Saturday, September 13, 2008

No Longer the Impossible Dream

So by the time you are reading this, a group of young hockey players are in Traverse City, Michigan beginning a journey towards a dream that they have had have since childhood. That dream of course is to become players in the National Hockey League mainly with the New York Rangers.

For those who are first, second, and even third round draft picks they are the ones who most expect to make it to the NHL. For them this might be just another part of their learning process but for others it just might be their only shot at earning an NHL contract.

It used to be that if you were a lower round draft pick then just getting to attend one of these camps was the best they could hope for. Their path wound up being a hope that they could find someone in the ECHL, one of the other lower level professional leagues or even a team in Europe if they worked hard at a NHL training camp.

Heck it was not all that long ago that the words prospects and Rangers were almost impossible to put together in the same sentence. Thankfully those days are long gone and now even a lower round draft pick or undrafted free agent has as good a chance to earn a contract as the first and second round picks.

Once upon a time someone wrote that "the closest Petr Prucha is ever going to an NHL arena is if Prucha purchased a ticket" That was said after Prucha had been selected in the 8th round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.

Once upon a time hardly anyone knew who a Henrik Lundqvist was after the Rangers took him in the 7th round of 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Like him or not, former Ranger Ryan Hollweg was an 8th round pick in the 2001 draft.

And there is no way we can not help but mention Dan Girardi who was an undrafted free agent that nobody other than Tom Renney and the Ranger scouting team had heard of. Yet there was Giradi who is now viewed as one of the key players on the Ranger blueline (did we mention that Girardi was also the 2nd leading scorer among Ranger defensemen last season?)

Traverse City is not the end all for a prospect if his play is not all that stellar but it can be a launching pad on a path towards that Ranger (or AHL contract). It is interesting to note that Zaborsky (2006 5th) and fellow Slovak David Skokan (2007 7th) both played well at Traverse City last year then went on to earn contracts for this season.

For us, the "invitee" players who we think offer the best shot at earning are David Stich of the Saint Johns Sea Dogs and Matt Meropoulis of the Chilliwack Bruins with Stich being the favorite given that he offers the hope of a 2 way defender.

Stich has played well so far this pre-season for Saint Johns and we could see him pairing up with a Bobby Sanguinetti or Michael Del Zotto to give both offensive weapons the freedom to play their offensive game. At the same time, Stich does have good passing and defensive skills which given the lack of solid defensive prospects on the Traverse City roster will come in handy.

When we watch Meropoulis then we think of Ryan Callahan without the proven offense. Chilliwack wants us to think that "Mero" as he is called is going to break out on offense but so far we have not seen that to be the case during the pre-season. But that does not mean that we do not like him as his grit and willingness to get dirty does make us a fan of his.

Everyone says that 3rd and 4th liners are easy to come by but they also forget that those gritty players also have a shorter career span. Adding a Meropoulis does not hurt despite his 5'11 size because he plays bigger than that.

We can see him at TC with say Tom Pyatt and Brodie Dupont being the checking line only with some offense that the Ranger's current checking crew totally lacks. We are going to hope for Meropoulis as well.

The long shot at Traverse City has to be Nick Pageau who spent last season with Belleville of the OHL. Pageau is a "tweener" as his smaller size makes it hard for him to be considered as a "stay at home" defender.

Pageau's offense could be better as he can pass and skate but in his junior career Pageau did not show enough consistency to think he is a viable prospect.

The other two invitees Lyon Messier and Tysen Dowzak are simply not serious contenders for NHL rosters but at least Dowzak is a physical specimen and a half from what we are told. It will be interesting to watch him fight as we have been told that he is NFL lineman strong.

Dowzak at 6'5 will attract Ranger interest simply because of that size but as with the case with many of oversized player; Dowzak is a project that would take several seasons to develop. It might be fun to see what happens when 6'5 Dowzak and 6'6 Wallingford (training camp invitee) collide.

Young Messier is a great kid with a great work ethic and has several of his former coaches talking about his excellent character. However his talent does not catch up to his work ethic which is a shame since he is a very good person.

Messier will wind up with a contract somewhere this season just on his name but it will not be a Ranger contract we are sorry to say.

Do not think He is coming to Traverse City

One prospect that we are not expecting to see show up at Traverse City is Evan Pighin who reportedly was supposedly was invited to Traverse City by Glen Sather as a carrot to return to the Chilliwack Bruins of the WHL.

In a nutshell, Pighin is a walking soap opera, his junior rights belong to Chilliwack (partly owned by Sather) but Pighin wants to play for Victoria of the BCHL (owned by Tampa Owner Len Barrie). Chilliwack will not release Pighin and suspended him for failing to report.

As of last night Pighin has shown no interest in returning to Chilliwack so we do not believe that his invitation to join the Ranger TC or training camp is valid anymore. No offense to Pighin but this is one mess that we hope the Rangers stay clear of.

Pighin might want to note that we are not seeing an invite to the Tampa Bay camp either.

Let the Games Begin

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