Here is the question that we would like an answer to: With all the Ranger signings and trades; will there be any chance of any of the prospects making the jump to the Rangers during the next training camp.
The quick and easy answer is no but the truth is that the Rangers actually have a gap in their prospect progression because Marc Staal and Brandon Dubinsky progressed faster than anyone with the Rangers expected.
The knee jerk reaction (and even we have been guilty of it) is that Greg Moore, Dane Byers and Lauri Korpikoski were on the cusp of making the Rangers out of training camp next season. That same reaction on the surface makes people wonder if the Rangers have abandoned their development of the prospects.
Our experiences with Gord Clark the Ranger's Director of Player Personnel has taught us that is not the case. In every interview that Clark has done with those of us connected to the Blueshirt Bulletin, Clark has said the very same thing.
It has always been almost a mantra that when it comes to prospect development that each prospect has a "season of dominating at the level they are at before advancing". It appears to also be what those connected with the Rangers believe as well.
The reality is that despite the overall solid development by the prospects, there still remains some holes within the system that need some work. From a prospect standpoint then the Rangers may have bought themselves a season or two to allow the prospects a chance to fully develop instead of being force fed to the NHL.
Under Tom Renney whether you like him or not; Renney has been consistent in one area which is when a prospect is fully NHL ready then they are brought up and inserted in the lineup. Say what you wish about Renney's system but the proof is in the lineup with Staal, Dubinsky, and Girardi as the prime examples.
Breaking down each position then one sees that what the Rangers have done is in fact to buy time.
The Rangers had 4 goalies in the system and 1 in the prospect ranks. The Rangers decided to keep Miika Wiikman and Matt Zaba while declining to make qualifying contract offers to either David LeNeveu (already signed with the Ducks) and Chris Holt who played for most of the season with Charlotte of the ECHL.
With the 1 prospect goalie Antoine Lafleur not anywhere close to being ready for any of the pro levels then the Rangers will need at the very least 1 more goalie in the system to cover themselves in case of injury. We expect that Wiikman will be the starter in Hartford with Zaba the starter in Charlotte of the ECHL.
So far we have not heard if any of the goalies who attended the prospect conditioning camp has earned a second call back for the Traverse City camp. We get the feeling that the Rangers will look for an experienced goalie to serve as a mentor to Wiikman in Hartford while being the Ranger's emergency number 3 (provided he can clear re-entry waivers).
Last year at this time the position was viewed as the deepest at least in terms of prospects in the system but with the defection of Ivan Baranka to Russia, the rumors of Thomas Pock also bolting to Russia, the late season injury to Michael Sauer (ACL) along with David Liffiton and Andrew Hutchinson becoming free agents then this position is back to being a weak spot for the Rangers.
Go take a peek at the "In the System" page and count how many defenders the Rangers list as prospects. Subtract the 3 draft picks (Del Zotto, Gaulton and Kundratek), then Baranka and Pock and see what is left.
Not much is that and while the Wolfpack will most likely add Bobby Sanguinetti if for not other reason but they need him more than the Rangers do now it still means the Wolfpack might need to add a couple more defenders themselves. As it was it seemed as if the Wolfpack went defenders like water last season because of injuries.
The 3 draft picks will not be turning pro next season nor should they as all 3 have major areas for them to improve upon before turning pro. Let them work on their games at their current levels.
For Del Zotto and Gaulton another season in the OHL will greatly help both since that league has become a defenseman factory over the last few years. We are though hearing that Kundratek more than likely will not be released from his contract to come over to play in North America next season.
We see the Wolfpack as needing to add at least 2 more defensemen (3 if Potter can steal the 7th defender's job on the Rangers).
We have to break this section down into 3 groups as the first is the "close but not fully ready", "works in progress" and "a way to go" to help explain who is where in terms of their development.
Close But Not Fully Ready
That is Artem Anisimov who Tom Renney want an improved body from along with more consistency, Greg Moore who had a great season last season but needs to repeat it to show he is for real, Dane Byers who still could steal a roster spot because unlike either Voros or Rissmiller offers more potential in our eyes and the player who basically had just one good game in Lauri Korpikoski.
Of the 4 we believe Anisimov off his showing at the conditioning camp has moved to the top of the list of who is close to ready. Korpikoski finally showed the promise that led to his being a first round pick but like Moore needs to repeat it to show it is real.
Byers hits harder than Rissimiller and will fight like Voros but we believe is a more polished defender who can chip in more offense than either of them. Greg Moore despite his season last year has still a lot to prove as there remains questions as to what position he should play in the NHL.
They will come close in training camp but the numbers game will be used to explain why they did not earn roster spots. Truth is for their development another season playing as many minutes in Hartford will help their development more than 5-8 minutes a night as 4th liners.
Works in Progress
Brodie Dupont and Tom Pyatt both discovered the hard way that life as a professional is a huge jump from the CHL leagues they came from. They both struggled but we see them as learning from those lessons and this will be the year they either become NHL prospects or risk being passed on by.
That we are even mentioning Hugh Jessiman here is a win for the former first rounder. Jessiman will never live up to his billing for his draft status but our advice to Hugh is to let the work on the ice do his talking for himself this year. It has been a very slow progression for Jessiman but this year he either dominates in Hartford or he will find himself watching Justin Soryal pass him by.
A Way to Go
Tomas Zaborsky is just beginning his pro career but might learn faster than others because his fundamentals is so strong. Justin Soryal just might be the smartest prospect we have talked with so keep an eye on him as he wants to be a winner so very badly. Ryan Hiller should have undergone the hernia surgery as soon as he could have.
Hillier needs to step out of the shadows and hopefully all that he went though last season will scare him enough to realize that this very talented prospect could mess up his dreams if he does not show more fight. Hillier has all the tools and we really want to see him make it because he could develop into something very productive at both ends of the ice.
Carl Hagelin, Max Campbell, Danny Hobbs and Derek Stepan are all college boys this year so they are at least a couple of years from turning pro. We are still waiting to see where Greg Beller will wind up next season after leaving Yale.
David Skokan if he stays with Rimouski will be playing in the Memorial Cup since Rimouski is the host and guaranteed a spot there. Dale Weise will rejoin Swift Current as an overager and they will both benefit. Chris Doyle we believe will get the message that he had the chance to be drafted much higher and did not live up to it, Doyle will be at least 20 points better this season.
The prospect to keep all eyes on will be Evgeny Grachev as the combination of his desire, skill and size will greatly be enhanced by playing for Stan Butler and the Brampton Battalion. All Butler does is turn out NHL players and we saw what he did with Sanguinetti last season.
You know why we are not going to say anything about him at this point? Because so many already have over-reacted to his "Blueshirt Bulletin" along with Dubi Silverstein's response.
We will deal with him tomorrow because we want to do some checking of our own on this story.
2 days ago