TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Today was the first day of the Traverse City Rookie Tournament, and, although the Rangers looked stronger on paper than today’s opponent, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Canes’ rookies defeated the Blueshirts 4-3 in overtime.
The Traverse City tournament, which consists of eight NHL teams’ prospects as well as team invitees, is not only an opportunity for the teams to watch their prospects, every other NHL team also sends scouts to evaluate players. Needless to say, a good performance here can really enhance a player’s early career.
So, there is a lot of pressure on the rookies to perform. Luckily for the players, the tournament provides scouts with four games (over five days) to evaluate the prospects. By game three, it becomes pretty clear how everyone is doing. But, at day one, it is very hard to tell how a prospect is progressing. For a very few, eg, Jimmy Vesey, it is obvious that they will compete for an NHL roster spot, but for most, conclusions based on one game is premature.
That said, there were some definite impressions that came out of the New York/Carolina battle.
First, the Rangers’ first two goals of the day were beauties and gave a lot of hope that more offense is coming to the NHL club (sooner rather than later). In the first goal, at 4:38 of the second period, Jimmy Vesey tipped a Sergei Zborovskiy shot from the left point past Canes’ goalie Alex Nedeljkovic. Vesey was skating across the slot and just redirected the puck past Nedeljkovic.
Vesey tried the same move several times this afternoon. Although he only scored that one time, his willingness to go into traffic in the slot and in front of the net, use his big body, and then his excellent, soft hands reminded me very much of Adam Graves. Not wanting to get too excited, as Vesey is still a prospect, we have to keep watching to see how he develops, but Vesey definitely has that potential. Although Graves was one of the first to call him after Vesey signed with the Rangers, Vesey says that he has not yet talked to Graves about his style of play. But he intends to do just that. Stay tuned for the results.
On the second goal, at 13:25 of the same period, Malte Stromwall passed the puck from the left side of the net to the right, right onto the stick of Robin Kovacs. Again Nedelkovic could not do anything to stop the puck from flying past him. Stromwall and Kovacs played together in Sweden, so it is not surprising that they would feel comfortable on a line together in this tournament. But both look to have scoring touches, which could really be exciting as this tournament moves along (and they move into the AHL).
Let’s move to the less exciting though, as that was eventually what decided today’s game. The defense (or lack of it) that the Rangers showed on the ice today was scary. Calle Andersson, who was played with John Gilmour as part of the top pairing, was the team’s best blueliner. He played the point on the power play and definitely has a heavy shot. He also has good wheels. But Andersson he continues to be slow at developing his defensive game.
This year’s draftee Sean Day was supposed to be scratched today (an undisclosed injury) but a game time decision had him on the ice. He made several defensive gaffes throughout the game, including the one that led to Carolina’s winning goal in OT. But Day also had moments when he positioned himself well enough and used his stick to steal pucks from the opposition. Given that he was supposed to be a scratch, it is very premature to come to any conclusion about his game.
Brandon Halverson, who was in goal tonight, had a really up and down game. After practically standing on his head in the first period (because the defense was so porous), Halverson let in two bad goals in the second period. By the third period, every play was an adventure. Soon to be a first year pro, the Rangers are very high on Halverson, but he looked very shaky today.
Shaky or not, this was only the first game for all the prospects. Let’s not judge based upon one outing. The Rangers should be getting better and better as the days move along. One hopes so, as Carolina is not the scariest opponent by far in this tournament. Tomorrow afternoon, New York takes on Dallas.