The New York Rangers came into this season admitting that they were in a rebuilding phase. Out of training camp, the team was not expected to do very well, and the coaching staff was stressing the team’s bright future, while at the same time claiming that management had high expectations for 2005-06. There is no question that it was a surprise for the team to make the playoffs and, up until the last game of the regular season, be part of the quest for the Atlantic Division championship.
The Rangers’ excellent performance during the season, including the playoff race, meant limited NHL playing time for most of New York’s prospects. However, 13 rookies did play at least one game with the Rangers during the season, and two of the team’s top prospects, Henrik Lundqvist and Petr Prucha, played an important role in the team’s fine results in 2005-06.
Henrik Lundqvist, G
When the Rangers drafted Lundqvist in the seventh round (205 overall) of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, they were very unsure that he would ever come to North America. In fact, he stayed in Europe through the 2004-05 season, playing for Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League (SEL) for five seasons. Hints of how good Lundqvist might become started in the 2002-03 season, when he helped Frolunda capture the SEL championship. That year, Lundqvist lead the league with six shutouts and a 1.45 GAA. In 2004-05, Lundqvist led the SEL with wins, a 1.79 GAA, .936 save percentage, and six shutouts. Had there not been a lockout that season, Lundqvist might have come to North America, however, it gave him the opportunity to improve upon his previously excellent numbers and better prepare him for NHL competition.
It was with this background that Lundqvist signed a contract with the Rangers on July 29, 2005. A couple of days later the team came to terms with veteran netminder Kevin Weekes, figuring that Weekes would be the starting goaltender until Lundqvist was ready to take over. Rangers management was very concerned about rushing the rookie, and wanted to be sure that he spent as much time as needed getting comfortable before throwing him to the wolves. When Hockey’s Future spoke to Lundqvist before the regular season, he was very anxious to play in New York and was very excited at the opportunities that lay before him.
“I have to be fast, very fast, … and I have to overcome the temptation to be very aggressive and just stay back,” he said.
While Lundqvist was making that adjustment to North American play, the Rangers committed to starting Weekes in goal.
That plan did not work out too well, as it became apparent almost immediately that Lundqvist was more ready to be the top goaltender than was expected. Due to an injury to Weekes in October, Lundqvist played nine of the Rangers’ first 13 games. He only lost two games, and registered his first NHL shutout on Oct. 17 against the Florida Panthers. When Weekes returned healthy, Lundqvist returned to the backup role, playing only sporadically in November.
But as of Dec. 1, Lundqvist became the No. 1 goaltender, and had a spectacular season, particularly until he suffered a hip flexor prior to the March 30 game against Ottawa. Prior to the injury, he had won 30 games and lost 10, with a .925 save percentage and a 2.19 GAA. Once injured, though, Lundqvist was beatable; he missed seven games in 18 days, and when he returned to the line-up, he lost five straight, including the three playoff games in which he played.
Although Lundqvist completed the regular season with an outstanding .922 save percentage and a 2.24 GAA, one wonders whether the high number of periods of play he endured this season really hurt him. Particularly at issue are the six games he played for the goal-medal winning Swedish team in Turino over the 18-day Olympic break. Although he played fantastically in the Olympics, and became a hero in Sweden, the kind of saves he was required to make, as well as the gruelling schedule, were certainly not helpful to the Rangers down the stretch. Lundqvist did not want to talk about his gruelling schedule when HF caught up with him at the end of the regular season. He did say that he was enjoying this season’s challenges and was looking forward to the playoffs.
Unfortunately for Lundqvist and the Rangers, they were defeated handily by the Devils in the first playoff round, but that does not take away from the fact that the Rangers have a star goalie in Lundqvist. Hopefully over the summer, he will completely rehab any injury he may have and come back to the same skill level he enjoyed prior to the Olympic break.
Petr Prucha, RW
Prucha signed a contract with the Rangers on Aug. 17, and at that point, the Rangers intended to send him to the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack and see how and if he developed. An eighth round pick in the 2002 draft, Prucha had played for Pardubice in the Czech League for four years, and never registered more than 24 points in a 49-game season.
The diminutive Czech winger (very generously listed as 6‘0) caught the eye of the Rangers’ coaching staff in training camp, as a very hard-working and creative winger. Wherever the puck was, the coaches would find Prucha twisting and turning past an NHL teammate toward the goal. He so impressed the staff out of camp that he made his NHL debut with the Rangers on Oct. 8. Although he scored his first NHL goal nine days later, he wasn’t getting much ice time during October, and on Oct. 28, Prucha was loaned to the Hartford. He only played two games for the Wolf Pack because it was immediately apparent that he did not belong at that level. In two games, Prucha scored two goals and one assist, but importantly, he dominated while on the ice.
On Nov. 2, Prucha returned to the Rangers for good. He led all NHL rookies with 12 goals in the month of December, and by Jan. 7 had accumulated 20 NHL goals on the season. He was still on a tear (Prucha had five more goals in January), when on Feb. 4, he suffered a knee injury in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. That injury kept him off the ice for a little over five weeks, and when Prucha returned, he was not quite as offensively productive as he had been. For the entire season, Prucha tallied 47 points in 68 games, but in the 19 games after his return, he was pretty much invisible. Despite scoring five goals and eight assists during that time, he was more hesitant to take the punishment of planting himself in front of the net than he had prior to his knee problem.
While the injury may have limited his productivity at the end of the season, when Prucha’s season is looked upon in its entirety, it was highly a successful one, including being mentioned as a candidate for the Calder Trophy.
Prucha is a finesse player that you just can’t figure out how he does it, but is always around the puck. Despite his end of season post-injury drop in offensive prowess, it is expected that he will return to form next season. The winger has a bright future with the Rangers, and if he plays like he did earlier this season, Prucha could at some point play on the first line in New York.
Fedor Tyutin, D
When evaluating Tyutin’s season, one has to remember that he is only 22 years old and was thrust into a position of being the No. 2 offensive defenseman on a very visible NHL club at that very tender age. Considering those factors, Tyutin had an excellent season.
The Rangers’ second round choice in 2001, Tyutin first came to North America in 2001-02 to play in the Ontario Hockey League. After an outstanding season in Guelph, he returned to Russia for one year, before being persuaded to return to North America for the 2003-04 season. Tyutin spent most of the 2003-04 season in Hartford, but he did manage to play 25 games for the NHL Rangers. He made a good showing offensively, but needed a huge amount of work on positioning in his own zone and puck control.
Tyutin bounced between continents again in 2004-05. He started the season in Hartford, but then returned to Russia to play for his old St. Petersburg club. As 2005-06 approached, it was unclear whether Tyutin would come to North America to stay. But Tyutin did remain here and he played almost every game for the Rangers in 2005-06.
The big defenseman still needs to work on his positioning and puck handling, but offensively he did extremely well this season (25 points in 77 games). He was tied for fourth on the team in blocked shots (111) and fifth on the team with four power-play goals. Barring injuries and another extended bout of homesickness, Tyutin will grow into his role as a solid offensive defenseman for the Rangers. Although the team does not have much help for him at this point, and his growth has been somewhat delayed because of it, considering his age and the circumstances, Tyutin had a fine season and is only expected to get better over the next two to three years.
Dominic Moore, C
Moore finally got his chance to play for the Rangers this season, after performing very well in Hartford for the last two seasons. A coach’s favorite, Moore is extremely smart and gives everything he has on every play. He is also resilient, having played in every Ranger game this season.
Moore was a third round draft pick in 2000, and is out of Harvard. He played center on the third line for the Rangers most of this season, registering 18 points (9 goals, 9 assists), and a plus/minus of +4 in that role. However, it is uncertain how long Moore will remain with the team, as the Rangers have a large number of potential third and fourth liners coming up behind him. Moore did fill his role of winning faceoffs and playing a smart game well this season, but there is a real possibility that he will be moved if the Rangers can find a third line center who can provide grit and a more offensive game.
Ryan Hollweg, LW
Hollweg’s dream of playing for the Rangers came true this season, as the eighth round draft pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft finally got a chance to take the ice in the NHL. In his role as an agitator and energy player, Hollweg ranked third on the team both in hits (123) and PIM (84). Although he shows up for every shift and gives 110 percent to the team, Hollweg’s offensive capabilities are unfortunately limited (5 points in 52 games). When that limitation is combined with his small size (5’11, 213), Hollweg’s future with the team is in question. That is particularly true since the Rangers have so many potential third and fourth liners in Hartford ready to take Hollweg’s spot in the line-up. Although it is doubtful that Hollweg will be with the team very long, he is fun to watch, and no one ever questions his effort level.
Colton Orr, RW
The Rangers claimed the 6’3, 226-pound winger off waivers on November 29, 2005, after he skated in 20 games with the Boston Bruins. Making his Rangers debut against Washington on Dec. 3, Orr was in the Blueshirts’ uniform for 15 games this season. In that time, he registered one point, while accumulating 44 PIM. The Rangers claimed Orr off waivers, because the team needed some toughness, however, Orr was not very successful in the role of enforcer this year. He took fighting major penalties in only five games of the 15 he played in, and did not intimidate much while on the ice in the rest. It is highly unlikely that Orr will be a Ranger next season, and his future in hockey at the NHL level is in doubt.
Both Jarkko Immonen and Tomas Pock were members of the Rangers when the season ended. However, both of those players spent most of 2005-06 as members of the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. Immonen appeared in six games for the Rangers in April and he scored a goal in each of the first two. A center who was one of the leading scorers in the AHL this season, Immonen will likely be an NHLer next season. Pock, considered to be an offensive defenseman, was called up from Hartford several times this season. Although his AHL play indicated that he should be given a chance to play at the next level, it became obvious quickly when he got into an NHL game that Pock was not ready to handle NHL defensive duties. So after two games in January and two in March, Pock was reassigned back to Hartford. In April, the Rangers defensive woes became so great that the team called him up again. He remained with the team for the rest of the season, and small improvements were seen. However, Pock’s future in the NHL remains uncertain.
Four other regular members of the Hartford Wolf Pack were called up to play one game with the Rangers during the 2005-06 regular season. Defensemen David Liffiton and Bryce Lampman, as well as wingers Alexander Giroux and Chad Wiseman suited up for the NHL team. The 25-year-old Wiseman, who was the only one of the four to tally a point in their NHL appearance this season, was also called up for the April 24 playoff game against the New Jersey Devils.
Ex-Ranger rookie defenseman Maxim Kondratiev also played 29 games in a New York uniform this season, registering three points and 22 PIM in that time. On Jan. 8, Kondratiev was traded to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in exchange for Petr Sykora and 2007 fourth round draft choice.
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