Thursday, June 7, 2012

Looking back in order to look forward (part 1)

(Courtesy NY Rangers)
My does time fly when your team goes deep in the playoffs like the New York Rangers did? How nice it really was getting the play to almost the very end of May?

Now the question is how do the Rangers move forward from here? The immediate answer most Ranger fans will say is that they need to add scoring in order to move forward, but the draft is also about looking beyond next year, but the long term future as well.

In my view the Ranger's most pressing need is not more scoring, or adding more defense but rather looking ahead towards a day when Henrik Lundqvist is no longer the Rangers starting goalie. What it doesn't mean is that the Rangers have to use their first-round pick on a goalie, but rather given how they only have as of right now just four picks (28th, 59th, 89th, and 119th) then they must use their picks very wisely.

In order to look forward, we must first look back at the season that was the 2011-2012 prospect year. It was an outstanding year if you are a Ranger prospect playing forward, but not so if you are a goalie and three defensemen.

Aaron Bell/OHL Images
Scott Stajcer was one of two picks that the Rangers had in the 5th round of the 2009 NHL draft. Stajcer got to make the trip with the Rangers to Europe, but upon his return was sent back to Owen Sound of the OHL.

The Rangers after training camp, found themselves with six goalies but only five slots so Stajcer who had a year of junior eligibility left became the odd man out. In my eyes, Stajcer made a couple of bad decisions that wound up hurting his development and could cost him a chance at playing in the AHL next season.

The first mistake was not accepting Owen Sound's offer to trade him to a team where he would get regular playing time. Stajcer wanted to stay in Owen Sound and that's where the second mistake came in.

When given a chance to make the Owen Sound starting job his, Stajcer didn't take advantage of that opportunity. Stajcer only appeared in 28 regular-season games as well as 3 more in the playoffs and underachieved overall.

A 20-year-old overage goalie in the OHL has to have a much better record than 10-11-3-3, 2.96 goals against and a 0.910 save percentage. Stajcer's best month was November but he was 2-1-1-1 and that's not exactly franchise goalie numbers. The most starts Stajcer had in a month was six and for goalie trying to make the NHL that's simply not enough playing time.

Scott Stajcer in my eyes played his way down to the bottom of the New York Ranger goalie depth charts. From having a chance to compete for a starting spot next year with the CT Whale; now I have to project Stajcer as starting in Greenville of the ECHL next year.

Cam Talbot has earned the right to be the incumbent starter with the Whale and Jason Missiaen with his play last year with Greenville, the right to be his backup. Stajcer needs a huge camp just to remain on the Ranger's radar.

Over the last two seasons Stajcer is only appeared in 42 regular-season games because of injury in 2010-2011 and his uneven play this past season. It's going to be hard for Stajcer to make up ground and sadly I have to say the Rangers need to use a draft pick on a goalie.

Katie Brickman/ Moose Jaw Herald
On defense, the Rangers had Dylan McIlrath (2010 1st), Samuel Noreau (2011, 5th) and Peter Ceresnak (2011 6th) as the only prospects on defense. The best way to describe this past season for these three has to be as a learning experience.

McIlrath had to adjust to the new rules regarding contact to the head, and he struggled with it for most of the first half of the season. McIlrath played in 52 games missing time because of two suspensions and "an upper body injury" (we're not supposed to use the word concussion to describe McIlrath's injury since it was never put on the official injury report as a concussion so we won't call it a concussion).

The first suspension was for three games and it was a good call as McIlrath was hit with a charging major and at least he got his money's worth. The second suspension was for eight games due to "checking to the head" and on this one I'm not alone in saying that McIlrath was made an example of.

It wasn't fair and it wasn't right for McIlrath he made an example out of but he was and I want to look at it from a positive point of view. That second suspension may have forced McIlrath to play a much smoother defense.

It was not easy, but McIlrath was able to find a balance between playing clean but still being able to be a physical force during the WHL Playoffs. If anything, I can ignore McIlrath's regular-season because his playoff run was outstanding.

The image that you saw of McIlrath was one of the best hits of the season that I got to see. You could see McIlrath growing as he understood the way the game is evolving towards.

McIlrath is not ready for Broadway as he needs to work on his footwork and I would like to see him become stronger with his shot (more accurate, more willing to use it). I think he did a good job when it came to reading plays as they were developing in front of them and he also did a good job at communicating with especially with some of the younger players on Moose Jaw.

I think you'll see McIlrath get a couple of cameo appearances with the Rangers as they try to nurture him towards the speed of the game. The biggest question is going to be what will happen if Michael Sauer does not come back?

I would rather see the Rangers pick up a waiver wire player then try to force feed the NHL to McIlrath. Allow him to pick up the game at his own pace because McIlrath is very coachable and has shown a strong learning curve, which will aid as well as speed up his development.

Samuel Noreau was the second of two picks that the Rangers had in the 5th round of the 2011 draft. A worthwhile gamble on a player who is 6'5 225, a very definite project player, Noreau did not have a bad season playing as the 5-6 defensemen on the Baie-Comeau Drakkar.

Noreau gave the Drakkar a little of everything, Some offense (5-12-17), a willingness to use his body and a willingness to drop the gloves if need be. The best way that the Rangers will be able to judge how far Noreau has really come will happen at Traverse City (provided no lockout).

Right now, it would be foolish to say that Noreau is on a fast track to the NHL as he has a lot of work still to do, but you can't teach size so another year in the QMJHL for him. Noreau if he can show forward progress could find himself with a AHL contract after next season.

Show us more of what you gave the Drakkar last season, become the 1-2 by the end of next season. Increase the physical play and show some leadership.

Peter Ceresnak him him was another worthy gamble for the Rangers because he was a pretty good defender on the Slovakian Under-20 team. Another project player but Ceresnak gets cut a lot of slack considering all the changes that he had to endure last season.

A very good start with the Peterborough Petes of the OHL, but Peterborough ran into a lot of problems from injuries to key players to their best player basically walking out on them, forcing a trade. That must've been one heck of an eye-opener for Ceresnak who to his credit earned at least an ATO with the CT Whale.

It may not seem like much to you guys but it was a good reward by the Rangers to Ceresnak. It's the kind of confidence booster that you'd like to see the Rangers to to help encourage their young prospects.

Ceresnak did several things that I liked, start with not being the typical European afraid to shoot the puck from the point. Ceresnak had a good shot that found its way to the net, but now the real test is going to be putting more power behind that shot.

A willingness to learn even when you're playing on a losing team says something about your character. Next season Ceresnak needs to be more physical, put that 6'3 frame on people trying to cross his crease.

And most importantly, by now Ceresnak should understand the speed of the North American game. And the best way that Ceresnak can help himself earned a professional contract is going to be becoming a force on a power play.

Call it a gut feeling but something about Ceresnak says he might surprise all of us next year.

Tomorrow the pride and joy of the New York Ranger prospects, otherwise known as the forwards and the banner season they had.

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