Saturday, March 31, 2012

Friday 1-1-1

Just like yesterday, we have three New York Ranger prospects in action on Friday night with the same results. One saw his team advance to the next round, another saw his team win a crucial game and sadly we saw one prospect eliminated.

None of the New York Islander prospects saw action on Friday night.

Dylan McIlrath (NYR 2010 1st) and his Moose Jaw Warriors are heading to the second round of the WHL's Eastern Conference Playoffs after they eliminated the Regina Pats in five games with a 5-2 victory. Don't let the score fool you as this game was closer than it looked.

With fewer games every night we can concentrate more on individual prospects like Dylan McIlrath. McIlrath was able to fly under the radar this year because of the performances of other Ranger prospects but while a Chris Kreider is important for the Ranger's future of the offense; McIlrath is equally important for the Rangers defense.

With the uncertainty of Michael Sauer's status then the 6'5 McIlrath becomes that much more important as the depth on the blueline is no longer as large as it once appeared. The Rangers drafted McIlrath as much for his physical presence as his defense.

Against Regina, we saw some good as well as some bad from McIlrath but we do realize that McIlrath is just under a month away from turning 20. Right now it would be unrealistic to expect McIlrath to join the Rangers next season and a year maybe two in the AHL might be needed.

The good parts about McIlrath start with his defense because McIlrath does do a very good job at reading the ice and understanding where the attack is coming from. He's had a bit of trouble adjusting to the new rules regarding head contact but in his defense, when you are 6'5 most of the time everybody else is going to be much smaller than you (in the WHL).

McIlrath is a "clean" hitter who while punishing the other side does not go for the type of hit that could cause injury. Part of the problem we see McIlrath having to face is the changing atmosphere in hockey itself, as the rules change we fear (based on what we watched) that McIlrath being bigger than most players might not get the benefit of doubt on calls until he has established himself as an NHL player.

The other thing about McIlrath is his ability to force teams to change what they're trying to do offensively because of his ability to cover so much ice. His size as it is forces players to pass up on shots because they can't see past him but his 7' wingspan forces players to change direction.

Offensively we did not see as much improvement out of McIlrath this season as we liked but McIlrath is not going to be joining the rush like Ryan McDonagh has but McIlrath still needs to improve on offense. Between his cannon of a shot from the point to his passing skills, we want to see McIlrath get better so other teams don't "cheat" when McIlrath is out there.

In several ways we can compare McIlrath to McDonagh because at this stage of McIlrath's career he is very much where McDonagh was as a freshman at Wisconsin. Like McDonagh, McIlrath is going to have to put in the extra work to improve his offense.

Next up for McIlrath and Moose Jaw will be the Medicine Hat Tigers; the Tigers are smallish team like Regina was but they bring more skill to the game. McIlrath has intimidated the Tigers in the past because of his heavy checking but here McIlrath is going to have to work staying out of the penalty box on stay on the ice to cover an Emerson Etem (2nd in WHL playoff scoring).

Steven Fogarty (NYR 2011 3rd) and his Penticton Vees regained home ice advantage after defeating the Merritt Centennials 3-2 in game three of their series to take a 2-1 series lead. Fogarty was scoreless but made some key plays defensively in the third period when the Vees were trying to hold off the Centennials.

Fogarty we are impressed by how advanced his defense has turned out to be, as we were not expecting him to be as good on defense for somebody with his size (6'3 200). Fogarty does a very good job on face-offs in the defensive end as well as on the penalty kill.

Penticton as we have noted before has been struggling during the playoffs so Fogarty's defense is becoming much more important than his offensive efforts. They do not keep stats for face-offs at the BCHL level but we would say that Fogarty is about a 65% winner.

We also know that during the playoffs Penticton has been killing penalties at a 88.9% rate which is second best in the BCHL. Fogarty is on the first unit of the penalty kill for the Vees and this could be interesting to watch down the road as Fogarty matures.

Game 4 is Saturday evening

Scott Stajcer (NYR 2009 5th) so his Junior career come to an end as his Owen Sound Attack were eliminated in five games by the Kitchener Rangers after a 4-2 loss. Stajcer got to start and took the loss giving up 4 goals on 27 shots.

The key to tonight's loss was the inability by Owen Sound to stay out of the penalty box. Kitchener scored three of their four goals via the power play but it was an even strength goal that Stajcer really had no chance on which sealed Owen Sound's fate.

Owen Sound were the most penalized team in the OHL during the season and they gave Kitchener 30 chances on the power play during this series. Kitchener to their credit scored 10 power play goals and that alone was a difference maker.

Add in that Owen Sound was missing their captain because of suspension and then lost 2 to key players to injury. That forced them to play at times with just 15 players and you will not win many games when you're playing that shorthanded.

A disappointing way to end what has been a disappointing season for Stajcer who we discovered had an option at the OHL trading deadline to be moved but turned it down preferring to stay in Owen Sound. In that case, we were wrong to blame Owen Sound for all of this when Stajcer actually has to share some of the blame.

Stajcer has a contract with the Rangers but he really needed to play this season because Chad Johnson has played well for the CT Whale as has Jason Missiaen while playing for Greenville of the ECHL. Right now one has to consider Stajcer 6th on the Ranger depth chart that only has 5 spots.

It will be interesting to see whether or not the Rangers signed Stajcer to an ATO to bring him to the CT Whale.

Stajcer ends his season 1-2, 3.91 goals against, 0.875 save percentage in the playoffs and a 10-13-3-3 2.91 goal against and 0.910 save percentage.

(McIlrath- Moose Jaw Warriors. Fogarty- Penticton Vees, Stajcer- Aaron Bell of CHL Images)

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