Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Truck Has Returned

For any prospect whether he is a New York Ranger or a New York Islander; the biggest game can be the first game after demotion. How a prospect handles being sent down from the NHL at times can set the tone for his entire season.

In the case of Dylan McIlrath (NYR 2010 1st) who was returning to Moose Jaw from the Rangers was going to be an interesting look. The Rangers had made it clear that the intention all along was for McIlrath to play this season with the Moose Jaw Warriors but that does not mean being cut did not hurt.

In the case of McIlrath, his return to the Moose Jaw lineup was a positive one as the Warriors defeated the Lethbridge Hurricanes 3-2. McIlrath came out fired up as in the games first shift he lowered the boom on a Hurricane with a clean heavy body check.

That check energized both the Moose Jaw fans as well as McIlrath's teammates as the Warriors took the game to the Hurricanes. McIlrath was all over the ice and while he did not score, his presence was noticed as were some differences in his game from last season.

McIlrath very much wanted to be involved in the game at both ends of the ice and it is hard to blame a prospect for trying too hard but McIlrath did overdo it a bit. When you are 6'5 220 then you are going to stand out a whole lot in the WHL.

McIlrath got called for goalie interference on a bad call because the ref could not see that he had been shoved into the Lethbridge goalie. Bad call that should have been a Moose Jaw power play but it was not and the teams played 4 on 4.

Moose Jaw though took advantage of McIlrath's energetic play to score twice in the first period to grab a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission. During the intermission McIlrath was interviewed about his time with the Rangers and he talked about getting to learn from the established players like Girardi.

And to McIlrath's credit he acknowledged he had struggled until John Tortorella pulled him aside for a personal "chat." McIlrath understands the pressure he faces playing in New York and felt the camp this year helped him more than the first year.

McIlrath in the 2nd period got called for a check from behind which also led to the surprise moment of the game as when the penalty ended, McIlrath went in on a breakaway against the Lethbridge goalie. McIlrath did not score but what he did show was a much improved skating stride as well as more confidence handling the puck.

Those 2 areas were big weak points in McIlrath's game last year and to see him attacking was a good sign. McIlrath looking for his offense was another sign of improvement as he was looking to go right to the front of the other team's net looking to set screens.

In the 3rd period with the score tied at 2-2, McIlrath took his 3rd minor of the game only this time Moose Jaw turned it into a shorthanded goal which proved to be the game winner.

The positives out of this game was McIlrath showed off an improved skating as well as a willingness to join the attack. Hard not to like 4 very clean heavy hits that McIlrath had in this one as well.

We liked how McIlrath tried to establish his presence on offense and looked to become more active on offense. No points but very hard not to walk away from this game seeing how McIlrath's teammates fed off his presence.

The closest we are going to come to a negative is going to be the 2 other penalties he took as the first was for checking from behind. Like it or not the refs right now are going to call anything and everything that even comes close to check from behind.

McIlrath has to be more aware of this and adjust to it as the "he does not know his own strength" kind of hits are going to go against him now. Again not a criticism but something McIlrath has to become more aware of.

The other area will in time fix itself as McIlrath has to learn to trust himself when handling the puck as once he makes that choice to go on the attack not to second guess himself. Trust that your teammates will cover for you so you can become more confident in your offensive abilities.

The win for Moose Jaw was their 4th straight as a good team just got that much better adding back McIlrath.

Sticking in the WHL, Shane McColgan (NYR 2011 5th) and his Kelowna Rockets are off to a 3-0 start after holding off the Tri-City Americans 4-3. McColgan played well in spurts but did not score in this one.

The Rockets in all honesty escaped with this win as they almost blew a 4-1 lead. Pretty sure McColgan and company are going to hear about it in practice tomorrow as 40 minute efforts in the BC Division is not going to cut it if this team hopes to go far in the WHL playoffs.

What we are going to want to see out of McColgan is on a night like this to make "that play" to turn a game that has become close into an easy win. In this game it was the Kelowna goalie Adam Brown who saved the day as despite giving up 2 goals in the 3rd period made enough saves to keep the win.

Brendan Kichton (Islanders 2011 5th) was the only Islander prospect to see action on Wednesday evening as his Spokane Chiefs were on the road to Vancouver for a game with the Giants. Spokane was able to turn a 0-2 deficit into a 2-2 regulation tie before falling in the shoot out 3-2.

Kichton was held scoreless and if not for a holding call we might have thought he was invisible in this game. Spokane's offense is going to flow though Kichton and we are going to want to see him dictate both flow and tempo for his team if he wants that NHL contract.

Not saying Kichton played a bad game but rather if Kichton has a quiet game the chances of Spokane losing increases. Spokane is in the same division as the Portland Winterhawks and any hope that Spokane has about going deep in the playoffs will depend on how many points Kichton scores (he had 80 last season).

Michael St. Croix (2011 4th) is struggling a bit trying to find his offense after 5 games but that is not what concerns us. His Edmonton Oil Kings were able to earn a 2-1 shootout win over the defending WHL champion the Kootenay Ice but where was St. Croix?

When your offense is struggling as is the case with St. Croix is then you have to make sure your defense is there and that you are not taking penalties. It is early but other than 1 good game we see St. Croix fighting himself to establish his identity.

The penalties that will always get you in trouble with your coaches are tripping and holding calls. Both are clear signs that you are (a) not moving your feet on defense and (b) were about to be beaten on a play.

We know St. Croix can play better than he has and for Edmonton who is wanting to make a run this year; they are going to need St. Croix to play well at both ends of the ice.

If you are looking for the early season surprise then look no further that Steven Fogarty (NYR 2011 3rd) as the 6'3 200 forward has gone 3-2-5 in his debut with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL.

Hard not to like Fogarty as you get to watch the typical "Big man who has small man skills" and then realize that Fogarty is still growing. We like the USHL as a developmental league but Fogarty's decision to go to the BCHL is looking more and more like the better move.

Fogarty and his Vees played host to the Merritt Centennials and what was a close contest for most of the game turned into a 6-1 runaway win. The Vees broke the game open with 3 goals in the 3rd period to win their 3rd straight.

Fogarty is raw, he is very green and while the Rangers may want him to play in the WHL, think Fogarty is taking the right route for now. A year here in the BCHL playing close to 80 games will help show where he is in terms of his development.

Right now Fogarty plans to play for Notre Dame next season and if he stays on this path then a couple of seasons in the CCHA/Hockey East will be good for him. What we want to see come out of him this year is progression to earn an invite to a USA NTDP camp this summer.

It has only been 4 games but for us it would be enough time to pull Christian Thomas (NYR 2010 2nd) off to the side and have a talk about "contract hangover" as watching Thomas play is hard at the moment. Thomas is scoreless in 4 games since returning to the Oshawa Generals from the New York Rangers and we think he is putting way too much pressure on himself.

Thomas and his Oshawa Generals dropped a 4-2 road game to the Belleville Bulls. Thomas as we said is scoreless and a -3 since returning from the Rangers.

Traverse City did not go well for Thomas and we kind of suspect that he may have suffered a minor concussion in the Traverse City final. Thomas took a elbow to the head early in that game and barely was a factor after that.

Despite being 5'9 Thomas has a lot of weight on his shoulders from having to be the man for the Generals, to trying to repeat his numbers from last season and on and on. Right now Christian Thomas we wonder is suffering from "Training Camp Hangover" and if he is then we say relax Christian things will be alright.

For some reason "Training Camp Hangover" strikes Ranger 2nd round picks as it has hit every single 2nd round prospect with the except of Derek Stepan and Michael Sauer since we started doing this. We believe that it is caused by a prospect not happy with the kind of camp he had so he tries to fix everything in one giant shot.

We watched Dubinsky go through it, Werek as well and we will not mention what it did to Antoine Lafleur. The cure really is simple, Thomas just needs to go back to the basics and it will sort itself out.

Thomas will be alright but right now the hard part is trying to tell him that so we would do just like any coach would do and that is keep sending him out there as long as he is trying hard. The cure for "TCH" is a garbage goal and once he scores the first one then he will realize things will be OK.

Until then we keep believing in him as we know we have an NHL scorer here there is no question about it.

(McIlrath/Moose Jaw, McColgan/Kelowna, St. Croix/Edmonton, Kichton/Spokane, Fogarty/Penticton, Thomas/Oshawa)

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