The Hartford Wolf Pack, the Rangers AHL affiliate, begin their 2020-2021 season tomorrow afternoon at 1 pm. Due to COVID-19, the AHL season is abbreviated, and the Wolf Pack will play only 24 regular season games. Twelve games each will be played against Providence and Bridgeport (Springfield will not be taking to the ice this season). It means no overnight trips and, for right now, no fans in the arenas. But there is AHL.tv, where you will be able to see several up and coming Rangers’ prospects play hockey.
The team was playing incredibly well to start last season with Igor Shesterkin and Rangers’ prospect Adam Huska sharing the net. After Shesterkin was promoted to New York, it was another story and Hartford finished fourth out of eight teams in the Atlantic Division. On that team were several Rangers’ prospects that are now in New York (including Shesterkin, Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek, Julian Gauthier, Phil DiGiuseppe, and Filip Chytil). Most of them provided a spark to the team; but in addition to these sparks, there were occasional distracting fireworks, caused by both Vitaly Kravtsov (who returned to Russia at his first opportunity) and Lias Andersson (who returned to Sweden quite suddenly). Neither will be playing in Hartford this season (in Andersson’s case, the Rangers were able to trade him to Los Angeles in exchange for the 60th overall selection in the 2020 draft–Will Cuylle, who will be be on the Wolf Pack’s opening day roster tomorrow). Last year’s team included some prospects who are now gone from the organization (Vinni Lettieri[ANA], Danny O’Regan [VGK], Steven Fogarty [BUF], Joey Keane [CAR], Boo Nieves [TBL], Ryan Gropp [Europe], Sean Day [TBL], and Ville Meskanen [Europe]), but who are continuing their careers with other clubs. In all, the 2019-20 team was good but not great (except for Shesterkin), but there is much to build upon this season.
Much of this year’s success will rest upon the teachings of the coaching staff. There is consistency in his area, in that Head Coach Kris Knoblauch is back, as is associate coach Gord Murphy (who handles the D and the PK). The newly promoted Rangers Associate GM Chris Drury is still the AHL team’s general manager, with Pat Boller as the assistant general manager and former Hartford netminder Jeff Malcolm as goaltending consultant. Hartford’s mission is to balance development of the young prospects with winning. Although, over the years the Rangers’ AHL affiliates were winners on the ice, in recent years, Hartford has been more of a great pipeline to the NHL. As already mentioned, six players from last year’s team are either on the Blueshirts’ roster or on the “taxi squad” to start the 2020-21 season.
The 2020-21 Team
The leadership of the Wolf Pack was just announced yesterday, and it includes captain Vincent LoVerde and four alternate captains–Darren Raddysh, Paul Thompson, Anthony Greco, and Jonny Brodzinski. A right shooting defenseman, LoVerde is an AHL veteran and has been a member of the Wolf Pack for the last two seasons.
Raddysh, Greco, and Brodzinski are three of the 18 Rangers’ prospects on Hartford’s roster. The others are Cuylle, Dylan Garand, Ty Ronning, Patrick Newell, Justin Richards, Austin Rueschhoff, Tim Gettinger, Gabriel Fontaine, Morgan Barron, Patrick Khodorenko, Jake Elmer, Braden Schneider, Brandon Crawley, Tarmo Reunanen, and Tyler Wall. (Adam Huska, the goaltending prospect who was expected to be on the Wolf Pack roster, was recalled yesterday by New York to its NHL “taxi squad.”)
Of the Rangers’ prospects in Hartford, Barron and Schneider are the most anticipated in New York. A big center, Barron was a late round draft pick in 2017 (6th rd, #174). He blossomed into a top prospect after spending three very successful seasons at Cornell. Barron can take faceoffs, distributes the puck well, and has good hands. Plus, he has hockey smarts (in addition to academic smarts). He just was not quite ready for the NHL when given a look at training camp practices, so he will begin the season in Hartford.
As far as defenseman Schneider goes, the 19-year-old first-round pick in 2020 (19th overall) is in Hartford on an ATO. He is as yet unsigned by the Rangers. A big strong, right shooting defenseman, Schneider is a gritty blueliner, who strips opponents of the puck with his reach, can distribute the puck well, and skate. In other words, he is generally difficult to play against and has some offensive upside too. It will be interesting to watch Schneider skate against older players and see how he adjusts. Don’t expect perfection to start, because he is a year or two away from being NHL-ready, but absent injury, he eventually should be an integral part of the Rangers core.
Several others are bound for Broadway too, although probably not in as much of a dramatic fashion (for a list of Wolf Pack roster players, see https://theahl.com/stats/roster/307/68?league=4 ). The Wolf Pack’s season starts tomorrow at one and runs through May 6th. It is definitely worth a watch. Look for interviews and scouting reports here over the next three months.