After five days in northern Michigan, the New York Rangers’ prospects have returned to the Big Apple. With the opening of training camp tomorrow, and the annual Golf Classic today, things will not slow down anytime soon for the young players.
The Traverse City Prospect Tournament experience is always a good one for all the players that the Blueshirts take up to Traverse City. The opportunity to spend time bonding with others on the team, get coaching from Rangers’ staff, and to be evaluated with players that the prospects will be competing with for contracts and later on spots within the organization is without equal.
Unfortunately, this year, the team as a whole did not do well (they came in last place) and few prospects stood out on the ice. This does not mean that the tournament was anywhere near a bust for either the team or the players, as different aspects of the prospects’ games were noted and areas of strength and needs for improvement were noted.
Some observations from this reporter going into training camp:
Ryan Gropp (LW) (Age 20, 2nd rd, #41, 2015)—Gropp has a big frame and is learning how to use it. At 20 years old, he is about to being his pro career, and with a little seasoning, he could be a top six forward in New York. At this tournament, he grew stronger with each game. Tied for the lead in Rangers’ scoring this tournament, Gropp has very good skating skills and is a force going to the net. He will almost certainly start the season in Hartford, but he could be competing for a spot in New York as early as next season.
Malte Stromwall (RW) (Age 23, free agent signed 4/17/16)—Last year Stromwall and Robin Kovacs put on a show at this tournament. Stromwall was once again successful in Traverse City, playing on the top line. However, he showed absolutely nothing last season in Hartford, and given his age (he is already 23 years old) and professional experience, Stromwall should have done even better in this tournament than he did. This is the second and last year on his ELC with the Rangers—he needs to show more in the AHL this year to continue within the organization.
Lias Andersson (C) (Age 18, 1st rd, #7, 2017)—One of the younger players in the tournament, Andersson played on the team’s top line. Although he did not produce much offensively, he won face offs pretty regularly. It was clear that he was not used to the North American ice, as he often tried to maneuver with the puck and he ran out of room. He is one of the candidates to stay in New York this season, but it is not clear that he is ready for an NHL spot. On the other hand, going back to Europe, on the larger ice, may not be a good development move either. In my opinion, he should be given a long look in the next couple of weeks, including in the exhibition games, to see if his game adjusts enough to stay on the NHL roster.
Gabriel Fontaine (C) (Age 20, 6th rd, #171, 2016)—Given where he was selected in the draft, Fontaine has been a very good find for the Rangers. He improved his game over last season and shined in development camp this summer. In Traverse City, he was a decent playmaker on a line that did not generate many offensive chances. Fontaine will begin his professional career in Hartford this fall, and, if he continues to develop on the trajectory he has, he could wind up being a bottom six forward in New York.
Vinni Lettieri (RW) (Age 22, free agent signed 3/27/17)—I was not expecting much from Lettieri, and he only posted one assist in the four games of this tournament, but I saw a few rushes of his that made me think that there may be some real potential here. He can be explosive and has good vision, but it remains to be seen whether he can be productive at the professional level.
Ty Ronning (RW) (Age 19, 7th rd, # 201, 2016)—Ronning can bring you out of your seat one moment and then for the longest time be completely invisible. He was the team captain in this tournament, and I do not know whether it was the added responsibility or the fact that he played on the third line the entire tournament, but he did not do as much as expected. Ronning still has another year of major junior hockey eligibility, and he really will need to put up the numbers this year to earn an ELC.
Filip Chytil (C) (Age 18, 1st rd, #21, 2017)—Fooled you. Chytil did not participate in this tournament due to a groin injury he sustained in the Four Nations Tournament late last month. Given what he showed in development camp (incredibly soft hands, great speed, and good hockey sense), one has to wonder if the Traverse City rookie tournament would have turned out differently for the Rangers, but the good news is, he was skating well at MSG Training Center last week–testing the effects of the injury–and is expected to participate in training camp (although cautiously at first).
Brandon Crawley (LD) (Age 20, 4th rd, #123, 2017)—Crawley was drafted by the Rangers at age 20 and was expected to be a tough defensive defenseman. Turns out, he has good offensive instincts and a decent shot. He skated on the top pairing in Traverse City (with Neal Pionk) and he took the most penalties for any New York player. He probably will go back to London (OHL) for one more season, but he could also wind up in Hartford. It will depend on how he does over the next week or so.
Neal Pionk (RD) (Age 22, free agent signed 5/1/17)—Pionk clearly was clearly looking for offensive chances throughout the entire tournament. Sometimes he got them, but this thinking often led opposing players to skate right by the former Minnesota Duluth blueliner. It will be interesting to see whether he can modify his game to be successful in the pros, but he should get his chance this training camp. Pionk, at least theoretically, will compete with Anthony DeAngelo, for the seventh D spot in New York, but he will have to play better than he did in Michigan to earn the roster slot.
Alexei Bereglazov (LD) (Age 23, free agent signed 4/2/17)—A two-way defenseman who was paired with Sergey Zborovskiy during this tournament. They both are huge and mobile, but neither player had an easy time either distributing the puck or keeping up with opposing forwards. After playing in Russia in the KHL for the last three seasons, Bereglazov is signed to a two-year deal with the Rangers. Expect him to start in Hartford this fall—Bereglazov really cannot be fully evaluated until he adjusts to the North American size rink.
Sergey Zborovskiy (RD) (Age 20, 3rd rd, #79, 2015)—Zborovskiy has been playing in North America for the past three seasons. His game has been getting better and better, but in this tournament, he still looked very raw. The 6’4” blueliner will begin his professional career this fall in Hartford.
Sean Day (LD) (Age 19, 3rd rd, #81, 2016)—Day feels like he has been around longer than he has. He is a big body, has great wheels, and an excellent shot. He still needs lots of work on D, which he will work on in Windsor this season. He is still only 19 years old and has lots of promise. If he is in the same place next year, there would be a worry, but right now, he is the Rangers best defensive prospect and the future looks bright.
Chris Nell (G) (Age 23, free agent signed 3/23/17)—Nell had very little defense in front of him, and for most of the two games he played, he covered the net very well. I saw one goal that he let in that I am sure he would like back, but otherwise, breakdowns in coverage were his ruin. Nell will compete for the number one spot in Hartford this season with Brandon Halverson and Alexandar Georgiev.
Alexandar Georgiev (G) (Age 21, free agent signed 7/18/17)—Georgiev had a tremendous season last year with TPS of the Finnish Liiga. He will need some adjusting to the smaller rink, which was obvious from his performance this past week, but he is an excellent goaltending prospect signed by the Rangers this summer. He is not particularly big, but he is athletic, with good fundamentals. He will benefit quite a bit from working with the Blueshirts’ top goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, and should be competing for the number one netminder spot in Hartford this fall.
All in all, although the Rangers did not come back with any trophies this year, it was a very useful tournament for the team to participate in. It gives the prospects experience and time to get on the ice before training camp, and gives the brass a chance to evaluate each prospect in attendance.