Friday, June 8, 2012

Looking back in order to look forward (Part 2)

(Courtesy NY Rangers)
The 2011-2012 prospect season for the New York Rangers clearly belonged to the 8 forward prospects playing in North America. It was the best of times and then it became even better times by the time the season ended.

It was a year full of surprises as well as a year of champions. Ranger prospects almost pulled off a hat trick of national championships.

Chris Kreider and his Boston College Eagles won their second NCAA championship in three years. Steven Fogarty and his Penticton Vees set new records for winning streaks and then won the National Junior "A" championship with a thrilling comeback winning streak.

Michael St. Croix and his Edmonton Oil Kings won the first WHL championship since the franchise was reborn. Five prospects had 70 or more points with the lowest total among junior prospects being 66 points.

The best news is that each prospect still has room for improvement. For the offensively challenged Rangers, help is on the way in bunches. Even better is with 10 total forward prospects I need 2 days to talk about them.

Once upon a time I could tell you about the Ranger forwards in just 2 paragraphs but not any more. This list is being written up in order of how many points the prospects scored.

I don't believe in ranking prospects because there is no fair and unbiased way to rank prospects except against themselves. Someone playing in the AHL had better be better than someone attending high school.

Not to mention someone who has been able to work with Ranger coaching staff for a couple of years had best be further along than someone just picked in the draft.

(Edmonton Oil Kings)
Michael St. Croix (2011 4th)- between his regular-season and playoff season put up a combined 52-72-124 points, helping his Edmonton Oil Kings to a WHL championship.

While the Oil Kings faltered and broke down during the Memorial Cup; Michael St. Croix made great improvements in his consistency as well as his overall hockey sense.

St Croix also made strides in improving his defense and physical play. I gave St. Croix the nickname "The Predator" because no Ranger prospect finished off a team the way St. Croix did. 8 game winners, 7 insurance goals, 18 power player goals and countless assists.

The best part of St. Croix was how if he sensed the opposition was on the ropes, then he went for the kill. St. Croix still needs work on his defense, his physical play but he made giant strides in those areas and if he can continue then he has the NHL in his future.

(NHL Media)
Steven Fogarty (2011 3rd)- At the 2011 NHL draft, he was called a project player by the end of the year he was one of best Ranger prospects. And as good as Michael St. Croix was, Steven Fogarty was better because Fogarty is also a solid defensive player.

Fogarty offensively had a great year, 37-53-90 with 12 game winners, 4 tying goals and 4 shorthanded goals but with the exception of Oscar Lindberg, Fogarty was the prospect you wanted out on the ice taking the key defensive zone face off.

6'3 200 and don't think for a second that the BCHL is not a good league, it is an excellent one that has sent more than it's share to the NHL. Fogarty is heading to Notre Dame for next season but if he changes his mind then he would join Michael St. Croix in Edmonton

Fogarty and his Penticton Vees set new records for most consecutive wins, won the BCHL, The Doyle Cup and the RBC Cup. Areas to improve: consistency as Fogarty would go on a hot streak then go cold. Show some snarl as sometimes Fogarty is too nice a guy on the ice and let's see some leadership too.

Notre Dame is a very good place for Fogarty if he stays in college as he will be facing some of best college hockey programs every week. I say 3 years then come out as a pro and watch out.

(Peterborough Petes)
Andrew Yogan (2010 4th)- I have to admit that I am not 100% sold on Andrew Yogan as while there is no doubt that Yogan has some very good natural offensive skills, the doubts begin about his willingness to be a team player.

I won't question his desire to win because by the end of the season, Yogan was most times, the only offensive threat that Peterborough had. 41-37-78 are good numbers to have and I liked how Yogan elevated his game in the 2nd half.

But while you see 40 goal scorer at the same time you see a player who at times just take undisciplined penalty after another. Early in the season it led to a very public benching by his coach former Ranger assistant Mike Pellino and while it stopped for a while it came back at the worst times.

The other nagging doubt is crunch time as a 40 goal scorer who only has 2 game winners is another nagging concern. You see the talent, you see the skating and you love the 6'3 body but it will be a huge crime if Yogan doesn't get his head on square.

This is a player who can have a huge NHL career but he faces one giant road block; himself. Forget the fancy highlight reel plays and remember you have 4 other guys on the ice with you.

(Oshawa Generals)
Christian Thomas (2010 2nd)- Most people would be happy with a 36-35-71 year but for Thomas; 2011-2012 was one giant struggle after another.

In my eyes, Thomas's problems started in Traverse City during the championship game as Thomas took a nasty shot to the head. Thomas kept playing but I think he played hurt as Thomas could not buy a point his first couple of weeks after his return to the OHL.

Thomas also received a 10 game suspension in October that I will go to my grave saying it was wrong. Thomas got pulled down to the ice and his stick hits the guy in the head who is pulling him down. It wasn't even a penalty in the game it happened but Thomas big name and the OHL had to show it was tough on shots to the head.

It just kept snowballing for Thomas as Oshawa's struggles led to a change in coach and being cut by Team Canada from the Under-20 team. The Generals as a team could not stay healthy as not 1 player played the entire season without missing a game.

Thomas is a sniper who can score from anywhere and the Rangers badly need his ability to not only score from anywhere but be able to create offense as well. Oshawa used Thomas to run the power play from the point but will John Tortorella be scared off by Thomas's size?

Hope not because Thomas may not be the biggest dog out there; his defense is just as good as his offense. Give some credit to Steve Thomas who is Christian's father as the former New Jersey Devil has taught his son quite well about what he needs to be a NHLer.

(Plymouth Whalers)
JT Miller (2011 1st)- got a lesson in conditioning by the time his Plymouth Whalers faced the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL Eastern Conference semifinals. Not going to go hard on a prospect who has been playing hockey almost non-stop for the last 2 years.

Going to give Miller some credit for lasting longer before hitting the rookie wall than most. Miller by my estimates ran out of gas in March and you could tell by his play. Still a 25-37-62 rookie season in the OHL was not bad as there was a lot to like about Miller.

For one thing, I just love his one timer and how he sets himself up for it. Miller decides where he is going to shoot from and then creates separation as well as a good target for his teammate.

When it is on then it is almost impossible to stop. Miller has already started his windup as the pass is en-route and the goalie has not even reacted. By the time he has the puck is in the net if the shot is on target (another Miller strength he gets the puck on goal).

Miller will take a hit to make a play and will fight in the corners for the puck. For next season want to see a better upper body, more acceleration on his first step and better disguising his one timer.

I would like the Rangers to give Miller 10 games with the Whale before sending him back to Plymouth next season. Let him experience the pro game while fresh so he understands what he needs to remain at the pro level.

And yes if I read the rulebook right because Miller was drafted by the Rangers before he joined the OHL he can play there before he is 29.

Tomorrow the remaining 5 forwards.

Check me out at the Blue Seat Blogs

I did a Q+A with the good guys of the Blue Seat Blogs. I read them daily as they are some of sharpest guys blogging about the Rangers. In between mortgage hunting I will be popping over there to answer questions (no sorry I will not lend you money).

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