TRAVERSE CITY, MI – With a day off today in Traverse City, the Rangers’ rookies have a chance to relax and get some rest. Only the players who were scratches in yesterday’s game (Morrison, Chapie, Betz, Di Perna, and Ottenbreit) hit the ice this morning for a short practice. The tournament day off also gives us time to reflect on what the individual players have shown thus far–and to give a quick review of yesterday’s game. The game review first.
Saturday afternoon, New York’s prospects pulled off a 5-4 shootout win over Dallas. Down 4-2 with 13 minutes left in the third period, the Rangers showed lots of resolve coming back to tie the game before the end of the period. First, Malte Stromwall streaked down the right side, made some beautiful moves around the Stars’ defense, and then shot the puck high over the shoulder of Dallas netminder, Henri Kiviaho, and into the net.
That goal inspired the Rangers to pepper the netminder for the rest of the period, shooting from everywhere. It paid off, as with only 34 seconds left in the contest, Calle Andersson and Jimmy Vesey combined to move the puck to the Kiviaho’s goal and then behind it and then back in front–where Boo Nieves was planted. Nieves was able to poke it past the helpless goalie and the score was tied at 4-4.
Then the Rangers showed their mettle in OT, holding off the Stars after Robin Kovacs took what arguably was a necessary hooking call at 2:24 into the 5-minute period. The confusing manpower went from being a three on three, to four on three, and then unexpectedly to a four on four, while New York and netminder Brandon Halverson hung on.
The ensuing shootout was interesting, to say the least. Dallas shot first, with right winger Cole Ully shooting low and Halverson making the easy save. Then the Rangers sent out Vesey, who skated in from the right and shot the puck into Kiviaho’s body. The shot got stuck in his equipment and the referee did not blow the whistle. Vesey was skating back to the Rangers’ bench, dejectedly, when the puck dropped out of Kiviaho’s equipment and fell onto the goal line and then into the net. No one was more happily surprised than Vesey, and more crestfallen than Kiviaho. The game ended after the Stars’ Devin Shore hit the crossbar behind Halverson and Stromwall put the puck into the net over Kiviaho’s shoulder for the second time during the afternoon.
The Rangers now have one SO win and one OT loss in the tournament. Tomorrow, the Rangers face Minnesota, a team that on paper has some firepower, but, in this tournament, has lost two straight games. Then on Tuesday, New York will face one of the other division’s teams for final placement in the tournament.
Half way through the tournament, some patterns have emerged and some initial player evaluations can be done. Keep in mind that two more games can change things, and that, if other players stand out in the coming days, we will certainly note it.
Jimmy Vesey–Vesey has been the Rangers’ best player in Traverse City this year. His skating, his instincts, and his offensive abilities have been on display on almost every shift. Vesey’s big body, willingness to go into traffic, and strength on the puck make him a threat from everywhere on the ice. Whether he will be an NHL roster player to start the season will be determined over the coming weeks, but of the players that are here in Traverse City, he is the one that is closest to NHL-ready.
Robin Kovacs–Kovacs has a nose for the net and soft hands that, when added to his skating and vision, make him a high-end top-six prospect. Expected to start in the AHL this season, it will take Kovacs a bit of time to adjust to the smaller rink. But Kovacs should be putting on a show in Hartford this season, and could be a mid-season call-up.
Malte Stromwall–Two years older than Kovacs and a bit more mature in his play, Stromwall was signed as a free agent when the Rangers saw him play alongside his fellow countryman last season. Stromwall has wheels and an excellent shot, but he too will need to make some adjustments to the smaller North American rink. Even with the needed adjustment time, however, Stromwall and Kovacs should provide some real excitement for the Wolf Pack to start the season.
Pavel Buchnevich–Buchnevich started off slow in both development camp and here in Traverse City. But it has been clear, particularly in yesterday’s game, that he has excellent offensive talents. The problem has been, though, that there are times during a shift when he disappears. His shots thus far have not been as advertised either. This could certainly be, in part, his need to adjust to North American play. But both the Rangers and Buchnevich expect him to play in the NHL to start the season, so he needs to adjust quickly.
Boo Nieves–Named the captain of the team prior to the tournament, Nieves has taken the lead in many areas during this tournament. He seems to be in the right place on the ice on almost all shifts, including when he went to the net and scored the tying goal yesterday. Nieves may also be the most improved skater that I have seen in the Rangers’ system in the more than 10 years that I have covered the team. He flies down the ice with and without the puck; his effort is there on every shift, his body has “popped”; and he is the first center coming up through the system in many years that actually wins almost all his face offs. He is expected to start in Hartford this season, but watch out for Nieves as the year moves along.
Ty Ronning–I will admit some bias here, as I absolutely love this kid’s effort, but Ronning has shown why during this tournament. Promoted to the top line on Saturday, he is speedy, relentless and not afraid to go to the net and take all the punishment that it will bring. An excellent small agitator, there is no doubt that Ronning will need to get strong, but he is the type of player who can make a difference in a game without ever appearing in the box score.
Calle Andersson–Andersson has definite offensive defenseman potential. His shot and instincts make him an offensive threat. It is just not certain that the 22-year old will learn enough defense to go along with his offensive instincts to allow him to be successful at the NHL level. He is still learning and a lot will depend on his further development this season, but Andersson needs to become less of a liability in his own zone to become a regular player in the NHL.
Brandon Halverson–Halverson had a difficult game on Friday and then played much better on Saturday. Sometimes the final score of a game does not indicate the quality of play and, for Halverson on Saturday, this was certainly the case. He controlled his rebounds much better and moved laterally well (when he did not go down too early). The Rangers believe that Halverson has the potential to be a number one netminder (per Gordie Clark). Whether that happens remains to be seen, but he will start along that path by seeing professional opposition starting next month.