Monday, August 29, 2011

McIlrath The Top New York Rangers Prospect?

With the season approaching there are a lot of rankings going around with respect to the New York Rangers prospects.  On Sunday, Jess Rubenstein at The Prospect Park gives his rankings of the future Rangers which uses some different criteria than many of the other rankings lists out there.   For Jess the main criteria are character, drive and talent as a combination where many focus on talent more than the rest.

Admitting any bias up front, the leader in his rankings was 2010 first round pick Dylan McIlrath.  Here is the reasoning Jess gave…
1-Dylan McIlrath- I put him here because every year since Jeff Beukeboom was forced to retire, I have called for a defensive stopper. Here he is and Jeff Beukeboom would give his approval.

How can you not like a player who his mere presence forces teams to change how they attack. Watched Medicine Hat refuse to go down his side of the ice after 2 clean body checks.

Do not even think you can touch a McIlrath teammate as he will be on you in a second. Have watched teams think twice about taking the body when McIlrath was out there.

And then there is the gentle giant giving up his Friday night so he can read to first graders. Then how can you not like a guy who every time he drops the gloves is called one of the toughest in the WHL.

And we saved the best for last as since the middle of last season, McIlrath as been working on his shot. It is a heavy almost dangerous shot that is going to either create rebounds or injure anyone trying to block his shot.

They will try once to block it then will get out of the way.
If the improvements that McIlrath showed during the prospect camp in June continue, then he will certainly be in the discussion for the Rangers top prospect.  McIlrath does have the potential to bring the Rangers something they have not had in their lineup since Beukeboom, but I am not sure that is enough to warrant him being the at the head of the list right now.    The question about McIlrath since he was drafted was whether he could be more than that imposing presence that could drop the gloves and defend teammates.  He is answering those questions with by playing a smarter game and developing his shot from the point.  However, at this point I would not put him at the top, and put Tim Erixon there instead because of his potential as a two-way defender and how close he is to the NHL right now. 

Interestingly enough Rubenstein left both Tim Erixon and 2011 first round pick J.T. Miller off his list.  To see who else made the cut and the reasoning behind their places be sure to check out Jess’ full write up over at The Prospect Park.  This list exhibits the beauty of the ranking process because each had their own opinions and criteria for what will allow a prospect to transition through the ranks and make it in the NHL.  There are few if any that I respect for their opinions more than Jess Rubenstein so agree or disagree, take note of what he is passing along.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Difficulty In Deciding When A Prospect Is NHL Ready (Erixon, Thomas)

One of the toughest things for any organization in the development of their prospects is deciding when a prospect is ready for the jump to the NHL level of competition.  The New York Rangers have had some huge successes with their timing in the past few years while with others the prospects have been rushed in hopes of getting them ready to contribute and fill needs sooner.  At training camp this year the organization will have to make those calls on a few prospects with Tim Erixon and Christian Thomas being the two most notable.

As with all prospects the situations for those two are unique and the options that the Rangers have differ because of it.  In the case of Tim Erixon the Rangers acquired a player who is two years from his draft year and has spent those two seasons playing against men in the Swedish Elite League (SEL).  The fact that he has played in that environment should aid Erixon in his preparedness for the transition to the NHL.  If Erixon is determined to need more time the Rangers can send him to the minors, play Steve Eminger on the third pair and allow him to transition through the AHL, as they did with Ryan McDonagh last season.

The situation with Christian Thomas is different.  Thomas and his goal scoring abilities present the Rangers with an intriguing option to help an offense that has been inconsistent over the past few seasons.  Thomas certainly produced offensively in the OHL with 54 goals and 45 assists in just 66 games.  On the surface it is hard to see what another season in the OHL is really going to do for Thomas in terms of development.  The problem is because Thomas was playing in CHL at the time he was drafted he either has to play in the OHL this season or NHL and cannot be sent to the minors as Erixon can.  This is the same situation that Del Zotto was in two years ago.  Del Zotto played very well early in the season and when the decision came as to whether to keep him for the year or send him back to Juniors the decision seemed simple in keeping him.  Offensively Del Zotto had a very good year, but for him the year back in the OHL working on the rest of the aspects of his game might have helped more in the long term and avoided the kind of slip he had last season.

The decision on Erixon is much simpler than it will be on Thomas because of the type of options the Rangers have in moving Erixon between the different levels within the organization while Thomas is basically in the NHL or back in Juniors for the season.  Erixon’s background in the SEL should have him prepared for playing against the bigger competition, while Thomas who already has his size as a potential detriment does not have the experience playing against men. 

There is no telling in advance what either of these two will gain or lose based on the different options the Rangers organization will choose for them coming out of training camp next month, which is why deciding when a prospect is ready might be the hardest decision the organization makes in shaping the future of the club.  

Rangers Biggest Questions Entering 2011-12 Season

John Kreiser at took a look at the biggest questions surrounding each team in the Eastern Conference for the 2011-12 season.  Here is what Kreiser had on the Rangers…
Is Brad Richards a difference-maker?
The Rangers are committed to Richards -- they inked the 31-year-old center to a nine-year, $60 million deal, reuniting the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner with coach John Tortorella, his boss on the '04 Cup-winning team in Tampa Bay. Richards averaged better than a point a game in his three-plus seasons in Dallas, and the Rangers are counting on his to be the playmaker who revives Marian Gaborik and the No. 1 center they haven't had for several years. If that happens, it lets Tortorella drop players like Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan into roles for which they're more suited -- and makes the Rangers more than just a team competing for a playoff berth.
There is no question that Richards is going to be the focal point for many this season as he was the biggest free agent on the market and he signed under the spotlight that is New York.  I would dispute that whether Richards is a difference maker is the biggest question the Rangers have to answer for the upcoming season.  Other questions that still have to be answered include:

Who is going to play with Richards and Gaborik to form the top line?
This decision is the one move that will have the most impact on the structure of the New York Rangers lineup.  The only line that is probably cemented together, at least to start the season, is the Dubinsky, Anisimov, Callahan line.  If Wolski can win the job on the top line, then Derek Stepan is your third line center and the Boyle line is likely moved back down to the fourth line.  If Stepan ends up being the first line left wing, then Boyle’s line moves up on the roster and it impacts not only who the fourth liners are, but the chances of a player like Mats Zuccarello making the team.  Zuccarello and Ruslan Fedotenko could also be candidates to try and earn the spot.  Regardless of who gets the assignment to start the year there will be a domino effect created throughout the lineup and roster because of it.

Who will win the final two defense spots?
The final two spots in the defense corps are yet to be decided and if Erixon and Del Zotto win those jobs the Rangers are entering the season with only two defenders in the main lineup that have over 127 games of NHL experience.  Eminger is there as insurance and showed over different stretches last season that he can be a solid defender, especially on the third pair, but he was also benched for Matt Gilroy.

Can players who had career years repeat?
The Rangers were able to survive the large number of injuries and down years from Gaborik and Del Zotto because they had so many players have career seasons.  Boyle and Prust broke out in all phases of the game, but their offensive increases were substantial from prior levels.  Ryan Callahan and Artem Anisimov also had significant jumps in their production from previous seasons and Derek Stepan broke onto the scene with a 45 point season.  Add in the unexpectedly solid play of rookies Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer and the Rangers have to wonder if all of these players can repeat let alone improve on last season.

Lesser questions include:
How will the Rangers solve the logjam of forwards before the season?
Will any prospects other than Tim Erixon be on the team this year?  

The play of Brad Richards will be critical to the Rangers ultimate success and scrutinized more than any other question because of his contract, but that does not by default make him the biggest question the Rangers have this season.  He will have his impact in aiding an under-performing power play, aiding in the bounce back of Marian Gaborik and producing his own offense to help give the lineup more balance, but other questions will have to be answered to allow Richards to show if he is the difference maker in the end.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Could McDonagh, Sauer Regress In Second Season With Rangers?

The New York Rangers have an impressive group of young and talented defenders on the NHL roster.  The group has the potential, if each plays at their peak, to be the best defense corps in the league.  Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are the constants, and the Rangers will need them to maintain their elite level as a top pair to go far this season.  However, as important as Staal and Girardi are to the team, the emergence of Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh last season was critical to the Rangers success.  There is no question as to whether Staal and Girardi can bring their level again this season, but should there be more questions about Sauer and McDonagh slipping in their level?

Neither Sauer nor McDonagh were expected to play the roles they did last season.  Sauer was a fringe bet to even make the roster heading into training camp while McDonagh was seen as a top prospect, but certainly not expected play 20 minutes a game and be as composed as he was game after game.  Now the expectations for each has risen considerably as they are considered locks to be the second defensive pair on the club this season and play huge minutes.  The fact that they are more defensive minded should limit the potential for a slip in their game, but it is interesting to see that there is little to no concern over whether the two of them will regress this season.

For Sauer the concern is more with his prior injury history than his ability to play at the NHL level.  Sauer always had the game made for this level, but could not seem to stay healthy long enough to get a legit shot with the Rangers.   The 76 games he played last season were his most as a professional, so there is some concern there, but the other side of that is he went into the offseason healthy and training for next year instead of rehabbing an injury.

With McDonagh the most interesting part of his first professional season was the differential in the two adjustments he had to make to the AHL and NHL competition.  When starting out with the Connecticut Whale McDonagh struggled early, but then found his stride before his January call-up.  With the Rangers he seemingly took one game to shake off the rookie nerves and never looked back from there.  The concern with McDonagh is that the staff is going to push him to get more of the offense he is capable of, as they have with Marc Staal, and could lead to some early season struggles, but do not expect him to lose confidence and have a sophomore season like Del Zotto did last season.

I do not expect either of these two to regress from last year, and the lack of concern over their regression is a testimony to how well they played last year and the faith it created for them with the fan base.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Can Andrew Yogan Be The Breakout Rangers Prospect This Year?

The New York Rangers have a number of interesting prospects that could develop over the next few seasons and look to crack the NHL roster.  The depth in the system and the level of competition it creates will bring the best out in each of them because of the need to perform at a high level to get their shot.  The fact that each will have to be so focused to what it takes to improve each day helps to foster breakout seasons from prospects.  One such prospect that should be due for a breakout season is 2010 fourth round selection Andrew Yogan.

When the Rangers selected Yogan in the fourth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft the thought was they were lucky to get a talent like his at that point of the draft.  Yogan was coming off a very solid 20 goal, 35 assists season in 63 games with Erie.  He was unable to showcase his talent and show he was a steal at that point in the draft last year as he missed much of the season because of shoulder surgery.  The injury limited him to just 10 games where he had three goals and one assist.  Yogan signed an ATO with the Connecticut Whale after the end of the Erie season and in two games for the Whale he had two goals and an assist.

This summer Yogan was dealt from Erie to Peterborough and that move should have a large impact on the chances of him having a breakout season.  Offensive skill has never been the question for Yogan, but his willingness to play a complete game certainly has and that didn’t sit well with Otters coach Robbie Ftorek’s defensive mentality.  Now with the move to Peterborough Yogan should have more freedom to use his offensive talents and produce points.  That will certainly attract the attention of the organization, but Yogan also has to understand that the Rangers have shown over the past few years they will not tolerate one-way play under coach John Tortorella. 

Yogan can use his natural talent to make special offensive plays, but he will have to play a simple game and both sides of the ice if he eventually wants to play in New York. 

Making The Case For New York Rangers As Favorites In Atlantic Division

When looking at the Atlantic Division heading into the past few seasons the Penguins, Flyers and Devils have all been looked at as teams capable of winning the division while the New York Rangers were seen as a team that hoping to challenge for a playoff spot.  In looking ahead to the 2011-12 season that formula might be changing.  The combination of changes made or not made by each team and concerns about the health of key players for Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New Jersey, the New York Rangers might head into the season as the favorites in the division.  The Rangers are not without their own series of questions heading into the season, but at this point in the offseason they might have the fewest roster questions of any team in the division.  In projecting the division today, the Atlantic might shape out something like this…

New York Rangers:
The Rangers are not the most talented team in the division, but they might be the most complete in all three areas of the roster.  Boasting one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders in Henrik Lundqvist, a burgeoning defensive core filled with young talent coming into their own and an offense that added Brad Richards to help the offensive talent level and consistency there are less holes in the Rangers path to a division than the others in the Atlantic.  There are still plenty of question marks concerning how the forward units will shape out, chemistry questions, whether many of the players on the team can repeat last season’s performance and if others can rebound, but the depth the Rangers have might be their savior in those questions.  With Gaborik, Richards, Dubinsky, Callahan, Stepan, and Boyle the Rangers have six different players who scored 20+ goals last season along with Anisimov who had 18.  The balance they could have in goal production along with their system which has everyone playing defensively responsible hockey should allow the team to avoid lulls that turn into losing streaks during the year, if healthy.

New York squeaked into the playoffs last season despite a down year from their best offensive player Marian Gaborik, despite being without Ryan Callahan for 22 games and all the other injuries they faced.  A rebound season from Gaborik, health from Callahan and typical Brad Richards production and the Rangers offense will no longer be their concern.  Combine that with the steady presence they get from Lundqvist, Staal and Girardi in their own end and it could be a dangerous combination.  The biggest question left might be about the defense corps where Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh had excellent rookie campaigns and need to repeat while Michael Del Zotto attempts to get back him form and Tim Erixon looks to win a job as a rookie.

For most of the summer Pittsburgh should have been considered the favorite in the division considering what Dan Bylsma managed to get out of his team without stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup for much of the year.  However, last week the Penguins admitted that Crosby is still having symptoms from his concussion and while he is still training the fact that he is still having symptoms from his January concussion(s) and so close to training camp has to be seen as a red-flag in expectations for his performance and availability this season.  Malkin coming off a reconstructed knee is no guarantee either, but that has a much cleaner track record than concussions.  Questions about those two and what they will produce for the Penguins this season will put pressure on Marc-Andre Fleury to carry them as he did for long stretches last season.

The Flyers dismantling of what was once seen as the core of their team leaves serious question marks as to what they are going to do this season.  Brayden Schenn is the best prospect in hockey, but that does not mean he is ready to step in and fill Mike Richards production in their lineup.  Neither is Jakub Voracek for Jeff Carter.  The addition of Jaromir Jagr is interesting to see what he has left, but relying on him as a top line player at this stage in his career is probably unfair to Jagr.  There are also questions about the health of Chris Pronger who missed significant stretches last season.  The Flyers improved in goal with Bryzgalov, but the level of improvement between the pipes is not offset by what they lost, short term, offensively.  In order for them to contend in the division they will need huge seasons from Briere and Giroux who are both capable of them, and James Van Riemsdyk is going to have to take his playoff performance and translate it to a huge third season.

New Jersey:
The New Jersey Devils are not as bad as they were at the low points last season and not nearly as good as the tremendous hot streak they went on to build playoff hopes.  The achilles injury to Travis Zajac last week certainly does not help a team that was already thin down the middle.  A motivated Ilya Kovalchuk, and Zach Parise looking to prove he is healthy and worth a huge contract next summer are dangerous quantities to have on your roster, but it is not enough to put the Devils into serious contention for the division as an aging Brodeur looks to prove there is something left in the tank.

New York Islanders:
Each season it seems that the Islanders are expected to take another step back to respectability and then something goes horrifically wrong and they fail again.  This season their young core is going to get even more young talent added to it in hopes of getting back into contention for a playoff birth.  Likely adding at least Nino Niederreiter and Calvin DeHaan to John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo, Mark Streit and Travis Hamonic gives the Islanders reason for optimism about the upcoming season.  Questions remain around their goaltending and whether the young players will transition more like Tavares did or more like Josh Bailey who was rushed and has yet to reach that potential.  Things are looking up, but not nearly enough to contend in the division.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Video: Rangers Season Preview

E.J. Hradek gives a New York Rangers 2011-12 season preview over at  He views the Rangers as a playoff team this season, but does not elaborate on where he sees them in the standings.  Marian Gaborik is considered the biggest question mark for the Rangers in determining their success for this year.