Friday, September 16, 2011

Video: Tortorella Discusses Conditioning Expectations, Boogaard, Wolski, Callahan Captaincy

Camp Day 1 Recap: Avery, Rookies Impress In Conditioning; Sauer, Anisimov Injury News

Reports out of Day 1 of Camp Torturella are all relatively positive in terms of the conditioning of the New York Rangers, which tells you how committed the team is to being prepared for a big season.  Sean Avery was cited as one of those who was the most impressive to start the day, but the conditioning of Avery has never been in question.  

Beyond Avery the standouts were rookies trying to make the team with Tim Erixon, Ryan Bourque and Carl Hagelin making their turn at the conditioning drills look relatively easy.  It is impressive to see how driven these rookies are in trying to earn their way on the club from opening night.  There could be some advantage for these guys having played in Traverse City this past week so their conditioning level could be slightly higher than those who have scrimmaged at best.  The Rangers veterans better be ready to fight for their spots on the roster because these rookies are certainly ready to take them away.

While the news on the conditioning front was good there was injury news with Michael Sauer and Artem Anisimov sitting out today with knee injuries.  For Sauer the injury is something that was sustained during the summer and earlier today I looked at whether it is a cause for concern.  With Anisimov the injury is something that was discovered during a physical and he not only sat out, but had a precautionary MRI that came back negative.  Sauer is expected to be on the ice tomorrow, but no timetable was given for Anisimov. 

How Concerned Should Rangers Be About Sauer's Knee?

As the New York Rangers open training camp today with the infamous conditioning testing of coach John Tortorella, Jim Cerny is reporting that Michael Sauer will not be taking part because of the right knee he tweaked this summer.  Cerny follows up that Sauer says he is feeling stronger each day the past week so there is no cause for serious alarm yet, but is there reason for concern over the health of Sauer?

Sauer, 24, came from off the radar last training to become a critical part of the Rangers young defense corps pairing with Ryan McDonagh to give the team a second shutdown defensive pair.  Sauer was rewarded for his excellent play with a two-year deal paying him $1.25 mil a season.

Sauer’s talent has never been in question, but his ability to stay healthy has been what held his career back before last season.  Already in his career he has undergone surgery to the same knee that is bothering him now as long as shoulder and hip injuries.  The 76 games he was able to play last season was his highest career total, with only 2006-07 being the only other season in which he cracked 70 games.

An injury to Sauer or any of the other top four defenders would put some strain on the Rangers as it would require Tim Erixon, Michael Del Zotto and Steve Eminger all to be in the lineup, which while plausible would not be the ideal scenario for the team.

What To Watch During Rangers Training Camp

The New York Rangers open training camp today with a different set of expectations and questions than they had a year ago when camp began.  Expectations dictate that squeaking into the playoffs and losing early is no longer acceptable as the team is built to finish no worse than 6th in the Eastern Conference and to win at least one round in the playoffs.  A large part of the reason for the increased expectations is the acquisition of Brad Richards this summer to fill the void of a top line center as well as a power play quarterback. 
Beyond Richards alone, expectations are also higher because of how well young players like Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer performed in their rookie campaigns and the growth that was shown from homegrown players like Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov along with surprising years from Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust offensively.  Whether those things will continue during the 2011-12 season will not be answered during training camp itself, but there are questions/things to watch for during training camp.
Chemistry between Gaborik and Richards: Marian Gaborik is looking to rebound from a down season and Brad Richards was brought in for both his own abilities plus the hopes that providing Gaborik with an elite center would facilitate that turnaround.  As I have said before, Richards is not responsible for fixing Gaborik, but the development of their personal chemistry on the ice is a critical component to the Rangers ultimate success this season.  If they click the Rangers offense takes another step and they truly have the potential to be an elite club because they already possess the complimentary players necessary to win.
Fight to See Who Claims Top Line Left Wing Spot:  While the chemistry between Richards and Gaborik is important to watch in camp, the battle to see who is the other winger on the line is the most important factor in determining the rest of the lineup.  Wojtek Wolski likely heads into camp as the favorite for the spot, but he will have competition from Ruslan Fedotenko, Derek Stepan, and Sean Avery for the role.  Brandon Dubinsky might also be considered, but the draw to leaving Dubinsky with Artem Anisimov and Ryan Callahan probably means he will not play with Richards and Gaborik.   
Battle for Final Defense Pairing:  The battle on defense to claim the final two spots in the lineup is one that should be very fun to watch.  Steve Eminger is going to make the team as a either a 6th or 7th defender, which leaves possibly two spots to be had.  Tim Erixon and Michael Del Zotto are the main competitors for the spots with Erixon being the highly touted prospect who just impressed in Traverse City and Del Zotto needing to rebound from an awful sophomore season.  Beyond those two Tomas Kundratek, Pavel Valentenko, Blake Parlett and even Brendan Bell could be in the mix.
Carl Hagelin Looking To Beat Out Veterans like Sean Avery, Erik Christensen:  With the Rangers having 13 forwards already on the roster and Mats Zuccarello under contract, there does not appear to be a lot of room for a prospect to break into the forward ranks for the 2011-12 season.  However, players like Sean Avery and Erik Christensen for differing reasons are players who could find themselves on the outside looking in when training camp concludes and a player like Hagelin could take their place.  Hagelin at this stage of his career brings more to the table than either Avery or Christensen, but will need to have a big camp to prove he is ready to be with the team from opening night.
Differential in Rangers Power Play: If Brad Richards did not have enough on his plate already in coming to New York, having to live up to his contract, and being Marian Gaborik’s savior, he is also expected to solve the Rangers abysmal power play.  His track record as an outstanding power play quarterback is something the Rangers sorely need, but there are still things to watch for in terms of who plays the other point and if the team changes the philosophy at all now that he is manning one point.  The days of Derek Stepan or Mats Zuccarello on the point of the top power play unit are likely over given that Richards is a forward so a defender is likely to be there but will it be Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto or Tim Erixon filling that role?
The New York Rangers open training camp with the roster largely set in terms of players, but the expectations from last season have risen dramatically and the number of things to watch/questions remain high.  With the condensed schedule before the team heads to Europe there is much to be done is a short time, but within the next 10 days we will learn a lot about the composition of the 2011-12 Rangers team.