Thursday, April 28, 2011

Questions Questions

With a rare day off from CHL playoff action, it gives us a chance to answer some of the questions we have been getting about the New York Ranger prospects.

Might as well start with the one that is asked at least 2-3 times a day which is "Are the Rangers going to sign Ethan Werek?"

Our answer is that is a great question because while everyone in the prospect media is saying that everyone expects Werek to be playing professional hockey next season; the only ones who have been strangely quiet have been the Rangers.

The Rangers so far have signed 2010 1st round pick Dylan McIlrath, 2009 3rd round pick Ryan Bourque, 2007 6th round pick Carl Hagelin and free agents Tommy Grant and Jason Missiaen but not a word about the rest of the 2009 draft class.

While the Rangers were bringing in some free agents to Hartford on ATOs there was Ethan Werek "tweeting" about girls from a school library. Strange does not even begin to explain why the Rangers did not bring in either Werek or Roman Horak to workout with the Whale but the Rangers at times are strange when it comes to how they handle their own prospects.

The Rangers from our experience have one track minds as to how they handle their prospects. They think they are very good at not showing their hand but put it this way we would love to get Sather or Gordie Clark to a poker table.

Ethan Werek despite injuries and a suspect 2010 training camp is too good a prospect for the Rangers not to sign. We expect that next season's CT Whale team to be very young and Werek will be there as well as the decision to sign will be made after the Rangers have their annual Palm Springs meeting.

What in our eyes is causing the worry about Werek is because the Rangers signed 2009 3rd round pick Ryan Bourque but we believe his early signing was part of a bigger agenda by the Rangers. The Rangers in our eyes are using Bourque as bait in order to lure Chris Kreider away from Boston College.

This is not to say that Bourque did not earn or deserve his Ranger contract because he very much does but the Rangers badly want Kreider to turn pro and despite Kreider saying he is going to return to Boston College is not stopping the Rangers. Here is what may not be widely known; Kreider, Bourque and Derek Stepan are very good friends away from the ice.

We will not say which one said "we are like hockey nerds, always talking hockey, texting hockey and eating and sleeping hockey" but give the Rangers some credit for being able to send Kreider messages about their desires without breaking any NCAA rules. Now anyone who does not think that Derek Stepan is over in Slovakia not trying to talk his buddy Kreider into joining him next season is only kidding themselves.

The Rangers can not talk directly to Kreider about leaving school but Stepan (and to a lesser extent Ryan McDonagh) have no restrictions at all. The Rangers have Stepan in New York and Bourque in Hartford as bait so the question is will Kreider take the bait?

Our answer is yes we do expect Kreider to change his mind after he attends the annual Ranger prospect camp held after the draft. And it is going to come down to the same reason why we knew Stepan was leaving school; the fear of another injury.

The broken jaw Kreider suffered because of a freak accident is going to be all the ammo that we feel Stepan will use to convince his buddy to join him. So everyone else is on hold while the Rangers try to reel in Kreider.

So what happens with Roman Horak who was a 5th round pick in the 2009 NHL draft you ask? The answer is the Rangers do not have to sign Horak because the lack of a uniform player transfer agreement between the NHL and the rest of the IIHF.

As our friend in Europe reminded us that despite Horak playing the last 2 seasons in the WHL with Chilliwack Bruins, he was first drafted by the Rangers while he was in Europe. Until the situation with international player transfers is worked out the NHL is saying that NHL teams will go back to owning the draft rights to players drafted from Europe basically forever.

The question though is where does Horak play next season as we seriously doubt he will be in the WHL. Their rules about overage and import players makes it so if Horak (who's WHL team had relocated to Victoria) plays then he will count against the 2 import players allowed but also the 3 overage players allowed.

If it is confusing do not feel bad as it took us a couple of years to really understand those rules. Horak really does need to bulk up his upper body so the Rangers might not want to waste a year of an entry level contract while Horak fills out his body.

We get the sense that if Horak does not have a strong prospect camp that he will be "encouraged" to return to play in the Czech league. It works out for both player and team as the player gets to make good money while the team saves a roster spot and does not lose his rights.

So what happens with Scott Stajcer who also was a 5th round pick in the 2009 draft? At times we think we are the only ones who thinks Stajcer is a pretty good goalie.

His Owen Sound Attack are in the OHL finals as well as the 2011 Memorial Cup but Stajcer is getting little or no credit for getting them there. Here is what we see; a 8-1 record with a very respectable 2.08 goals against and a 0.931 save percentage.

In our eyes what sold us on Stajcer being worth a contract was back in November when the OHL took on the Russian Selects. Canada for the first time in the series had lost the 1st two games of the series during the QMJHL portion so in game 3 all of a sudden it was a must win for the Canadians

Stajcer who we believe was hurt at the time came into the game in Sudbury at the halfway mark. Canada was up 2-0 and the Russians really had not put up much of a fight until Stajcer came in.

Canadian starter Scott Wedgewood only faced 6 shots but it all changed when Stajcer entered the game. Russia woke up thanks in part to 3 power plays as they fired 9 shots during the rest of the 2nd period.

In the 3rd Canada scored just 44 seconds into the period to make it 3-0 and now it was no longer just about getting the win; the shutout became the goal for Canadian pride. And Stajcer stood up stopping 12 shots including 3 more penalty kills to keep the shut out.

In the last 5 minutes Stajcer made a couple of really nice saves to preserve the shutout. His reaction at the end of the game told us how big it was for him.

When we interviewed Stajcer for the Blueshirt Bulletin (in fact for the next issue out any day) as we were just chatting and asked Stajcer about the game against the Russians. For Stajcer playing in that game meant more than even we realized at the time because it was his first chance to represent not only the OHL but Canada.

Windsor coach Bob Jones saw it first hand as after Owen Sound eliminated his Spitfires had this to say about the Attack's chances:

"They're well-balanced — their blueline is undercover good," Jones said. "I don't think a lot of people realize how good their blueline is. [Goaltender Scott] Stajcer's been good. They're at the peak of their game right now. They'll be a force with anybody they play."
(Stick Tap to Buzzing the Net for the quote)

We think Stajcer deserves a contract and if we were the Rangers it will look very bad if they do not sign Stajcer if he leads the Attack to either the OHL title or the Memorial Cup. The goalies playing in the Memorial Cup are all legit NHL prospects, beat them and Stajcer proves it too.

The Rangers also sign Stajcer because Chad Johnson is a RFA but he spent the latter portion on the Ranger bench with just a period to show for himself. He lost the Whale job not to Cam Talbot but a guy who started out in the ECHL and earned the Wolfpack MVP in Dov Grumet-Morris.

Johnson also is hurt by Cam Talbot as well as Jason Missiaen on entry level contracts. Johnson needed to show forward progres and did not.

We see several changes coming for the CT Whale as the Rangers need to now get Evgeny Grachev to take his real steps towards the NHL. To do that they will let others go like Brodie Dupoint (4 years just 1 NHL game),  Dale Weise and very possibly Justin Soryal and Chad Kolarik (who is going to Parenteau on the Rangers for a better chance at the NHL).

Carl Hagelin already has shown he can play at the AHL level but we expect the Rangers to want him to get seasoning with as many minutes as possible. 2010 5th round pick Jason Wilson can do everything Dupont and Weise can do only at a lower price.

The last 2 question marks are 2007 5th round pick Max Campbell who despite a great turnaround season did not show enough soon enough to earn a Ranger contract. Daniel Maggio the 2009 6th round pick might be able to latch on with an AHL contract especially if the Rangers choose not to qualify Stu Bickel or Pavel Valentenko (who whispers say they do not think his skating is NHL quality).

All together the Rangers at the AHL/ECHL/CHL level have 9 restricted and 3 unrestricted free agents to address.  We see the Rangers only qualifying John Mitchell (trade deadline deal) in part to open up spots for the draft picks (Werek and Bourque) and free agents.

(Images: Werek/Kingston Werek, Kreider/Dennis Pause, Horak/Chilliwack/Victoria?, Stajcer/Aaron Bell-OHL Images)

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