It may be summertime, and training camp is still more than a month away, but Gordie Clark and his staff are still hard at work scouting and evaluating the Rangers future. Their summer work began after the 2014 NHL Draft in late June and has continued through the Rangers Prospect Development Camp in early July and this week with several of the team's most prized prospects taking part in various junior evaluation camps in advance of the 2015 World Junior Championships.
Goaltender Brandon Halverson (pictured, second round 2014) is one of four goalies in Team USA's evaluation camp this week, while high-flying forward Anthony Duclair (third round, 2013) is impressing at Team Canada's summer camp, and highly-skilled winger Pavel Buchnevich (third round, 2013) is doing likewise for Russia. In addition, rugged winger Keegan Iverson (third round, 2014) was on the United States initial list of camp invitees before being cut earlier in the week when Team USA reduced its roster from 41 players to 27.
Not a single move of these key prospects has been missed this week by Clark and his staff.
"I've been up in Lake Placid this week and we have people in Canada, too, watching all of our guys," the Rangers Director, Player Personnel told BlueshirtsUnited.com in an exclusive interview on Friday. "This is summer hockey, you have to remember that. Guys are still getting the rust off their games; but what you want to see is that our guys keep getting better and better."
That certainly is holding true for Halverson, who is one of four goaltenders in Team USA's evaluation camp, vying for a pair of spots on the WJC roster come wintertime. What impressed Clark the most about Halverson's game, so far, this week is that he has improved by the day and played his best most recently--stopping 16 of 17 shots, while also recording an assist, in a 9-1 win over Finland yesterday.
"He's getting stronger and more comfortable by the day," Clark said of Halverson, who is slated to be the starting goalie for Sault Ste. Marie this upcoming season. "He stuck through the first (round of) cuts, and now he's got a full game under his belt up there in Lake Placid. That's what your looking for--the experience of going through these kind of pressure situations and being able to withstand it and showing Team USA that he's a goalie to keep an eye on."
Clark is not surprised that one area of Halverson's game many are talking about is his puck-handling ability. It is an aspect of his game that helped attract the Rangers to the 18 year-old netminder. Even low-key goaltending coach Benoit Allaire raved about Halverson's ability to play the puck smoothly and confidently and jumpstart his team the other way after watching video of the Blueshirts top pick in the 2014 draft, according to Clark.
"Stopping the puck is most important, but this is a real big part of his game, too," Clark said of Halverson's ability to handle the puck. "From what I heard from our scouts at (last night's) game Halverson is looking very, very comfortable out there."
Meanwhile north of the border both Duclair and Buchnevich are impressing with their play this week. Both recorded an assist in Thursday's 6-3 Team Canada win over Russia, though it's a goal Duclair scored Tuesday against the Czech Republic that everyone is still talking about.
The whole Duclair package seemed to be on display Tuesday when he used his speed, vision, and creativity to score a highlight-reel goal in which he calmly put the puck between his legs on the rush before beating the bewildered Czech goaltender. Duclair, who scored 50 goals in 59 games in the QMJHL last season and who has been playing on Canada's top line along with elite NHL prospect Sam Reinhart this week, also registered an assist in Tuesday's victory.
All of this success has come after he was not invited to Canada's summer junior evaluation camp a year ago.
"Our reports on Duclair are really good," noted Clark. "He had a helluva' year last year. Anthony never really let that (the evaluation camp snub) bother him. He just went out and had a big year, and was a big player for Quebec. Now in his situation he has to go and do something to open their eyes, and it looks like that is exactly what Anthony has done here."
Clark and the Rangers brass are hopeful Duclair makes Canada's World Junior squad, in part, because they want to see how he handles the pressure that comes with representing his country on its own soil. The 2015 World Juniors are due to be held in Montreal--Duclair's hometown--and Toronto.
"I think that's a big deal to us," explained Clark. "It's always interesting to us to see how a kid handles pressure. They feel it, they do; but it's how they handle it that we are interested in. There will be a lot of family and friends there for Anthony, and he's representing his country. It's a big deal."
Buchnevich, who racked up 12 penalty minutes Thursday against Canada, played in all seven games for Russia in the 2014 World Juniors, scoring twice and assisting on five other goals. He is the lone Rangers prospect that has the opportunity to participate in both the 2014 and 2015 WJC; and he also has a full season as a professional in the Kontinental Hockey League on his resume.
"He was real impressive in our camp, and has been this week, too," Clark said of Buchnevich. "This year what's so impressive is that his body is much more mature. Last year he was a skinny kid, but now his body is starting to pop. And he is so good on the ice, making plays all over the ice."
Clark added that Duclair, like Buchnevich, is also filling out and becoming much stronger. According to Clark, Duclair told him recently, "This is far and away the best shape I've ever been in my life."
As for Iverson, he was slowed by a hand injury which also kept him off the ice at the Rangers Prospects Development Camp last month.
"What we hoped for is that he would get an invite, get a look, and he got just that," Clark said of Iverson. "This doesn't mean he won't be there in December if he has a great start to the season. With the hand he was behind and it was hard for him to make up some ground."
Though the junior evaluation camps all finish up this weekend, Clark's work and travels are far from done. He leaves Friday for Bratislava for the Ivan Hnlika Memorial Tournament where he will scout the top under-18 players in the world, preparing for next year's draft.
There is certainly no "off" in Gordie Clark's off-season.