By Matt Calamia
Over the past several years, players within the Rangers organization have used the Traverse City prospect tournament as a springboard to making the NHL. Players like Derek Stepan, Michael Del Zotto, Marc Staal, Ryan Callahan and Ryan McDonagh shined in the eight-team, round robin tournament, and used the strong showing to make names for themselves within the organization.
“It’s pretty eye opening,” McDonagh said on Tuesday of the tournament, which he played in — and captained the Rangers— in 2010. “The pace is a lot faster than what you’re used to. It’s actually good as a rookie. It prepares you for the pace at your first training camp.”
The group of 24 players skated this morning at the team's training facility before taking off for Michigan this afternoon. The tournament opens up tomorrow against the Carolina Hurricanes.
McDonagh said the tournament is a good way for players to meet others within the organization, and could create relationships that last several years as players move through the organization together.
“You grow relationships with them,” he said. “You take that into training camp so you have some good friends right away … You meet some of the guys you were drafted with and done the camps here with. You get to play against another team with those guys you’ve been training with, so it’s a fun atmosphere the whole time.”
The Rangers will be sending top forward prospects Danny Kristo, Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg to the tournament. Kristo, who was acquired by New York earlier this summer, will be heading to Traverse City for the first time.
“I’m excited to strap on my skates, go out there and play some games,” he said after skating with about 20 Rangers at the team’s training facility. “I’ll go out there, show my skills and compete hard.”
Kristo said it’s important not to over-think the game or let the pressure of a looming training camp impact what he does on the ice during the tournament.
“The guys are going out there trying to prove they should make the team, but … the better the team is doing the better you’ll look yourself,” he said. “Obviously stay within the team system and stuff like that, but when you get an opportunity to maybe show what you can do … you take advantage of those opportunities.”
The history of players making names for themselves in Traverse City is well known throughout this year’s roster. Defenseman Conor Allen, who signed with New York last season out of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, said the tournament is good preparation for training camp next week.
“This is the start of training camp for the rookies,” Allen said. “You have to approach it like that. You play your best hockey because everyone is going to be watching, all the guys you need to impress. “
While the players entering their first tournament and subsequent training camp may not know what to expect, McDonagh said each player is there for a reason, and they must remember that and not try and do too much.
“You’ve got to stick to what you do best,” he said. “If that’s being a defensive defenseman, have a good plus-minus, block shots and be physical. If you’re a guy that gets points, you’ve got four or five games there to try and get some points … It just builds a team naturally if you just do your role.”