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Kaapo Kakko

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.

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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.