Thursday, May 26, 2011

2011 NHL Draft Prospects: Zack Phillips

The 2011 draft now less than one month away, and the Rangers scouting and front office staff is looking through many prospects to see who they want to select with the 15th overall selection.  With the current state of the Rangers defense both at the NHL and prospect level one would expect that New York will look for offense in the first round of the draft hoping to find an impact scorer.  Tuesday, I took a look at Mark Scheifele, who is a center from the OHL that produced against the best the opposition had to offer despite playing with inferior talent around him.  Wednesday, Mark McNeill and his power forward type personality in the body of a center was the prospect under the microscope.  Today, Zack Phillips of the Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL) is the player looked at to see how he would fit with the New York Rangers.
Phillips had a phenomenal season with the Sea Dogs posting 38 goals and 57 assists in 67 games.  He continued that play in the playoffs with nine goals and 15 assists in 17 playoff games.  Playing with fellow top prospect, Jonathan Huberdeau, Phillips shows a nose for the net that makes him special.  He is not a great athlete or skater, but the same was said of Jeff Skinner last year.  Natural goal scoring skill is something that you cannot teach or account for and something the Rangers desperately need.
Phillips came in at 15 in the Final Central Scouting Rankings of North American Skaters.  He possesses good size at 6’1” 195 pounds and is not afraid to play in front of the net. 
Kirk Luedeke of Bruins Draft Watch’s
A bit of a surprise to the general public when he appeared ninth overall on The Hockey News' 2011 Draft Preview which was released last week in Canada. However, some scouts are telling us that Phillips in the top-10 isn't much of a shocker to them given his big goal scoring potential and a natural nose for the net that players like Jeff Skinner have forced NHL teams to respect. Phillips is not an explosive player, and he's certainly benefited from skating alongside playmakers like Huberdeau and Michael Kirkpatrick this season, but to insinuate that he's not a lethal scoring threat is to sell the former Massachusetts prep player short. The former Lawrence Academy standout (19 goals, 48 points in 30 games) from Fredericton, NB was involved in a car accident that killed teammate Mark Frattaroli in September 2008 (Frattaroli was driving when the vehicle struck a tree). Zack is an October 1992 birthdate, so he's on the older scale of the 2011 class, but he had a tremendous season with 38 goals and 95 points. At 6-1, 195 pounds, he can drive hard to the net and has outstanding hands to finish off plays in close.
Prediction: 10-15 pick; NHL teams love goal scorers, and while he's not the best skater, his size, hands and hockey sense make too much sense for him to stick around on the board for long.
Coach Gerard Gallant on
Zack has great vision and is strong on the puck. He's a solid center and has come a long way in a short time. He kind of reminds me of an Adam Oates-type of player … he's strong on the puck down low and in the corners and has nifty hands.
The Scouting Report (Ranked 34, midseason)
Phillips has been steadily rising over the past two seasons and could make a case to go in the late first round of the NHL Entry Draft this season along with what could be three other Sea Dogs’ teammates. Phillips is a good offensive player who does a lot of things well, but doesn’t really have a defining quality. He’ll need to improve his skating a bit as well in the future.
As the Hockey News’ showed in ranking him at nine in their draft preview, goal scoring can cause players to come off the board earlier than others might project.  The biggest hurdle to Phillips becoming a New York Ranger, other than whether he is on the board at 15, could be Glen Sather’s seeming refusal to draft players from the QMJHL in the first round.  As Jess Rubenstein points out, over at The Prospect Park, Sather has only taken 1 player from the QMJHL in the first round in 33 picks.
If Phillips is available at 15, depending on what other forwards are available, I would certainly consider taking him as the Rangers need someone that can put the puck in the net.  Skating could be an issue, but he has all the other tools that say production can outweigh skating concerns.

Free Agent Preview: James Wisniewski Would Add Offense To Rangers Defense Core

Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images
There is a little over a month left until the frenzy that is free agency begins and the New York Rangers will certainly be looking for offense when the market opens on July 1.  The fact that Brad Richards is going to be the number one priority outside of the organization is not surprising, but there are other ways the Rangers can help themselves in the free agent market.  With the Rangers offensive inconsistency much of the focus has been on how the team can sign forwards to give the team more scoring and there has been a look at Brad Richards fit for the Rangers already.  However, as the playoffs have shown, offensive help can come from the defense as well.  There are numerous viable defenseman that could boost the Rangers scoring from the blue line for next season available in the free agent market.  One such player is James Wisniewski as he can score for himself, facilitate for others and maybe most importantly add to the anemic power play the Blueshirts have possessed.
At first it might seem strange to look into spending significant money on the Rangers defense having an excellent top four as the Rangers do, but the unit severely lacks offensive threats right now. As a whole the Rangers defense only accounted for 27 goals and 106 assists in 494 combined games played this year.  The defensive core is one that is built around the four shutdown defenders they have and there is no questioning that the Rangers defense is set at four spots with Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer all entrenched and under 28-years old.  Having four defenders who are that good defensively is a great luxury for the organization, but it still needs to have some threats to score from the back end of the ice.
While the hope is that Michael Del Zotto will rebound from a subpar sophomore season and reclaim his spot permanently and add a puck-moving defenseman to the excellent defensive guys they already have, it is tough to rely on that happening right now.  Signing a Wisnewski, especially since he plays the right side, would not limit Del Zotto at all and would only add to the Rangers flexibility.  Wisniewski could either be used as a third pair player leaving the current top four together or be paired with a Ryan McDonagh, thus allowing coach John Tortorella to use Michael Sauer as a safety net of sorts with Del Zotto next year.
Wisniewski is coming off a career year in which he scored 10 goals and had 41 assists in 75 games, which were split between the Isles and Montreal this past season.  The 51 points would have ranked Wisniewski second on the Rangers, behind only Brandon Dubinsky’s 54 for the 2010-11 season.  More important than the overall numbers was what Wisniewski did both on the power play and when he was surrounded by better talent following the trade.  Wisniewski put up seven goals and 22 assists with the man advantage while no Rangers player, forward or defenseman, had more than 16 total points on the power play.  Wisniewski’s power play points alone would have tied him for second among defenders on the team with 29 points, two behind Dan Girardi.
With the NHL salary cap potentially increasing to as high as $63.5 million it is possible for the Rangers to sign Wisniewski in addition to Brad Richards and dramatically reshape their power play this summer.  Having Richards at the left point and Wisniewski on the right point would give the Rangers a dangerous pairing and allow the forwards to have tremendous space down low to work.  The moves would also allow Del Zotto to gain experience working the power play without the pressure of having to be the man running the first unit.  Signing Wisniewski for $4-4.5 million would lock down the Rangers defense for years to come and give them an excellent balance of bother shutdown defenders and offensive threats assuming Del Zotto returns to form and the gradual addition of offense to the others.