It is ironic that on the night before the Rangers faceoff against the Edmonton Oilers with their new "associate" coach Tom Renney that 2 undrafted Ranger prospects went against each other. Like Tom Renney as the Ranger's coach or not; his contribution to the Rangers will pay dividends longer than people will ever realize.
It was during the NHL lockout that Tom Renney made his greatest contribution to the rebuilding of the Rangers as he spent that season scouting, planning and helping to develop the prospect program that Ranger fans are seeing the benefits of today.
If not for Tom Renney, there is no Michael Del Zotto, no Brandon Dubinsky, no Ryan Callahan and many more yet to come. The prospect program that is in place today is because of Tom Renney, Gordie Clark, Christer Rockstrom and the 8 great guys who make up the Ranger's amateur scouting team.
With only 7 rounds in today's NHL Entry Drafts, it is really key for the Ranger scouting staff to find free agents who can help supplement the draft picks and sometimes turn themselves into Rangers like Dan Girardi did.
We bring this up because 3 of the Traverse City invitees were in action on Wednesday night starting with Craig Cunningham and his Vancouver Giants visiting Luke Walker and the Portland Winterhawks. Cunningham has been leading Ranger prospects in scoring prior to the game against the Winterhawks and added on to his lead.
Cunningham scored his 11th and 12th goals of the season to raise his prospect leading season totals to 12-16-28 (good for 7th in the WHL) as Cunningham's Giants shut out Walker's Winterhawks 4-0. For Cunningham he has now 7-8-15 over his last 10 games as the Giants have gone 7-2-1 during that span.
As for Walker and his young Winterhawk teammates it was their second straight game where they were shutout. Still Walker is also not having a bad season as he is 11-9-20 in 20 games which is 3rd among Ranger prospects.
Cunningham earned the game's second star for his efforts as his first goal of the game was also the game winner. Cunningham now has 4 game winners on the season also tops among Ranger prospects.
Yes Sam Klassen (2009 UFA) extended his "Plus" streak on Wednesday night to 7 straight games and yes that means that his Saskatoon Blades also won their 7th straight game this time coming from behind to edge the Swift Current Broncos 2-1.
This win in our eyes was more impressive because the Blades were playing their 5th game in their last 6 nights. How they were able to find the energy and effort to not only shut down the Broncos but to pull out the win is just amazing.
Klassen with a +1 is now up to +19 on the season which is 3rd in the WHL behind his defensive partner Stefan Elliot. In fact the Saskatoon Blades who are at the top of the WHL can credit their league leading defense as for why as they have only given up 2.25 goals a game also tops in the WHL.
Luke Pither (Traverse City) is the oldest of the Traverse City prospects but he is also having a pretty solid year with the Barrie Colts of the OHL. On Wednesday, Pither had 2 primary assists to help his Colts whip on Scott Stajcer (2009 5th) and the Owen Sound Attack 6-1.
For Pither, he is second among Ranger prospect scoring with a 12-13-25 record in 17 games. Pither is tied with Cunningham for most goals at 12 and has 3 game winners to his credit.
Scott Stajcer and the Attack once again saw the penalty kill as the main cause of their undoing as the Colts went 4 for 7 on the power play. Stajcer faced 45 shots and sorry when the goalie is facing that many shots it is almost impossible to blame him for the loss.
Then another prospect that the Ranger scouts can take a bow for is Roman Horak (2009 5th) as he was an unknown to most of us in North America but has been a pleasant surprise for the Chilliwack Bruins of the WHL. Wednesday night's results may not have shown it as Horak's Bruins got spanked on the road by the Spokane Chiefs 5-1.
Horak was held scoreless and for a rare occasion was a -2 for the night. On the season Horak is a respectable 5-11-16 in 19 games with a +7.
The hardest team for us to figure out is Tomas Kundratek and his Medicine Hat Tigers as no team in the WHL reminds us more of last year's Rangers than this season's version. It is "flip a coin" or "toss a dart" as we have never a clue as to what will happen with the Tigers.
On Wednesday evening it was the Bad Tigers who showed up as they got beaten 7-4 by the Regina Pats on the road. Kundratek was not bad with his play as he set up Taylor Gal for Medicine Hat's first goal (Kundratek's 9th assist) during a 4 on 4 but the Tigers were already trailing 2-0 at the time.
The Tigers were spending so much time playing catch up as they tied the game on 3 different occasions before giving up 3 third period goals for the loss.
(Cunningham courtesy of the Vancouver Giants, Klassen courtesy of the Saskatoon Blades)
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