Saturday, August 11, 2012

Three Thumbs Up

J.T. Miller (USA Hockey)
Boy if you are a New York Ranger fan then you really have to be happy with the performances that the 3 Ranger prospects put on during the USA Hockey Summer Evaluation Camp this past week.

J.T. Miller (2011 1st), Brady Skjei (2012 1st), and Steven Fogarty (2011 3rd) may not have "stolen the show" but put on steady enough performances that strengthened their status as serious Ranger prospects.

The big winner at least in my eyes has to be J.T. Miller as his play during the camp tells me that Miller has no intention of playing in the OHL this season. Ready for the NHL? No not yet but Miller has taken a good enough leap in his development that lockout or not that Miller just may force the Rangers to keep him with the CT Whale.

When Miller was drafted in 2011; he talked about wanting to turn professional in a year and you have to give him credit for making the effort to back up some rather bold words. It is hard not to like the physical improvement that Miller has done with his body but even better is the way Miller is conducting himself.

If you want to talk about growing up in a hurry then that is a great way to describe the maturity Miller is now showing. It isn't just wanting to become a better individual player but also understanding as one of the few returning "veterans" on the Under-20 that he needed to be a leader in the locker room as well.

Miller was a healthy scratch for Saturday's final camp exhibition game against Finland but in this case look at the scratch as a reward for his efforts during the camp. Miller "proved" himself not with his point output (1-3-4 in 5 games) but his overall consistent performance.

What is good news for the Ranger staff could very well be bad news for Team USA as if Miller does in fact earn a spot on the CT Whale then the Rangers might not release him to play in the 2013 World Under-20 Championships. I know if I am running the Rangers then I say how sorry I am to Team USA but I don't want Miller to travel Russia and risk injury or screw with his timing.

Once Miller is playing for the CT Whale then Miller (lockout or not) is that much closer to becoming a Ranger. Unlike the juniors which has a holiday break there is no holiday break at the professional level so you don't want Miller traveling around the world messing up his timing.

Sorry Team USA but Miller is a prized prospect so I would not take him from the AHL to fly him to Russia to play 6 games in 10 days then fly him back to the USA to rejoin the Whale. There is simply not enough reward to justify the risk to Miller.

(Getty Images)
Brady Skjei up until Saturday's finale played well but not spectacular as if I am the Rangers I am pleased with his play but I want Skjei to stop doing one thing. I want him to stop being the 2nd player on whichever defensive pairing he is on.

It was a concern entering the camp and really for just about the entire camp it was also the case. Yes Seth Jones is a tremendous player but unless the Rangers royally screw up the 2012-2013 season and fall into the lottery then Skjei won't be his partner in the NHL.

I really like what I see out of Skjei on the defensive side mainly because that has been the only side I have seen from him. The Rangers could really use Skjei to become a solid contributor on offense but to become that player; Skjei needs to step out from everyone's shadow.

The Rangers did not draft Skjei to play second fiddle to anyone of the defensemen they have so now is the best time to get him to change his thinking. Rangers can use another defender who has offensive skill especially after trading away Tim Erixon.

(New York Rangers)
The biggest surprise to everyone but those of us who have covered Steven Fogarty was that he survived the first cut. Yet if Steven was sitting right in front of me then I would tell him flat out that unless he is willing to accept being a "bottom six" player all the time then he needs to also step out of the shadows of others.

I actually would tell him to look long and hard at J.T. Miller and see how Miller has worked to change how people viewed him. Last year Miller was being seen as a 3rd liner but what a difference a year of hard work makes.

I would say to Steven that his size is opening a door for him but his willingness to combine it with his hockey IQ could make him into more than a 3rd or 4th liner. There is a reason why Fogarty led the BCHL in game winning goals and it is something that no coach can teach.

It is about the fire inside of him and if Fogarty turns that fire into an inferno then like Miller; people will be talking about Fogarty as a "top 6" player.

But really in the end the folks who deserve to stand up and take a bow are of course Gordie Clark and his team of scouts. Once again the scouting department has gone out and delivered prospects who are going to make the Ranger's future a brighter one.

That is worth 3 thumbs up.

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