TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Last Friday afternoon, the Rangers started off slowly in the Traverse City Rookie Tournament. In that game against Carolina, the lines appeared disjointed, pucks were left all over the ice, and there did not appear to be much skill on display (there were seven goals in the four periods of play, but several shots were misplayed by the netminders and found their was into the back of the net). There was not much grumbling, however, given that several of the best forwards had never played competitively in North America, no less together as a team.
By Saturday afternoon, things were looking much better, as New York defeated Dallas by the score of 5-4 (in a shootout), after being down 4-2 at the start of the third period. Not only did goaltender Brandon Halverson perform better between the pipes, but the team’s best forwards, Jimmy Vesey, Malte Stromwall, and Robin Kovacs, began to show why the Rangers and their fans are so high on the forwards.
Today, the team played against Minnesota, a team that was already 0-2 in the tournament. The Wild are the team with the most free agent invites on their roster, and today eight of the invitees suited up for Minnesota. That said, the Wild played well, a chippy game, out-shooting the Rangers 32-24. But in the end, skill won out and New York defeated the Wild prospects by the score of 2-1.
It was the first Rangers’ game decided in regulation, and, for all intents and purposes, it was Jimmy Vesey’s coming out party as a pro. Vesey was absolutely fantastic today, scoring two goals, showing vision, skating skill, determination, puck control, and shooting ability. With three goals and two assists, he now holds the scoring lead among all players in the tournament.
The 23-year old free agent, signed by the Rangers last month, has improved with each game of the tournament, as has his linemate Boo Nieves. But it is Vesey’s hands that are so impressive. Nieves can do a lot of things, but no one would accuse him of having soft hands. It is Vesey who is the finisher, and he likes to finish from in front of the net.
The Malte Stromwall and Robin Kovacs contribution was in evidence today as they were earlier in the tournament, but the Wild did a better job of shutting the Swedes down than had either Carolina or Dallas. What kept the Rangers in the game today until the Vesey and Nieves combination really clicked was free agent netminder Joseph Raaymakers, who is an 18-year old goaltender who plays for Sault Sainte Marie (the same OHL team that produced Halverson). At 6’1″, 182, the undrafted netminder is not overly tall, but he played big today, facing 32 shots and only giving up one goal. Time after time, he came up with the big save, often through a huge amount of traffic in front of his net. It was an excellent performance by Raaymakers, one that I am not sure that Halverson would have been able to reproduce.
In addition to Raaymakers and Vesey, John Gilmour had an excellent game. Gilmour has been quietly solid for the last two games. He looks to be a mostly defensive blueliner, who can move the puck and is very responsible in his own zone. Paired with Calle Anderson, there were many times over the last two games, where Gilmour bailed out Andersson. Gilmour, who was signed as a free agent last month, comes in less heralded than Vesey, but he appears to be poised to become a valuable member of the Rangers’ organization. Expected to start the season in Hartford, if he continues to play as he has here, Gilmour could be the first call up to the blueline.
We discussed Andersson’s work in yesterday’s game and nothing really changed today.
Sergey Zborovskiy, however, is changing by the day. He has the size to become a punishing defenseman, with not a lot of offensive upside (and hopefully will not try to be something he is not). Zborovskiy can be very solid in his own zone and gets rid of the puck very well. He has good instincts, but needs to continue to work on his gap control and stick work. He is still very raw and will return to juniors this season to refine his game.
Sean Day has been up and down all tournament. He made several terrible plays today, but he also showed that the two-way talent is there. What Day needs to provide to his teammates is consistency and begin to make the safe play. He takes too many risks and it will really hurt him, if Day does not change his ways in the near future.