will he play. Working in his advantage is coach Ron Low`s statement “we will find a spot if they are deserving”. This statement allows competition to be at it`s best for camp, pushing players to work harder and not settle in.

Other news features Manny Malhotra who has been playing better lately and maybe moved to wing. Tim Taylor suffered another concussion and will be out for a bit thus opening up ice for Malhotra at center and Derek Armstrong. Malhotra and Armstrong were given looks as “checking centers” a role in which they are not the best fit for under the old regime. Malhotra flourished when Gretzky went down two seasons ago and Armstrong has been another prolific AHL scorer deserving of a true shot. Johan Witehall is playing well and looks very close to locking up a spot. Pavel Brendl and Jamie Lundmark have been up and down and may have earned another ticket to Western Canada.

One hot area is goal where Kirk McLean has locked up the no.1 job so long as Mike Richter is on the shelf with Johan Holmqvist and JF.Labbe battling for the no.2. The two young goalies are in a dead heat for the job and Holmqvist has been playing better. He backed McLean and allowed 1 goal on 10 shots vs the Flyers in New York last eve. In Hartford Jason Labarbera(who shined in camp), Bryce Wandler and Vitali Yeremeyev are battling for ice. Upon final selection of the no.2 in New York a move must be made… all fingers are pointing to Labbe/Holmqvist back in Hartford, Wandler as no.3, Yeremeyev perhaps at Charlotte of the ECHL and Labarbera to be reassigned perhaps to an IHL club. The likely choice here is that Labbe will remain as he is use to the more “shots from everywhere” system that is employed in North America vs Holmqvist who is use to playing “high percentage shot” hockey in Sweden.

Stefan Cherneski played well but the effects of missing most of the past 2 seasons of development showed. Cherneski recovering from four operations on his knees will need atleast a dozen games in the AHL to see if he can earn even a thought at playing in New York and if his body can take the abuse of the everyday NHL game.

In final, the fans of New York may have a favorite in fighter/defender Dale Purinton, something the Ranger fans have longed for since the days of Tie Domi, Rudy Poeschek and Joe Kocur… a tough guy with a knack for the fans. But Purinton still has to earn the right to play a regular shift. I hope he has already!