Friday, October 31, 2008

The College Try

With only one Ranger prospect actually playing in the 3 CHL leagues, our focus tonight shifts towards those who play in the NCAAs. The featured game on Friday evening was Derek Stepan's Wisconsin Badgers taking on the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota in a game that was carried over the NHL Network.

The game was a mixed blessing as 2008 2nd round pick Derek Stepan got his first goal at the NHL level but his Wisconsin Badgers lost to the host University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux 3-2 to remain winless on the season at 0-6-1.

For most of the Ranger world, this was their first chance to get a good look at Stepan and it was not a bad look for a first peek. Forget the goal and look at Stepan's play as one has to like his skating style as it is a smooth even stride that does not waste motion.

Stepan is able to change directions, speed as well as stop on a dime. For a freshman, Stepan does not lack for confidence in his offense as we got him down for 3 good scoring chances in this game.
We also liked that Stepan went right to the net and did not settle for a distance shot.

That stands out because Stepan is not biggest of players at 6' just 176 that he shows no fear or hesitation at going though traffic. Stepan did not shy away from contact and even better was his acceleration once he got the puck.

That also describes exactly how Stepan scored his goal on Friday as teammate Patrick Johnson found Stepan all alone after causing a turnover and fed Stepan for a wide open shot from the slot to give the Badgers a short lived 1-0 lead.

We were told that Stepan had a first step that was impressive to watch but Stepan's was better than advertised. His ability to gain separation from his coverage was bettet than advertised. We are going to enjoy watching Stepan over the next couple of years.

When you are struggling with your game then the number one time tested method of regaining yourself has always been to return yourself back to the basics. To take things one small step at a time and believe in yourself as slumps happen to everyone.

That has been the story of Max Campbell's season with the Western Michigan Broncos so far this year. In our eyes what has been hurting Campbell has been his trying to do too much on his shoulders as a sophomore.

Max who was the Ranger's 2007 5th round pick is a favorite of ours as we think the world of him because of how badly he wants to become a Ranger. Very few prospects will pay their own way to attend a development camp but that is what Campbell did last summer.

Friday night it was Campbell's Broncos on the road to face the 11th ranked Michigan State Spartans and for Campbell this was a small step back towards regaining both form and confidence in his game as Campbell scored his second goal of the season on the power play.

Despite the goal, Michigan State was able to earn a 3-1 win and drop Western Michigan's record to 1-5-1 on the season.

Campbell scored on a WMU power play as teammate Cam Watson found Campbell with a pass right between the circles coming down the slot for a power play goal in the first period. It was Campbell's only shot of the game and he made it count.

For Campbell, our hope is that he take this one goal and build upon it instead of trying to force everything all at once.

So guess which Ranger prospect is also on a point scoring streak of his own? If you said 2006 6th round pick Carl Hagelin of the Michigan Wolverines then you would have been right.

Hagelin had a power play assist on teammate Louie Caporusso's 6th goal of the season to bring his own scoring streak up to 4 games as Michigan rebounded from last weekend's embarrassing loss to Boston University to defeat Ohio State 4-3.

Unlike his fellow prospects in the CHL, Hagelin only gets to play 2 games a week so his scoring streak in it's own way is much harder to maintain. Hagelin during his streak has 6 assists over his last 4 games to bring his numbers up to 1-8-9 which puts him 3rd on the Wolverines.

Quietly there is a team that is starting to look like one that others had best not overlook. We are talking about Danny Hobbs and his UMass Minutemen who blasted Providence College 9-4 Friday night at home.

With the win, the Minutemen are now unbeaten in their last 4 games 3-0-1 as the Minutemen won this game going away. Breaking a 4-4 tie in the second period the Minutemen scored 5 unanswered goals to record the most goals ever scored by a UMass team since 1996 as well as the most scored ever scored in a Hockey East matchup.

While Hobbs did not register a point in this game, Hobbs is being used on the Minutemen special teams as a way of helping his development. As we have said in previous reports, Hobbs showed us last season that in the bigger games that he is a player who elevates his game.

We expect no less this year as well.

The Quiet Debut

It took a while for a fractured hand to heal but now that it has Tomas Kundratek made his WHL debut for the Medicine Hat Tigers on Friday as the Tigers traveled to Kootenay to take on the Ice.

It was as we called it a quiet debut as the Tigers lost 4-2 but to expect more might have been a tad much given everything that Kundratek has gone though over the last couple of months.

Kundratek is having to learn how to play the North American game while at the same time having to learn how to speak English and adjust to life in a small Canadian city.

Kundratek is the big secret among the 2008 Ranger draft class as little is known about him. What is known is that he is was the 12th ranked European prospect according to CSB, that he has represented the Czech Republic on both Under 17 and WJC teams.

We have been told that Kundratek is a defender who likes to initiate contact to make plays. Kundratek has some size at 6'2 but still needs to mature physically.

As we get a better look we will share it will everyone.

(Pictures; Derek Stepan-Wisconsin Badgers, Max Campbell-Zolter Cohen/WMU, Carl Hagelin- U of Michigan Media Relations, Danny Hobbs- UMass, Tomas Kundratek- New York Rangers)

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