Ranger fans love nothing more than looking ahead, debating and projecting which prospects within the system will one day play key roles with the NHL club. It is why the team's annual participation in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament is so highly anticipated by the Blueshirts Faithful.
Yesterday the Rangers revealed their 23-man roster for this year's tournament for prospects, which will take place in Traverse City, Michigan beginning on September 12th, and I would argue that there is more intrigue this season than in recent years--maybe since Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh took part in 2010.
My reasons are manyfold, and they go past the nice subplot that 2014 second round pick Brandon Halverson will be playing in his hometown while wearing the Rangers sweater for the first time. But, in fact, let's start with Halverson, for the time being ignoring even that he is a Traverse City native. This will be our first chance to see the 18 year-old goalie of the future represent the Blueshirts in competition and get a first glimpse into why Gordie Clark and his staff are so high on the 6-foot-3 netminder. He performed well at Team USA's junior evaluation camp last week and is slated to be the No. 1 with Sault Ste. Marie this season, but I am most excited to see him put that Rangers sweater on and face the best prospects--many of them older and more experienced than he--from other teams.
Taking the goalie intrigue a bit further, I want to see how Mackenzie Skapski, the 20 year-old 2013 sixth rounder, reacts to some serious competition. Skapski is the more experienced of the two and played in last year's Traverse City Tournament so he should have a leg up on Halverson this year, but I'm curious to see the start of this competition--because this is a relationship and competition that is just beginning and could very well run for years to come.
I am also really interested to see how close to playing in the NHL Ryan Haggerty, Chris McCarthy, and Mat Bodie are. Each of these players signed last spring as undrafted free agents out of college and they are three of the older, more experienced players on the Rangers tournament roster. With openings on the NHL roster at the forward position, Haggerty--a 28-goal scorer in 35 games at RPI last year--likely will get a long look in training camp and the pre-season. That he practiced with the Rangers at the end of last season and was around the club through its long playoff run should only speed up his development. The Rangers would love to see him be a dominant player at Traverse City, which could be the first step to earning a spot on the Varsity.
McCarthy and Bodie are likely a few steps behind Haggerty, but that could be disproved in Traverse City, too. McCarthy is a 23 year-old forward who scored 18 goals and totaled 42 points in 38 games with the University of Vermont last year before appearing in eight games as a pro with the Hartford Wolf Pack where he netted one goal. Bodie is a 24 year-old defenseman--the oldest player on the tourny roster--who captained Union College to the 2014 NCAA Championship, posting 39 points in 40 games. He could be destined to start the season in Hartford to gain professional experience just as was the case with Conor Allen a year ago what with the Rangers seemingly set with their Top Six on defense. However I am really curious to see how close both Bodie and McCarthy are to being NHLers.
Of course I am always excited to watch Anthony Duclair play, too. Coming off a 50-goal season in Quebec a year ago I want to see if Duclair's magic translates against older, more experienced competition in Traverse City. If the speedy winger has any legitimate dreams of making the coaches and management consider him for an NHL roster spot this fall he must begin by turning heads in this tournament.
It'll be cool to see fellow 2013 third rounder Adam Tambellini play in this tournament along with Duclair, too. Last year Tambellini was enrolled in college and ineligible to take part in the Traverse City Tournament--the reason why we once again will not see 2012 top pick Brady Skjei play--but now he plays major junior hockey and is available to show the team's brass what he's got. We're only missing high-flying winger Pavel Buchnevich--currently under contract in the KHL--or else we'd get to watch all three talented third-round forwards from the 2013 draft take flight together.
Finally the 2014 Traverse City Tournament will provide first looks at the players the Rangers selected in June's entry draft. Joining Halverson in putting that Blueshirt on for real for the first time will be forwards Keegan Iverson and Richard Nejezchleb and defensemen Ryan Mantha and Daniel Walcott. You get one chance at a first impression, so let's see what the newbies will bring.
BlueshirtsUnited.com will be providing exclusive coverage of the Rangers prospects at the 2014 Traverse City Tournament. Make sure to check the web site out often for our behind-the-scenes and on-the-ice coverage.
Which prospect are you most intrigued to see play for the Rangers at the Traverse City Tournament? Let us know below.