The Rangers’ development camp ended today after five days of workouts, drills, scrimmages and a tour of Madison Square Garden. Thirty two players, including 11 invitees, skated and shot pucks or worked with goaltending coach Benoit Allaire over the past week.
Although in the recent past, most of the week was taken up with drills, the 2016 development camp contained three scrimmages, which gave the Rangers’ brass plenty of time to evaluate each prospect. Each scrimmage lasted 25 minutes and then the prospects worked on special teams and today took shootout shots against the netminders.
Below contains some general impressions of the prospects’ performances.
New York invited four netminders to the development camp, including Mackenzie Skapski and Brandon Halverson, both of whom are signed, the recently drafted Tyler Wall and camp invitee Connor LaCouvee, who just completed his sophomore season at Boston University.
The star of the group was clearly 20 year-old Halverson, who today shut out the opposition for his 25 minutes on the ice. His saves were at times miraculous, with one particular kick save through traffic really wowing the brass. Halverson is about to embark upon his rookie professional season, and with performances like he showed here, is likely to compete with Magnus Hellberg for the number one netminder spot in Hartford.
Skapski, who is 22 years old and coming back from hip surgery, was expected to be the most mature goalie of the group, but he struggled during this week. He let in several bad goals and then did not seem to shake it off quickly. LaCouvee had some of the same issues, but given that Skapski is going into his third pro season, he should have been better at recovery.
There is no question that the star on D at this camp was Ryan Graves. Graves can do it all at this point–skate well, shoot exceptionally well, position himself properly, and move the puck with aplomb. He developed very well in his rookie season in Hartford last season and was expected to return there to being the 2016-17 campaign. But if he plays as well as he did in development camp in training camp this fall, Graves is going to make it very hard for the Rangers to send him down to the AHL to begin the year.
Sean Day, the 2016 third round selection seemed to blossom today, on the last day of camp. With a goal and an assist, he contributed to the offense in a way he did not do previously. Additionally, he worked hard, moving his feet at all times, and positioning himself well in the four on four. This is in contrast to earlier in the week, particularly in one instance when Day very noticeably gave away the puck, cursed and then stopped dead instead of trying to stop his opponent from scoring.
Calle Andersson and Sergei Zborovskiy both also were noticeable in a positive way today. Andersson made some very good passes after skating up ice and Zborovskiy used his stick well defensively in the scrimmage.
The best forward on the ice all week was Robin Kovacs. A speedster, who can distribute the puck extremely well, he has a great release and beat goalies regularly during the development camp. The 19-year old plays with confidence and sees the ice extremely well. When he played on a line with 21 year old free agent signee Malte Stromwall, the two were almost unstoppable. The two had played together in AIK (Allsvenskan) in Sweden last season, so they were very comfortable on the ice here, but it was something special to watch them. This season they will be on different sides of the Atlantic though. Stromwall is expected to start the season in Hartford, while Kovacs will play in the SHL.
At times yesterday and today, Kovacs played on a line with Pavel Buchnevich, who was clearly the most hyped player in development camp. It did not seem like there was any chemistry between them though.
A dilemma may be coming this fall with Buchnevich, who has excellent offensive skills. The Rangers need him to play in New York, however, he was far from dominant this week and made quite a few defensive and offensive mistakes. Buchnevich speaks little to no English and needs to adjust, but it was far from clear that he will be NHL-ready this fall. He gave a small presser earlier in the week and indicated that he will be working out most of the summer in New York, and that he believes that he is ready to play at the NHL level, but he may need some adjustment time in Hartford.
Other forwards who played well included Ryan Gropp, who seemed to improve as the week went on; Adam Tambellini, who was one of the best players on the ice all week; Ty Ronning, who may be small, but he gives 110% every time he is on the ice; Michael Joly, who loves to go to the net and has good hands while there; and Dmitri Buinitsky, who was probably the best invitee to skate this week. Particularly today, Buinitsky showed excellent hands and good hockey sense.
After development camp was completed, New York named former Rangers’ defenseman Jeff Beukeboom the new assistant coach for the NHL team. Beukeboom had been working with prospects this past week, at prospect tournaments and in Hartford for the past four years.