Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Year of the Prospect

For fans of the New York Rangers, the 2008-09 season was a season that had more downs than up to it. We will let others recap all the bad news about this past season because this place just might be the only place where a Ranger fan can say that they had a great season.

Now it is doubtful that anyone will be surprised to see that the winner of the 2009 Prospect Park Prospect of the Year award is 2008 3rd round selection Evgeny Grachev.

The only prospect to win Prospect of the month for 4 straight months, the 6'3 (or up to 6'5 depending on who you believe) Grachev put on one of the most entertaining seasons we have gotten to witness from any Ranger prospect in the 5 seasons we have covered them.

The question is where to begin with the Evgeny Grachev highlight show as there were 40 regular season goals and 40 regular season assists for starters. There was also the 11-14-25 in 19 playoff games as Grachev's Brampton Battalion advanced to the OHL Championship finals for the first time in franchise history.

We could talk about Grachev winning the OHL Rookie of the Year award, the leading scorer among OHL rookies, breaking Jason Spezza's record for most points by a rookie at Brampton, being named to the OHL All-Star team, to Team Russia's World Under-20 team but that is not what impressed us the most.

What impressed us was that Grachev never went more than 3 games (and those were at the very beginning of his OHL season) without recording a point. What impressed us was 21 multi-point games out of 60 regular season games.

What impressed us was 2 streaks of 10 games with points, 5 different 5 game point streaks that were 5 or more games, being a +48 for the entire season (out of a 60 game regular season), 6 game winners, 6 insurance goals, 9 power play goals and 4 shorthanded ones.

What makes us greedy for Grachev's future as well as his potential is that both Grachev and Stan Butler his coach at Brampton said that he was just beginning to work hard every night. Grachev came over to North America to learn how to play the North American style of hockey and is still just learning how to play this brand of hockey.

Next season, we expect that Grachev will be in Hartford as he still must continue to learn his game as well as continue to grow into his body. His promising future is going to give Ranger fans a lot to cheer about in the future.


But Wait There is More

Grachev may have been the best prospect but overall the 2008-09 season just might have been the best collective season for Ranger prospect since the early 1990's. Of the 12 prospects we got to follow this season we believe that there are 7 prospects who if they continue their development could wind up as Rangers.

Michael Del Zotto (2008 1st) has this problem of nobody thinking he is a legit future star except us and those who watch him in the OHL. 2009-10 is going to be his breakout season where he will be able to escape playing in the shadow of John Tavares and establish himself as a offensive weapon in his own right.

Del Zotto rightfully earned that contract he just signed after the performance he had in the OHL playoffs. Del Zotto was 3-16-19 but of those points, at least 7 were game tying or game winning ones.

Derek Stepan (2008 2nd) is the prospect most do not hear about because he plays for Wisconsin in the NCAA. We say watch him because he just might be the most important prospect the Rangers have.

Stepan is the best skater, he is the fastest skater but most of all he just might be the smartest prospect of them all. Stepan was the 2nd leading scorer for Wisconsin as a freshman but that is not why we tell you to key on him.

Stepan in our eyes is what Scott Gomez is supposed to be doing for the Rangers only Stepan will do it better. Stepan will be the key playmaker, the big goal scorer and the quiet locker room leader. Stepan already has his path planned to the Rangers and we have learned not to doubt this very confident prospect.

Tomas Kundratek (2008 3rd) is the ideal defensive prospect built for the Tortorella system, excellent offensive skill set but he has some maturing to do. When he gets his head on straight, he will give the Rangers that first pass to go on the attack and the defensive skills to break up the odd man rushes.

Dale Weise (2008 4th) forgot he was supposed to spend a season in the WHL like the other prospects. All Weise did was force his way into first a contract and then a season with Hartford. We can argue whether it would have been better to gone back to the WHL or not but in the end Weise came on at the end of his rookie season to show he belonged.

Weise was the first to sign a professional contract but we can not remember the last time the Rangers signed 4 out of their top 5 picks to contracts. Stepan will make it 5 for 5 in the not so distant future.

We also have to include Tysen Dowzak (2008 UFA) here as the prospect we call a clone of 1994 Ranger Jay Wells could turn into the pure defensive stopper that the Rangers have lacked since the days of Wells, Beukeboom and Lowe.

Dowzak is a project who is being mentored by another former Ranger defender Jeff Finley but his play in the WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup gave us reason to have hope for his future.

Carl Hagelin (2007 6th) is the Ranger's defensive specialist of the future as the young Swede was a huge reason why the Michigan Wolverines were one of the very best penalty killers in the NCAAs.

His offense is catching up to his defense and when it does then we could be looking at a 3rd liner who has the offensive punch so badly lacking on the Rangers. Hagelin is about to enter his junior season with Michigan but he will now be counted on to become one of their top players next season.

Max Campbell (2007 5th) is our "next say die" prospect because no matter what happens to him he bounces back better than ever. If he can find a way to spend some time at the Ranger's training center this summer improving his strength then watch out for him.

Campbell who people worry is too skinny, is a pure sniper who scores from any place on the ice but despite his smallish stature does most of his damage from the crease. Campbell scored 16 goals this past season playing in a conference that sent 4 teams to the NCAAs.

And we will not leave out Chris Doyle (2008 5th) who if not for an injured disc in his back might have outscored Grachev. Doyle is the only prospect in recent years to record not one but 2 Gordie Howe Hat Tricks.

Doyle is not the biggest kid on the block but if he ever realizes that he has to step out of the shadows then he might become something like a power play specialist.

Mitch Gaulton (2008 6th) gave us the great story of a kid who refused to quit when he made a comeback from Tommy John Surgery in just 6 months instead of the expected 18. However the story got spoiled when Gaulton wound up in Erie Otter's coach Robbie Ftorek's doghouse over Gaulton's conditioning.

Hopefully the 2 can resolve their issues and Gaulton can show us why the Rangers used a pick on this often injured defenseman.

Finally the bad part of this job is when we have to say that we do not think someone deserves a Ranger contract because he did not earn it. What bothers us is that we know that someone inside of Antoine Lafleur (2007 2nd) there is a very talented goalie.

We wanted to see Lafleur make it, we openly rooted for him to be traded away from Prince Edward Island and we thought that Lafleur could be a solid goalie. The problem was that no prospect drove us to the brink of frustration like Lafleur did.

There is some very serious talent inside that 6'5 frame of his, the problem is that Lafleur could never put together a string of games where he carried his team as one wants a goalie to do. Lafleur would give 2 great games then toss up a clunker where he wound up getting pulled.

It is a huge loss when a second round pick does not pan out but if it was up to us we would not offer Lafleur a Ranger's contract. At best just to continue to gamble on him then offer him a Hartford contract so we can hope that Benoit Allaire can figure out a way to get though to him.

Had Lafleur shown some consistency then we would not be advocating the need to draft another goalie in the 2009 Entry Draft.

Now the fun begins as we start to wonder who the Rangers will pick in the NHL Entry Draft just like the rest of you.


No we have no idea about why the Rangers have gone Euro crazy and signed Andres Ambuhl or Ilkka Heikkinen to contracts. In all honesty nobody in North America can really claim that they have any idea about the possible potential for either player.

If anything we are waiting to talk to anyone who actually thinks either player is going to play anywhere but Hartford. If that is the case then we say to the Rangers: Time to make the real moves already

Just like the Ranger fans; we want to see something that indicates the Rangers are not once again blowing smoke about improving the franchise. There are some moves that need to be made here in North America not Europe.

We want to see Dubinsky and Callahan resigned; we want to see decisions made regarding the futures of Zherdev, Redden and Gomez.

Really who cares about signing 2 European players other than the jokes we can make about Heikkinen's name as we want to see real answers to real issues regarding the Rangers.

(Grachev courtesy of the Brampton Battalion)

1 comment:

Puck Central said...

Thanks for the prospect info - always good to hear about the future