It seems as if the 2008 was never going to come to an end but with a massive sign of relief and some eager expectations the New York Rangers open the 2008-09 season with the opening/arrival of player/prospects for the Traverse City Prospect Tournament.
For the Rangers, it is a chance to see which of the prospects have done their assigned "homework" from the June Developmental Camp. Each prospect was given a journal/guide to follow whether it was their diet, workout habits or even areas of their game.
For the first time prospects, that guide was also their first test towards becoming Rangers. Last year one Alex Bourret decided he would follow his own workout plan instead of what the Rangers wanted.
Bourret got hurt which led to his winding up in the Ranger doghouse and finally a ticket out of town. Basically it is checking to see if a prospect does one simple task which is listening.
Funny how a basic task which we do every day can become a vital part of a prospect's development or even whether or not the Rangers promote. Bourret had a reputation as someone who did not listen and guess who never got a shot at being called up to the Rangers?
A prospect who "listens" to what the Rangers are asking of them, who will "listen" to the advice and/or criticism stands a better chance of earning that shot at the Rangers than does someone who doesn't. Recall when Nigel Dawes was sent back to Hartford last season?
Ranger fans wondered why Dawes was sent back to Hartford but Tom Renney said that Dawes needed to work on his game. Dawes "listened" to what was asked of him, worked on his game and earned his recall.
This year the prospect who we say Ranger fans should look to see if they "listened" has to be Artem Anisimov. Tom Renney was crystal clear in June when Renney said that Anisimov: "he could be 12 or 14 pounds away from playing the NHL. We'd like to see him get stronger in the summer and see where he is in the fall"
If Anisimov has "listened" then odds are good that Anisimov will be a good bet to earn a spot on the Ranger roster. If Anisimov did not add that weight then he might as well not bother making any plans on joining the Rangers this season.
The Importance of Traverse City
In all honesty, we do not look at Traverse City as prospect makers or breakers for shots at the 2008-09 Ranger roster. This season is supposed to be the first one where the Rangers are actually expected to bring the entire Traverse City roster back to the Ranger training camp.
In the previous 2 seasons the Rangers have basically cut all of those who were expected to play in the CHL leagues. Unless you had a professional contract you were not coming to the Ranger training camp.
This is long overdue because as we have said in the past, there is no greater teacher for the prospects than to see what those very players that these prospects used to watch. For a green rookie who is nervous about his first camp, the chance to see what a NHL player does to get ready for a season is a teaching tool that can not even be measured.
As for us and what Traverse City means to us, only one prospect has ever really gotten out attention as someone to watch and that was David Skokan was at the time was just a 7th round prospect that few took seriously.
Skokan's efforts in the Traverse City Championship game (goal that was waved off and setting up the championship winner) was enough for us to give us a reason to take him seriously as a prospect.
Who Will Be the 2008 David Skokan?
Of the 23 players who are part of the Traverse City roster, the one which we are wanting to watch is invitee 6'2 defenseman David Stich who spent last season with the Saint Johns Sea Dogs.
Stich for most of his career was a major under achiever as the prospect who once was the 4th overall pick in the 2006 CHL Import Draft. Until last season's QMJHL playoffs, Stich was really nothing more than an enforcer in the QMJHL.
There is no question that inside Stich is some offensive skill, some very good wheels and a willingness to play a physical game. The question has been how badly did Stich want to be an NHL career.
After being bypassed in 2 straight NHL Entry Drafts, this could be Stich's last real shot at an NHL contract. In our eyes the Rangers can alway use a physical defender who has an offensive upside to him now that Ivan Baranka has gone to Russia.
Among the prospects it is either offensive minded defenders (Sanguinetti, Del Zotto) or defensive minded ones (Sauer) which is why if Stich plays well then he would be a solid pickup.
There is another prospect at Traverse City who has a lot riding on his performance at the camp and that is 2007 2nd round draft pick goalie Antoine Lafleur. Lafleur as he enters the Traverse City Tournament is a prospect who has no idea where he might play in the 2008-09 season.
The Prince Edward Island Rocket of the QMJHL hold his rights but have no interest in carrying the 20 year old Lafleur since they already have decided upon another 20 year old Bobby Nadeau as their starting goalie.
Lafleur for his part refused to report to the PEI training camp given the situation and while the Rocket say they are willing to trade him it has not happened. On one hand we can understand how hard it is to trade a player who is coming off a bad season and has not reported.
At the same time we also see Lafleur's side of this as well for if he got hurt while with the Rocket then he would be stuck on a team that is not willing to use him in any way that would help his development. If the Rocket can not find anyone willing to trade for Lafleur then shouldn't the Rocket just release a player who to the rest of the QMJHL has no trade value?
At worst Lafleur can go play in the Tier 2 Quebec League or the Rangers could help try to find a team for Lafleur to play this season with among the 2 other CHL leagues. One thing is for certain with each passing day we are hoping that a fire is burning inside of Lafleur to prove that the Rocket are wrong about Lafleur's ability.
(Pictures: Dawes: New York Rangers, Anisimov: Dubi Silverstein, Skokan: Rimouski Oceanic, Stich: Saint Johns Sea Dogs, Lafleur: Prince Edward Island Rocket)
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