Rangers prospects in playoffs

By Brandon LeBourveau

The playoffs are currently taking place in Major Junior Hockey and in Europe, while the NCAA Frozen Four kicks off tomorrow with two huge games. Although none of this means much to the current Rangers squad, some youngsters and prospects are gaining valuable experience playing in high-pressure situations and against top competition.

Out in the Western Hockey League, Ryan Hollweg and the Medicine Hat Tigers had their best season in five years but still found themselves out of the playoffs despite scoring a league high 277 goals. Hollweg, the Rangers’ 8th round selection this past June, had a superb season for the Tigers, posting a career high in goals, assists and points. He finished with 30 goals and 40 assists for 70 points in 58 games, including 121 penalty minutes and a +6 rating. Hollweg also played for Team USA at the 2002 World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic this year, scoring 2 goals and adding 3 assists in 7 games. He also tacked on 33 penalty minutes and was a +2. Upon finishing his third season in the WHL, Ryan signed a try-out contract with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL, the Rangers’ top minor league affiliate. Hollweg has only been there a short time, but has been an excellent addition to the Wolf Pack as they gear up for a run at the playoffs. Wolf Pack coach John Paddock has been extremely pleased with the determination and work-ethic of the 18 year old California native. Paddock felt comfortable assigning him the third line center spot, and Hollweg has responded well with a goal and an assist in 5 games. During that span, he has also registered 2 penalty minutes and a +1. He has added an aspect to this team that they have been lacking all season. Hollweg lacks size at 5-9 207 lbs, but that is about it. He’s built like a fire hydrant and makes his presence felt on the ice. He gives it his all night in and night out, is tough and physical and has a nice set of offensive skills to boot. He provides a spark on the ice and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves when it’s necessary. He’ll remain with the Wolf Pack for the remainder of the season and for the playoffs, but he still has 1 more season of junior hockey remaining before he is eligible to graduate to the pros. He is getting a valuable taste of what it’s like to play at a high level and it will help him learn what it takes to be successful at the next level. The Rangers are very pleased with his development and feel he has a future on the team as a third liner in the mold of a Todd Harvey type player, only one that is in better condition and much better offensively. Hollweg has turned into a steal and a selection that could pay dividends in the future.

Hollweg’s teammate for most of the season until being traded, Rory Rawlyk, also found himself out of the playoffs in the WHL. Rawlyk went undrafted last June and came to camp with the Rangers on a try-out basis. After liking what they saw from the 6’4 180 lbs. defenseman, they signed him to a three-year contract and returned him to the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL. As the Tigers made some acquisitions at the deadline to bolster their roster, Rawlyk was sent to the expansion Vancouver Giants. With the Giants, Rawlyk saw an increase in his ice time and as a result played better. He finished with a combined 5 goals and 16 assists in 68 games, including 80 penalty minutes. Upon conclusion of the Giants last regular season game, the Rangers assigned Rawlyk to the Charlotte Checkers of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) where he is awaiting to play his first professional game. Rawlyk still has two years of junior hockey remaining and thus will be returned to Vancouver at the end of this season. The Rangers saw potential in the big man and hope he can develop into a potential 6th or 7th defenseman, and at the very least a solid player for the Hartford Wolf Pack. He plays a physical game but is still young and raw, having just completed his first full season in the WHL. He’s a project and will take a couple of years to develop and fill out his frame.

Garth Murray had better luck than both Hollweg and Rawlyk as his Regina Pats qualified for the playoffs in the WHL. However, the Pats were ousted in 6 games in the first round to the Moose Jaw Warriors. Murray, the Rangers’ third round pick in 2001, had a career year as the captain of the Pats. He posted career highs in goals, assists and points while also being a physical presence and a tremendous leader in his final season of junior hockey. He finished up with 33 goals, 30 assists, 63 points and 154 penalty minutes in 62 games to go along with an excellent +21. In the 6 playoff matches, Murray led the Pats in scoring with 5 points (2 goals and 3 assists), including nine penalty minutes and a +2. The upset by Moose Jaw marks the end to a solid junior career for Murray, a native of Regina. He displayed character, leadership, heart, grit and a work-ethic that can not be matched by many. Those traits alone, along with the ability to produce some offense, will take him a long way in professional hockey. Garth is currently awaiting the opportunity to join the Hartford Wolf Pack down the stretch and in the playoffs. A try-out contract has not been reached as of yet, but Glen Sather said a couple of days ago that he’s optimistic Murray will be in Hartford within the next week or so. He will add another dimension to the Wolf Pack and could form a nice duo with Ryan Hollweg as part of a high-energy line. That is this writers dream, to see those two on Broadway in the future. Here’s a good luck to Murray, a great person and player, as he embarks on professional career that has the potential to be a very successful one.

The Rangers’ prospects that played in the OHL this season, Fedor Tyutin, Leonid Zhvachin and Juris Stals, all helped their teams in qualifying for the playoffs. Tyutin, the Rangers’ 2nd round selection in 2001, has had a tremendous season with the Guelph Storm in his first year of North American hockey after coming over from Russia. Tyutin was solid on the blue line for the Storm all season and excelled at both ends of the ice. In 53 games, Fedor finished 4th in scoring on the Storm with totals of 19 goals, 40 assists, 59 points and 54 penalty minutes. He also had the highest plus/minus rating on the team with a +17. His excellent season also included a solid performance at the World Junior Championships in early January that was highlighted by Tyutin being a key part of team Russia, who defeated Canada to capture the Gold Medal. However, the best test for the 18 year old has yet to come. The Guelph Storm will be hosting this year’s Memorial Cup, meaning they will get an automatic spot in the tournament. The Memorial Cup is the Major Junior championship in which the league champions from the WHL, OHL and QMJHL, along with the host team, compete in a tournament to determine the CHL Champion. Guelph still has to go through the playoffs just like everyone else, and if they happen to win the OHL crown, the runner up will get a trip to the Memorial Cup as well. The Storm were the 4th seeded team in the OHL’s Western Conference and swept the Kitchener Rangers 4 games to 0 in the opening round. They have advanced to the Semi-Finals to take on the talented Windsor Spitfires who boast some of the league’s best talents in Steve Ott, Tim Gleason and Kyle Wellwood. During the 4 games of the sweep over Kitchener, Tyutin totaled 2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points, 4 penalty minutes and an even +/- rating.

After ranking Tyutin 10th overall among available players in last year’s draft, the Rangers were extremely pleased to have him fall into their laps in the 2nd round, 40th overall. He has not disappointed them at all this season and has clearly emerged as the top defensive prospect in the organization, surpassing Mike Mottau and the now-departed Filip Novak. There was speculation that during the early stages of talks between the Panthers and Rangers involving Pavel Bure, Florida asked for Tyutin to be apart of the deal but Sather quickly rejected the idea of including the 6’3 202 lbs. defenseman in any deal for the Panthers superstar. Thus, Florida settled for Filip Novak instead. This Memorial Cup tournament will be an exciting time for Tyutin as he looks to cap off a fabulous season with a Memorial Cup trophy. Tyutin signed a three-year contract with the Rangers over the summer and after this season he has a lot of options as to where he can continue to develop next year. Since he was drafted out of Europe, Tyutin is capable of playing professional hockey next season with the Hartford Wolf Pack. It will be the Rangers’ decision, but he can either go back to Guelph for another season of junior, play with the Wolf Pack in the AHL or earn a spot on the Rangers’ in the NHL. In the opinion of this writer, expect Tyutin to join the Wolf Pack next season and make a smooth transition to the AHL.

Another player on the Guelph Storm that most people have forgotten about is defenseman Leonid Zhvachin, an 8th round selection by the Rangers in 2001. Just like Fedor Tyutin, Zhvachin was also selected by the Storm over the summer in the CHL Import Draft and made the jump across seas from Russia. Zhvachin played in 62 games for the Storm, totaling 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, 58 penalty minutes and was a -10. Offense is clearly not a big part of his game. He likes to play physical and is solid in his own end. He too will gain valuable experience during the Memorial Cup for Guelph. Thus far in the playoffs Leonid has been held pointless while adding 5 penalty minutes. Many view Zhvachin as a potential 6th or 7th stay-at-home defenseman when he reaches his peak. He is still a couple of years away and will need time to develop in the minors. The Rangers will be patient with him and let him continue to adapt to North America.

Continuing with the OHL, Juris Stals and his Sarnia Sting were ousted by one of the OHL’s top teams, the Erie Otters, in 5 games. The Rangers’ 9th round pick in 2001, Juris came over to North America this season from Finland and enjoyed a good year with the Sting. He finished 6th in scoring on the team with 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 60 games. He also registered 12 penalty minutes and was a -5. He started off the season strong but suffered through some injuries and as a result his play tailed off towards the end of the season. In the 5 playoff games, Stals was unable to do much offensively and didn’t help Sarnia’s attempt to upset the higher ranked Erie Otters. He totaled 1 assists, 2 penalty minutes and was a -4. Overall, it has to be considered a good season for Stals who had to adapt to North America and North American hockey. Stals options are the same as with Fedor Tyutin and Leonid Zhvachin for next season. He can move on to professional hockey or remain in juniors with Sarnia. The Rangers will do what’s best for the young Latvian and put him in a situation where he can succeed and continue to develop. After being a 9th round draft pick the odds of him becoming an NHLer are against him but if he can continue to develop and round out his game he might have an outside chance of being a 3rd or 4th line player some day.

The Rangers have two prospects in the QMJHL this season in Shawn Collymore and Petr Preucil. Collymore was drafted in the 5th round this past summer, while Preucil went in the 7th round. Both played for the Quebec Remparts this season. Collymore finished the year with 57 points (23 goals, 34 assists) in 52 games while also registering a +2 and adding 37 penalty minutes. Injury problems forced him to miss some time and as a result he wasn’t able to exceed his totals from last season. Preucil, on the other hand, managed 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 57 games to go along with 116 penalty minutes and a -7. Both players helped Quebec to a first round upset over the 2nd seeded Chicoutimi Sagueneens, and they did it in grand fashin by sweeping them in 4 games. Both Collymore and Preucil chipped in at both ends of the ice and both scored 2 goals and 3 assists in 4 games. Collymore added 0 penalty minutes and was a +2, while Preucil had 6 penalty minutes and was a +5. The downside to the upset? The Remparts are up against a tougher challenge in the Semi-Finals as they face the top ranked Acadie-Bathurst Titan. It should be an interesting series for Collymore, Preucil and the rest of the Remparts who will be considered the underdogs throughout the series. Both players still have junior eligibility to fullfil and will be back in the “Q” again next season..but will it be with a championship under their belts? We’ll have to wait and see.

In college hockey, the NCAA Frozen Four begins tomorrow with Maine vs. New Hampshire and Michigan vs Minnesota. The only prospect the Rangers have in the Frozen Four is center Nathan Martz, a 5th round pick in 2000 who plays for the University of New Hampshire. Martz was a big scorer when he was drafted by the Rangers from the BCJHL, a tier 2 junior league in Canada. Martz recorded 110 points in 59 games that year and the Rangers saw a potential steal in Martz, a tall and lanky center at 6’2 180 lbs. After totaling 19 points (5 goals, 14 assists) in 37 games last season as a Freshman, Martz’s production dropped in his Sophomore year to 3 goals, 7 assists and 10 points in 28 games. Some feel he has regressed in his development while others feel he didn’t have much potential to begin with. Whatever the story is, it’s clear Martz will need to pick up the slack to be considered a legitimate NHL prospect. Although he doesn’t receive much ice time on New Hampshire’s talented roster, Martz will need to finish his next two seasons of College hockey strong in order for the Rangers to consider signing him. At this point, the team might pass taking a flyer on him but a lot can happen in two years.