Not to be lost in the important personnel moves of the past few days---Monday's re-signing of RFA Ryan McDonagh, and Friday's signings of free agents Dominic Moore, Benoit Pouliot, and Aaron Johnson---is the fact that another prospects development camp came to an end last Friday for the Rangers.
These prospect camps are important for Rangers brass to all get a first-hand look at how the future Blueshirts are progressing, and to do so with all of the key executives---from Glen Sather to Jeff Gorton, Jim Schoenfeld, and Gordie Clark, to Adam Graves, to Kevin maxwell, and others---watching together. It's not the same as seeing a prospect in mid-season form, but it still provides a gauge and perspective on where each prospect is in his development.
To that end, here are some final thoughts on the Rangers 2013 Prospects Development Camp, broken down into specific groups.
Dylan McIlrath, Marek Hrivik, Kyle Jean, and Andrew Yogan were invited to the prospects camp despite all having played a full season of professional hockey in Hartford a year ago. Being older and more experienced---not to mention bigger and stronger than the other prospects---this foursome was expected to stand out in camp, and in the end none of the four disappointed. Hrivik, in particular, just looked more polished when compared to the younger prospects. And Jean and Yogan played with urgency in the scrimmages---a positive sign since both are very much looking to improve upon their rookie pro seasons. In speaking with both, Jean and Yogan seem to have a better grasp on what it takes to be a pro, the consistency required which eluded both a year ago. Yogan stood out with his offensive play and aggressiveness around the net during scrimmages. Now it needs to continue in the fall and winter. McIlrath is a physical speciman right now, and his knee looks to be close to 100 percent. He seems primed for a very strong second season. You can add to this group defenseman Conor Allen and forward Josh Nicholls---who both are turning pro after being signed as free agents. Allen looks to be a very confident two-way defenseman, one to keep an eye on, while Nicholls had flashes of spectacular play offensively last week. He's one to watch for sure after his high-scoring Junior career.
The biggest shame of the week is that both Adam Tambellini, the team's first pick in the third round this year, and Michael Kantor, the rugged forward signed as a free agent last spring, got hurt on Monday and never were able to take part in any of the scrimmages. Kantor will be turning pro this fall and is an intriguing player on many fronts, not the least of which is his tremendous character. Tambellini is a skilled forward heading off to college in the fall, and it would have been nice to get a taste of what is to come from him. While frustrating for the Rangers, I'm sure it was much more so for Kantor and Tambellini.
The Next Wave
This group includes Rangers draft picks who have not yet turned pro---or are turning pro this fall, players like Brady Skjei, Boo Nieves, Michael St. Croix, Sam Noreau, Thomas Spelling, Steve Fogarty, Pavel Buchnevich, Anthony Duclair, Ryan Graves, and Mackenzie Skapski. Of this group Skjei stood out with solid all-around game from the defense position. He has a great chance to play for Team USA in the 2014 World Junior Championships. Duclair was super involved in every scrimmage, finally coming through with two goals on Friday. With Buchnevich, you can just see what a tremendous skill set he has---one that will be honed in the KHL the next two years. He just needs more size, but the physical tools are there, for sure. The tools are there for Nieves, too, who made some sweet passes during the scrimmages, but still needs to add more muscle to his frame. Graves was a standout, I thought. Physical, confident with the puck, Graves---who is already 6-foot-4, and a solid 225 pounds, very well could be an NHL player down the road. Spelling had a great week, scoring four goals---one in each scrimmage. He showed good hands, a willingness to go the net, a solid set of skills, and some real good finish. Noreau's skating and all-around game have come a long way since he was drafted. St. Croix had a quiet week; and Skapski---the lone goalie in this group---did not play in all of the scrimmages, the same as Fogarty who arrived late due to summer classes at Notre Dame.
As for the invitees to camp, as Gordie Clark told me on Thursday, the two players who stood out were Alex Krushelynski and Sergey Tolchinsky, a pair of skilled forwards out of Junior. Whether their play will lead to pro contracts or not is still being debated.
Next up for the prospects: the Traverse City Tournament in early September. Stay Tuned!
Jim Cerny-July 8, 2013