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Hartford Wolfpack

Rosh Hashanah Catching Up

Filip Chytil (Hartford Wolfpack

Sorry folks but had to take most of Sunday evening and Monday in order to observe the start of the Jewish New Year. To one and all may I wish everyone “Shanah Tovah”  which translated means “A Good Year”.  A good year for us will be watching the Rangers, their minor league players and the prospects do well.

On Monday as most of you already know the Rangers made cuts sending four directly to Hartford, asking waivers on one with the intent of sending him to Hartford and releasing defensemen Joe Morrow from his PTO.  That left the team with twenty-two players (plus one as Michael Haley remains on his PTO).

The team is saying that this is the final roster that will take the ice on Thursday as they begin the 2019-2020 NHL regular season but I have my doubts. With several teams still to make their final cuts as well as nine teams that are still over the salary cap, an opportunity might arise for the team to fill that final roster spot with a trade or waiver pickup.

There are also a couple of teams that are missing players like Columbus who only list ten forwards and just 19 total players. They have plenty of space to add a player or two. As does the Ottawa Senators who are carrying three players on LTIR (Long Term Injured Reserve) and might need warm bodies who are still healthy enough to play.

As for the cuts themselves, sorry Filip Chytil played his way to Hartford. He went from David Quinn raving about the work he put in during the off-season to just a disappointment.  You kind of knew the move was coming if you had read David Quinn’s words in the New York Post:

“I think that to send a 20-year-old to the AHL and have it [be] a big deal is alarming,” Quinn said. “He did play 75 games last year, but we’re talking about a 20-year-old. Not like he had 25 goals like [Elias] Pettersson in Vancouver. If you can’t send a 20-year-old to the AHL then why do we have the AHL?”

Thankfully this season the Rangers have some teaching coaches in Hartford who hopefully can turn Chytil around. As for Vitali Kravtsov, there is no issue sending him down to Hartford as it is better than asking him to play on the fourth line with next to no minutes.

Instead, he will get major minutes and be used in all situations in Hartford as he adapts and adjusts to the North American brand of hockey. Ryan Lindgren was in the same situation so let him play as a top-pair defender as he will be back sometime this season.

Igor Shesterkin needs to play plain and simple as he discovered the NHL is a faster game than the KHL. He and Adam Huska will split the goaltending duties in Hartford and one of them will possibly rotate with Alexandar Georgiev during the season.

Hartford after the Rangers made their roster moves then made several moves of their own.  Felt bad for Ty Ronning being reassigned to Maine (along with Dawson Leedahl and Jake Elmer) but the numbers game hurt his cause.

College

The USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Preseason Men’s Hockey Poll came out on Monday and some Ranger prospects saw their teams on it.  The University of Massachusetts  (with Dman Zac Jones) is third and Cornell (with Tri-Captain Morgan Barron) is fifth.

Wisconsin (K’Andre Miller), Minnesota (Captain Tyler Nanne) and Michigan (Eric Ciccolini) were all in the portion of the receiving vote of the poll.

Juniors

On Sunday two prospects saw action:

Nico Gross (Oshawa OHL)- scoreless in his Oshawa Generals 4-1 win over the Kingston Frontenacs. The Generals are off to a 4-0-0 season start.

Matthew Robertson (Edmonton WHL)- scoreless as his Edmonton Oil Kings fell to the Lethbridge Hurricanes 5-2.

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Traverse City Is Not Meaningless

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Wow from the moment the New York Rangers fail to make the playoffs until say yesterday, all folks would talk about was the prospects, the prospects, and the prospects. But all of a sudden I start seeing people call Traverse City a meaningless event and that ticks me off. Why? Well because it is so far from the truth.

Ryan Dmowski (Hartford Wolf Pack)

Look I understand the people are excited for the start of training camp and the new season, I am too. But Traverse City should be seen as the beginning of training camp, not a distraction to kill time until camp opens.

Traverse City has become a very important part of the Ranger year that to dismiss it as “meaningless” shows how little a person understands the role of player development. For the Rangers, it starts with the Rookie and Prospect Camp held right after the NHL Entry Draft. It is at that camp where every prospect is given their off-season “homework” to start them on their off-season work.

Each prospect is given a program designed for them individually from a workout program, suggested changes to their diet and areas to improve their overall hockey game. So when Traverse City comes, it is a chance for the coaching staff as well as the player development staff to see how well the prospects followed their “homework”.

Traverse City is also an opportunity for the staff to show the prospects the “who, what, when and why” of their programs. From giving tomorrow’s Rangers a chance to bond and form friendships to the on-ice measurement of how well these prospects have improved. Just watching the setup that Kaapo Kakko did for Vitali Kravtsov against the Minnesota Wild prospects hopefully is that start of chemistry the two first-round picks will develop.

Come Thursday there will be as many as 60 players invited to the training camp and it will be next to impossible for the coaching staff or player development team to offer the kind of individual coaching that they can do at Traverse City.

It isn’t meaningless or a distraction from training camp, it is the start of tomorrow for the Rangers.

Three Wins Plus

Karl Henriksson(Hockeydb.com)

By defeating the St. Louis Blues prospects for the fifth-place trophy, the Ranger prospects finished with a 3-1 record at this year’s tournament. Considering that the difference from playing in the championship game to the fifth-place one was a weak opening game then call this year a success. For a team that had all of two players returning from last year’s team as well as the youngest and most inexperienced then to win three games was outstanding.

Against the Blues, the Rangers choose to sit out Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, Adam Fox, and Yegor Rykov but it mattered little. Adam Huska stopped 34 out of 37 shots to earn his second win of the tournament. Ryan Dmowski recorded his team-best third goal while Karl Henriksson added his team-leading fourth assist in the win.

Adam Huska finished with the third-best save percentage (0.892), fifth-best goals against (3.50) and tied with several others for second in wins (2). Ryan Dmowski was seventh in goals (4), Karl Henriksson tied for third in assists (4), and Adam Fox, Vitali Kravtsov, and Karl Henriksson tied for sixth in points (5).

The Rangers who have traditionally struggled to find offense at Traverse City got points from 16 out of the 20 skaters and goals from 12. As a team, they finished fourth on the power play (4 for 15, 26.67%) and first on the penalty kill (1 for 13 92.31%). With three straight wins after dropping their opening game, the Rangers tied for longest win streak (3) with Detroit.

Want to keep going with the stats? Then try third best for shot percentage (17.8%) and fifth in save percentage (0.860), third in goals scored (18), fifth in goals allowed (16) and third in shots stopped (98).

Overall when you take everything into consideration then this year’s Traverse City squad was a winner and showed a lot of promise.

Now we can move on to training camp.

Now That’s A First Impression

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Seriously what more can someone add after watching 2019 first-round pick Kaapo Kakko carry the Baby Rangers on his shoulders to an impressive 4-3 overtime win over the Minnesota Wild prospects? As much as I am a fan of Vitali Kravtsov, watching Kakko with a 1-3 effort was pretty jaw-dropping. Kakko led a third-period comeback as the Baby Rangers had to rally from being down 0-2 and 2-3 to earn the win.

The Rangers entered the third period trailing 2-0 but working on a five-minute power play after the Wild’s Drake Pilon bloodied the Rangers Lewis Zerter-Gossage with a cheap shot to the head. Vitali Kravtsov got the Rangers going with his first goal at 1:06 with assists going to Karl Henriksson and Kakko. Henriksson got to be the center between Kravtsov and Kakko showed that he could hang with the very talented first-round picks so file that piece of news for the future.

If the Rangers were hoping that Kakko and Kravtsov would start developing some kind of chemistry then they did not have to wait long. Kakko set up Kravtsov for his second goal of the game with a very nice cross-ice pass that Kravtsov “one-timed” past the Stars Hunter Jones at 2:44 of the period. Forget which line these two will play on but rather ask which center will get the luxury of playing between them.

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The Wild were able to regain their lead but after the Rangers pulled goalie Igor Shesterkin for the extra attacker. Kaapo Kakko made it a three-assist game for him when he got the puck to Patrick Newell who scored his first goal of the tournament tying the game at 3-3 and forcing overtime. Kakko, as you saw in the first clip, did the rest to help the Rangers win.

So for the first time since the 2016 tournament, the Rangers have 2 wins and will play for the fifth-place trophy. They will face the St. Louis Blues prospects starting at 12:30 PM/9:30 AM and for those outside the MSG viewing area, the game will be streamed on Fox Sports GO.

Thoughts:

Forgive me if I am confused but it seems silly that a prospect’s tournament would be subject to the same blackout rules as an NHL game. I hope those of you who got to watch the Rangers stream go someone to do the play-by-play. If not then I strongly suggest that the Rangers copy what the Minnesota Wild did and send their AHL broadcasters or even better John Giannone.

The Wild guys to their credit treated the broadcast as professionals and it made the game a lot easier to follow. Stick taps to them and the Wild for giving their fans a solid broadcast.

Igor Shesterkin (Russian Hockey Federation)

Igor Shesterkin played much better against the Wild stopping 20 of 23 shots including some very good saves keeping the Rangers in the game during the first two periods. That said I would give him the start against St. Louis as a test to see how he handles back to back games. Adam Huska also knows how to play in the smaller North American rinks so he doesn’t need the work.

Pretty sure the Rangers backup job will start with Alexander Georgiev while Shesterkin gets the lion’s share of starts in Hartford. If Traverse City is any indication then Shesterkin needs as much playing time as possible to adapt to North American hockey something he won’t get backing up Henrik Lundqvist.

It is hard to see anyone other than Kakko, Kravtsov, and Fox making the Rangers in training camp. Yegor Rykov hopefully is not injured seriously but missing any time will hurt his cause to make the Rangers. It would be better if Rykov started in Hartford so he can get major minutes there instead of being a 6-7 on the Rangers.

Other than that Tarmo Reunanen needs to step up more if he wants to show he belongs in North America. He looks like he has a skillset but considering the glut of young defensive talent he needs to stand out or will get lost in the number’s game. Nico Gross is playing for a contract this year but I think he needs a monster season (including adding more offense) to earn that contract.

Right now I can’t see the Rangers offering Gross an NHL deal when you look at how many defenders they already have in the prospect pool. And that is not including K’Andre Miller, Zac Jones, and Simon Kjellberg who aren’t at Traverse City since they play NCAA hockey.

Ryan Dmowski (Hartford Wolf Pack)

In the time I have been doing this, the Rangers have signed several players to AHL deals hoping to see them become late bloomers which none ever have. Of this year’s group, I think Ryan Dmowski might break the glass ceiling. Been following him for the last couple of years because of goalie Tyler Wall and Dmowski has found ways to play better than expected. His former school UMass-Lowell tends to play a more defensive style of hockey so Dmowski I think has a shot at being a shutdown defensive forward.

Dmowski was 1-3-4 in 10 games with Hartford so if he can add some offense to being a potential blue-collar player then even better.

Are You Excited Yet?

Vitali Kravtsov (Bildbyrån)

It only seems like it has been forever since a team wearing New York Rangers uniforms played a hockey game but it has only been 152 days. On Friday at 3:30 PM EDT the 2019 Baby New York Rangers will open the Traverse City Prospect’s Tournament against the Baby Columbus Blue Jackets and hopefully begin a new chapter in the history of the Rangers franchise.

The Rangers are sending a 24 man squad that will most likely the most talented team they have sent but it will also be the most inexperienced. If it is like previous years then it will be sloppy, mostly ugly hockey and honestly, I for one don’t care. It is Rangers hockey and while it sounds like Kaapo Kakko might not play (reportedly under the weather), there will several others that one should be excited to watch.

Matthew Robertson (Edmonton Oil Kings)

Whether it is goalie Igor Shesterkin, defensemen Adam Fox, Matthew Robertson or Igor Rykov or the prospect who I really want to see in forward Vitali Kravtsov. The only way this team could be more talented would be if K’Andre Miller and Morgan Barron were also on the team.

But it is more than the prospects to be excited that I want to watch, I want to see the Hartford coaching staff led by Kris Knoblach work. They along with the additions to the player development staff will finally bring to the Rangers some actual teachers to the coaching staff.

Hopefully, that will translate in the prospects being better prepared and developed as they become Rangers.

The last word about how to watch the tournament that I have is that the Fox Sports Go app will live stream the tournament. Pointstreak.com  will be the place to find the stats as well as lineups for the tournaments.

Enjoy the tournament, I know I will.

JD Brings In His People

John Davidson (Columbus Bluejackets)

John Davidson started to bring in his own people as the New York Rangers announced several hirings for both the team and the Hartford Wolfpack. I have to laugh though at some of the grumblings I read online ranging from “cronyism” to “nepotism” because JD hired several folks that he worked with at the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Cmon people stop it, JD is entitled to bring in the people who he has worked with in the past and helped him build the Blue Jackets as well as the St. Louis Blues. If you want to complain about “cronyism” or “nepotism” then boy you will discover that it happens on all the other NHL teams.

Nobody said anything when either of Glen Sather’s sons came to work for the Rangers as scouts. Same for Gordie Clark’s son who is also a scout.  In fact, if you look at the list of Ranger scouts, coaches and consultants you will discover that every single one of them has either worked with, played for, or is a longtime friend of Glen Sather, Gordie Clark and Jeff Gorton.

You hire folks who you are comfortable with and know what you want to accomplish. It allows you and your team to hit the ground running so enough already, these are excellent hires and will over the long term improve the Ranger franchise.

The Hires

If you read the press release you will already know the who and what about the hires. If not then let’s talk about them.

Chris Morehouse Director of North American Scouting: Morehouse joins the Rangers organization after spending the previous seven seasons in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization (2012-13 – 2018-19). He spent the past three seasons as the Blue Jackets’ Assistant Director of Amateur Scouting (2016-17 – 2018-19). Morehouse joined Columbus as an Amateur Scout in 2012, and he served as both an Amateur Scout and a Professional Scout over four seasons before being named the team’s Assistant Director of Amateur Scouting on July 6, 2016.

Marshall Davidson Amateur Scout: Davidson joins the Rangers organization after spending the previous six seasons in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization as an Amateur Scout (2013-14 – 2018-19). He also served five seasons in the St. Louis Blues organization as an Amateur Scout (2008-09 – 2012-13).

Derek Ginnell Amateur Scout: Ginnell joins the Rangers organization after spending the last five seasons as an Amateur Scout with the Columbus Blue Jackets (2014-15 – 2018-19). 

David Cunniff Assistant Coach Hartford Wolfpack: Cunniff joins the Rangers organization with 17 years of coaching experience in the American Hockey League (2002-03 – 2018-19). Most recently, he was a member of the Iowa Wild’s coaching staff for four seasons (2015-16 – 2018-19). Cunniff served as an Associate Coach with Iowa, as well as the team’s Interim Head Coach for part of the 2015-16 season. In addition, he spent 12 seasons as either the Associate Coach or Assistant Coach with the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate, as well as one season with the Albany Devils.

Chris Hoeler Video Coach Hartford Wolfpack:  (Disclaimer I have known Chris since his days with the Danbury (CT) Titans of the Federal Hockey League.) Hoeler joins the Rangers organization after spending last season as the Director of Hockey Operations for the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League (USHL). Prior to working with the Steel, he worked one season with Harvard University’s women’s hockey team as the team’s Video & Analytics Coordinator. Hoeler has also worked with the Danbury Titans in the Federal Hockey League in his career.

In addition, the Rangers made it official the hiring(s) of Tanner Glass and Tuomo Ruutu as Assistant Director(s) Of Player Development. Glass who will be based out of Seattle Washington will work with the Rangers North American prospects. Ruutu will work out of Europe covering, of course, the European prospects.  These are hirings that are long overdue as in the past the Rangers did not have a full-time person who would work with the prospects and help improve their development.

Steve Konowalchuk will move from Amateur scout and work as a professional scout (most likely covering the NHL’s western teams).

 

 

Hartford Has The Building Blocks

Kris Knoblauch (NHL.com)

It took what seemed to be forever to put a coaching staff in place for the Hartford Wolfpack but it was well worth the wait. The hiring of Kris Knoblauch as head coach and Gord Murphy as associate head coach gives the Wolfpack in my book the best combo to develop the Ranger prospects that they have had in years.

Knoblach has coached at the junior level taking two different teams to their league championship as well as being an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers. He is a teacher who has a proven track record as someone who develops NHL players something that has been lacking in Hartford.

But the biggest key is that Knoblach wins and after years of the Wolfpack not making the playoffs will be a welcome change. Hartford has missed making the AHL playoffs for four straight seasons and six of the last seven.  It won’t happen overnight but expect Hartford to start winning again.

Gord Miller (HockeyDB)

Gord Murphy played 13 years in the NHL as a defenseman and has been an assistant coach in the NHL since 2002. He is the right guy to help develop the young defensive prospects that the Rangers have. Murphy worked with Knoblach the last couple of years with the Flyers so they know each other and have a solid relationship.

Add in Pat Boller who serves as the assistant general manager for the Wolfpack, Eric Raymond the goaltending coach (and Benoit Allair disciple),  and Mark Cesari and Kevin Gately who serve as the strength and conditioning coaches and you have possibly the best staff Hartford has ever had.

This will also be the group that will be leading the prospects when they take part in the 2019 Traverse City Prospect Tournament in September.

Traverse City

Speaking of the annual prospect tournament, one thing that will need to happen will be the prospect Rangers start winning at the tournament. Yes, the main goal remains to start building chemistry among the prospects and to see how well they have done with their offseason work.

But doing better than finishing at the bottom of the tournament is a confidence builder, it helps give the prospects a positive sign that the David Quinn system works. For the majority of the prospects, they won’t see exhibition games with the Rangers and are returned to their junior teams or sent to the Hartford camp.

So winning sends a great message to these prospects.

Not to mention to the Ranger fans as well.

Why No Hartford Wolf Pack Staff?

Steve Konowalchuk (Seattle Thunderbirds)

Am I the only one who finds it rather strange that it is the middle of July and the New York Rangers still have yet to hire staff for the Hartford Wolf Pack? It is almost three months to the day since Keith McCambridge and Joe Mormina were let go from the Wolf Pack and one would think to replace them would not be this hard.

Now those who have followed me know that I think the Rangers should name former NHLer Steve Konowalchuk as the head coach of the Wolf Pack. For those who don’t know who Konowalchuk is, he played close to 800 games in the NHL mainly with the Washington Capitals. After retiring from the NHL, Konowalchuk spent two seasons as an assistant coach for the Colorado Avalanche and then six seasons coaching the Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL) where his teams made the WHL finals twice (winning once).

After Seattle, Konowalchuk spent a season as an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks before joining the Rangers as an amateur scout covering the WHL. What the Rangers badly need in Hartford is a teacher, someone who will help turn Hartford into a place where the Rangers can count on for talent. Having watched Konowalchuk take Seattle to the top of the WHL, this is the right guy for the job.

Konowalchuk is someone I got to see a lot of when he was a WHL coach. He is a proven teacher to go along with his NHL background and the Rangers badly need a teacher in Hartford. But Konowalchuk is just the start, if it was up to me then I would add two more assistants to the Hartford staff. The Wolf Pack already have Eric Raymond as their goaltending coach but I would add someone who can coach the forwards and one for the defense.

And at least one of those coaches it would be helpful if they had some European hockey background in them as several of the Ranger prospects are coming over from Europe and having someone who is familiar with the European lifestyle would help these younger players adapt to life in North America.

Skinner Changes Plans

Hunter Skinner (Lincoln Stars)

In case you missed it Hunter Skinner who the Rangers selected with the 112th pick in the 2019 NHL Entry draft has changed his mind about attending Western Michigan. Skinner signed to play with the London Knights of the OHL and it is a good move for both the Rangers and Skinner. Skinner who is a righthanded defenseman will get to play for former NHL player and coach Dale Hunter which will help speed up his development.

Dale Hunter whether you like him or not is an excellent junior coach who has a proven track record as a developer of prospects. Skinner will get lots of ice time playing for Hunter. Skinner because he joins the Knights after being drafted can sign with the Rangers and play in Hartford before he is 20 which is good for the Rangers.

It is interesting to note that the Rangers will only have four prospects playing in the CHL (three in the OHL, one in WHL) but eight playing NCAA hockey and nine prospects playing in Europe. Ten years that few playing Canadian junior hockey would have been unheard of.