St-Rangers in Manhattan
As recently as last season the Rangers read like a who’s who of superstars. There was no shortage of top notch talent in New York with names like Messier, Leetch, Jagr, Kovalev, Holik, Lindros, Bure Nedved among others.
However having this team of stars did not translate into wins. In fact the Rangers failed miserably and have gutted their team of most of their high paid talent. Though a few of the notable stars remain thanks to their albatross contracts, the Rangers in general are made up of many relatively unknown young players. Gone are the days of spending to win and in is building from within and developing their own core of stars.
The Rangers are starting over, and they are building from the goal out. Gone will be the likes of the heroic but often injured Mike Richter and the sloppy Mike Dunham. Unfortunately, also gone is former top pick Dan Blackburn who’s career is in doubt with a shoulder disability.
But the Rangers are in great shape in goal as they have stocked themselves with two top end goaltending prospects. Their 2004 top pick Al Montoya perhaps could be the next star American goalie to follow in the footsteps of guys like Tom Barrasso and Richter. In fact he is quite similar to the two in that he is big and plays solid positionally like Barrasso and is quick and agile and at times acrobatic like Richter. All that is lacking is more experience and consistency. That will come with age and he should give New York top end goaltending for years. It will be nice to see him and Dipetro of the Islanders go head to head.
Though Tommy Salo helped Sweden win Olympic Gold and was a pretty solid NHL goalie, the thinking is that Ranger prospect Hendrik Lundqvist may be the best goalie to come out of Sweden since the late Pelle Lindbergh. This unknown 7th round pick in the 2000 entry draft has developed into probably the best goalie playing in Europe today. Though not as big as Montoya, Lundqvist makes up for it with a great glove and quick post to post movement. But like Montoya, with experience, he should develop into a top number 1 goalie for years. Though there may be better young goalies playing for other teams, the Rangers have one of the deepest and most talented group of goalie prospects around.
The Rangers blueline has many young players looking for a chance. The likes of Bryce Lampman, Max Kondratiev, David Liffiton, Thomas Pock, Jake Taylor, Nathan Guenin, Ivan Baranka, Patrick Auferio certainly gives the Blueshirts some depth on the farm. It would however be foolhardy to think that any of these players are top notch prospects. in some cases, some of these players are overrated and forced into roles they are not ready or able to do and thought to be something they are clearly not. the fact is there is plenty of doubt as to whether or not these players are good enough to succeed at the NHL level. If they do make it, their impact will be marginal at best.
But the Rangers do have on their hands one of the better defence prospects around. Fedor Tyutin has all the tools to develop into the Rangers top blueliner. He has NHL size at 6’3 which will allow him to handle all the towering forwards. He has speed and skill to lead the rush and quarterback the powerplay. He is able to log tons of ice time in any situation and is capable to do everything thanks to his great hockey sense. With the Rangers rebuilding, he will be given all the opportunity to be the top guy and play tons of minutes. Having a fellow Russian in Darius Kasparitius will help him. Kaspar will give Tyutin a tough gritty experienced partner to aid in his development. Tyutin will certainly help soften the blow from not having Brian Leetch run their defence for the first time in 15 years.
With returnees Karel Rachunek and Tom Poti, the defence, offensively, will be in decent shape still. Rachunek is only 25 and he will be able to play a more significant role in New York instead of being the bit player he was on the deep Ottawa Senators. He has the offensive skills and big shot to put up plenty of points. And his experience in Ottawa certainly helped his defensive game. Tom Poti is only 28 and although his time in New York has been nothing short of terrible, if he keeps the game simple, he should be successful. no one with his size, speed, reach should be so bad on defence. it would help for New York to get a coach to help in that area. But Poti’s offensive game is fine, he will put up the points.
There is serious doubt whether the Rangers D will hold up. There really is not a whole lot of quality NHL depth at this position. Force feeding a youngster like a Kondratiev or Pock who may need more seasoning in the minors into regular NHL duty may not be the answer. Hopefully the Ranger prospects will get a chance to develop properly. New York can overrate talent and if these prospects dont exceed their high expectations, the city can eat players alive.
It is impressive how in such a short time, the Rangers have amassed some quality young talent at the forward position. The current Rangers will be led by veterans Jagr, Holik and Nylander. Double J is still one of the league’s most talented players. if motivated, he could rack up tons of points. Holik is overpaid, but remains a top shutdown centre and leader while Nylander can be a point per game player…if he ever stayed healthy. But outside of those 3 there are no more proven NHL talent.
However, in a short time, the Rangers will have some solid young players in their lineup contributing. The best of the bunch may be Lauri Korpikoski. He has decent size, great speed and plenty of enthusiasm. His speed and skill combination should help him produce. Josef Balej is another burner in the system. He has the game breaking speed that is impressive to watch. He just needs to prove he can finish plays off to succeed. He is probably the most skilled player in their organization and hopefully the Rangers will bring him along slowly and not expect him to put up the big numbers right away of the player they traded for him (Kovalev). Jarko Immonen is another skilled European. His lack of size and speed may hold him back but his tremendous hands and hockey sense may bring him to the big leagues. his playmaking skills and offensive instincts are NHL caliber. If he can handle the grind of the NHL and take the punishment he will likely receive for being a small player, and if his skating improves, he will prove to be a steal for the Blueshirts. Nigel Dawes is yet another player who, though small in stature, is big in terms of skill. He has scored at all levels and if he withstand getting pushed around, this little guy with great hand should succeed.
The fact is the Rangers are loaded with skilled forwards, but they are a bit on the small side. But the Ranger brass can be buoyed by the fact that there are some monsters on the way that will help balance out their lack of size. Hugh Jessiman is the best big man in the system. He will work the corners, go to the net and play it tough. that is what the Rangers sorely need. and he has decent hands to contribute on offence. at 6’5 and probably playing at around 220 lbs, he can certainly muscle any player off the puck. the same can be said for 6’6 Bruce Graham. though he does not have the skill set like Jessiman, you have to love the size he brings. as he grows into his big frame, he will become impossible to push around. He will need to improve his overall talent to give him enough skill to make it to the big leagues. There are other players like Garth Murray and Dominic Moore who are not towering but have decent size and speed and defensive smarts to be effective role players. They too will add a bit of grit that will give the Rangers a nice alternative to their soft skilled talent.
With a nice mix of skill players and big gritty ones, the Blueshirts should have a nice balance up front. Whether all of them can make it remains to be seen.
As of now, the Ranger prospect have little to no NHL experience so it is unknown whether all or any will make it to the big club. But the talent and ability is there to turn these relatively unknowns to well known talents. and what a better place to accomplish that than on the world’s biggest stage Big Apple.