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Traverse City

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.

Adam Fox’s Five Point Game Leads Prospect Win

Adam Fox (Robert Sabo)

It may have been just one game but boy did Adam Fox make it look like Jeff Gorton got a steal from the Carolina Hurricanes.  Fox had a five-point game (2-3-5) with the game-winning goal as the Baby Rangers earned a 7-4 win over the Baby Dallas Stars.

Five different goal scorers and ten total players with points as the team bounced back from Friday’s 6-2 loss.  Adam Huska stopped 24 of 28 shots as the team evened their record at 1-1.  Hartford-bound left-wing Ryan Dmowski added two goals while 2018 first-round pick Vitali Kravtsov had two assists.

The Baby Rangers also got goals from Yegor Rykov, Matthew Robertson and Karl Henriksson as the compete level was better overall from the team. No Kaapo Kakko for this game as he recovers from the flu.

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Not a perfect game as there remains a need for serious improvement among the team defense, giving up way too many odd-man rushes. Still, the improvement was there and so was the stepping up from the Rangers top prospects. This game should go a long way in silencing the critics of these prospects but seriously why anyone doesn’t like the quality of this squad remains mindboggling.

Got to show this goal from Karl Henriksson as he tips in an Adam Fox point shot in the first period.

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This has been a huge missing element from the Rangers offense from both the point shot that was dead on to Henriksson’s setting up in the slot and tip-in. And to think Henriksson is all of 5’9 176 so I would keep this and show it to the returning veterans when training camp opens. Really wish Henriksson was willing to stay in North America and play in the CHL this season as it would help speed up his development.

Off day on Sunday before the team returns to play on Monday against the Baby Minnesota Wild.

Rome Was Not Built In A Day

Igor Shesterkin (goaliesarchive.com)

Yes, the Baby Rangers did lose 6-2 in their opening-round game of the 2019 Traverse City Prospects Tournament. But was it a horrible disaster of a loss as some are freaking out over? No, if anything this might be the right kind of loss for this group of prospects.

Come Saturday morning when those very Baby Rangers assemble for practice, they will have hopefully learned some very valuable lessons. The first lesson they hopefully will have learned is that any dreams of making it to the NHL are going to require more hard work than they might have imagined.

Those dreams about walking in and just making the team will have gotten a huge reality check. If they thought they worked hard at the junior/European level, their eyes we hope will have gotten opened big time. For some, they might have discovered that they are no longer the very best players on the team like they were on previous teams.

The second lesson they hopefully will have learned is that they need each other in order to make the first lesson possible. That playing as individuals no matter how talented they may think they are will not turn them into winners, We might not even see here it but if the seeds of team chemistry are planted here then tomorrow’s future will be brighter.

The third lesson (this one the fans need to learn too) they hopefully will have learned is to forget the hype about the Rangers having the best prospect pool in the NHL. Maybe all this nonsense about the Rangers having the best prospect pool will stop and it won’t be a bad thing if many of them have to spend time in Hartford.

At the same time please stop with the “these kids are overrated” as they aren’t. Here is your reality and that 90% of these players are still teenagers. Please stop expecting them to just show up and start on the first or second-line without giving them a chance to develop naturally.

The speed of the NHL is nothing like any of them have seen before which is why playing in this kind of tournament is truly a great idea. They are going to discover things that the coaching staff/player development folks preached to them are so very true.

We will see just how coachable this group is by the time they take the ice at 7 PM against the Dallas Stars Prospects. Hopefully, these prospects will absorb every single word the Rangers staff offers them during the Saturday AM practice.

The now more realistic goal for this squad is to show improvement in each of the three remaining games this squad has.

Now for the fans maybe some reality will have brought them back to earth about their expectations of these prospects. Look we all want to see these prospects make it as it does represent a better future for the Rangers if they do.

But they haven’t even been together for more than two practices as a unit and they are most likely the youngest squad at this year’s tournament. Many of them got a hard lesson about the speed of the game even at this level.

Yes, it was a sloppy ugly game but it was for many of them the first game they have played in months.  It would be like asking the adult Rangers to show up have two quick practices and then asking them to play against teams that had a month to prepare.

Just wait until these kids discover what the main training camp will be like. I can’t tell you how many prospects came back from an NHL training camp shocked at the speed the game is played at. For those who played on adult teams in Europe, this must-have blown their minds.

Still, I for one am not going to read way too much into this loss. Saturday is another day and this squad still has three games left to play before they head to the main training camp.

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.

Why No Television For Traverse City?

New York Rangers (New York Rangers/NHL.com)

With less than five days before the prospect Rangers hit the ice for their first game at the 2019 Traverse City Prospect Tournament, there begs a question: Why aren’t the games at the Traverse City Tournament televised either by MSG Networks or on the NHL Network itself?

This is becoming an annual question especially for a rebuilding team like the New York Rangers. Why not spend the money and show the same fans who you are trying to sell tickets and merchandise what the Rangers future looks like?

It isn’t as if MSG Network has anything more pressing to show on their schedule that they can’t put aside a couple of hours a night to televise the games the Rangers play in. Heck, I seriously doubt that the fans would care if the games are tape-delayed and shown at night.

Nobody is asking for full-fledged TV production with Sam, Joe, and John between the benches.  Nor would you need to do a pre or postgame show but showing the games along with some interviews with the players, coaching staff and the player development staff would do more to excite the fans about the upcoming season.

If they are worried that fans would not watch the prospects in action then the Rangers (and Dolans) have not been paying attention this summer. Rangers fans are very excited about getting to see the prospects whether it is Kakko, Kravtsov, Shestyerkin or Rykov.

But someone at MSG whether it is the network or the team management doesn’t seem to think that showing the fans what they themselves have been pitching is a good idea. Dumb just flat out dumb as if there will not be a better advertisement than a Kakko highlight-reel goal against fellow NHL prospects.

The NHL Network is equally guilty as the Network that likes to bill itself as the home of hockey would rather show repeated content instead of getting hockey fans ready for the upcoming season. Not only is there the Traverse City Tournament but this year the Nashville Predators are hosting three other teams in a tournament of their own (and will televise their games on Nashvillepredators.com).

But nobody else seems to mention if Ranger fans (or NHL fans) will get to see their prospects play. And everyone loses there because someone is being shortsighted.

Prospect Action

Nico Gross (Oshawa Generals)

2018 fourth-round pick defenseman Nico Gross was scoreless as his Oshawa Generals lost 7-2 to the Mississauga Steelheads in OHL exhibition action. Gross was a -2 on one shot with a minor for roughing.  The loss evens the Generals preseason record at 1-1.

Gross was also scoreless on one shot and a +1 on Friday as his Generals earned a 5-4 shootout win over the Kingston Frontenacs. Gross is in his second year with the Generals as an “import player”.

Hunter Skinner (Lincoln Stars)

2019 fourth-round pick Hunter Skinner scored his first OHL goal on Friday evening as his London Knights defeated the Sarnia Sting 5-2. The Knights are excited to have Skinner as they talked about his point shot (he has three shots).

The Knights talked about Skinner in their post-game report:

“Hunter Skinner made is OHL pre-season debut a memorable one with a glimpse of his booming shot from the point and then an empty-netter that traveled about as close to 200 feet as possible on a hockey rink. Skinner shot the puck from deep in the left corner of his own zone and hit the Sting net almost dead centre.”

And this is a reason why MSG should be televising the Traverse City games as I want to check out this 6’2 righthanded defender.