Yesterday, Hartford defeated the Islanders’ AHL club, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers by a score of 5-2. The Pack played well the first two periods, but were behind 2-1 after two. The team then went on a scoring binge, posting four unanswered goals in the third period.
Lots of Prospects on the Ice
In addition to 31-year-old Keith Kinkaid, who was playing in net because the Rangers wanted him to get some time between the pipes, the Rangers’ had 12 prospects on the ice during the game. That is the most I remember the NHL team having in all my years of covering the Rangers–it is the youngest team that the Wolf Pack has fielded in 20 years.
Each line/pairing had at least one prospect on it, as seen below.
LoVerde “C” (non-prospect)–Schneider
The game report can be found here: https://lscluster.hockeytech.com/game_reports/official-game-report.php?client_code=ahl&game_id=1022064&lang_id=1
Let’s start with the bottom six and work upward.
Austin Rueschhoff–Any observation of Rueshhoff begins with the obvious–he is big (6’7″, 225). And when Will Cuylle took a high hit from Sound Tiger Seth Helgeson, Rueschhoff went right after Helgeson. Although he is not a great fighter, Rueshhoff stood his ground, and it is possible that he could learn to take that role in the NHL. In addition, he can play hockey. Rueshhoff had a good assist on Cullye’s goal late in the third. The Rangers do not have anyone like Rueschhoff on the NHL roster, so if he can learn to fight a bit and keep on developing the skill side, he could be a really good free agent signing.
Patrick Khodorenko–A free agent signee out of college last spring, Khodorenko is currently on the fourth line. Head Coach Kris Knoblauch said that Khodorenko, who was on the wing yesterday, was improving and learning how to maneuver and use the smaller ice surface. There were moments I saw a potential NHL fourth liner in Khodorenko–excellent at creating energy and a valuable face off man.
Will Cullye–Cullye took two periods to get fully into the game, but once he did, the 19-year-old center was one of the team’s better players. Cullye was in exactly the right place–in the slot–to put the puck past the Bridgeport netminder and pot the final goal of the game. But even before that, he was dangerous on every shift that he took the puck up the ice. Cullye was always looking to steal the puck and was effective in all three zones. The youngest member of the Wolf Pack (he is not even signed to an NHL contract yet and just turned 19 last week), the 2020 second round pick is definitely a player to watch this season.
Morgan Barron–Barron is on the team’s top line, playing in all situations. He started the game off a bit tentatively, but as the contest went on, he was visible on every shift. Barron kept posting himself right in front of the opposing netminder, which was very good to see, as it was not how he played at Cornell. After the game, I asked him about it, and Barron said, “when I reflected on my season . . . it felt like a lot of my scoring opportunities and goals were coming from the outside, . . . but talking to my coaches and also Coach Knoblauch and Coach Murphy and everybody here, it was made evident that with my size, . . . if I want to score goals at the next level, a lot of those ones are going to be things around the net. So in the off season, I spent a lot of time working on tips and banging in rebounds. And yeah, I think that it is a good asset for me to have to hopefully just get to the net and get the easier ones.”
Barron told me that the AHL is definitely different than college hockey, in that the game is faster and players have less time to make decisions. He said, “that is always the case when you move up a level. But it was made more difficult by the fact that a lot of us have not played a game for 10 months now.” There was no doubt that, during the first period, Barron took a bit longer to make a play, but as things went on, he settled in.
I then asked Barron if he saw himself as a center or a winger, long term. Barron said, “I feel comfortable playing both. . . .I have done both throughout the last couple of years–I think that its a big asset of my game, it’s that I’m able to play in the middle if I am needed to, but I also can slide over to the wall. Personally, I’d like to continue developing both of those positions; that allows me to slide in wherever I am needed at the time.”
Barron is undoubtedly one of the top prospects in Hartford this season, and there is a chance for a call-up before season’s end. I asked him what is hoping to work on while he is in Hartford (whether he plays all 24 games there or not), and Barron answered, “going to the net, . . . being able to keep up with the pace of the game; skating is another thing; . . . the pace of the game is definitely a change from college.”
Going from one top prospect to another, let’s move to the top defenseman in Hartford.
Braden Schneider–Schneider was on the top pairing with Vincent LoVerde (the veteran captain of the Pack). They played extremely well together, and Schneider was excellent in almost all areas during his first pro regular season game. He was physical, he moved the puck well, saw the ice very well, and was visible on almost every shift. Schneider was on the first PK unit and was very much a part of keeping Bridgeport from scoring with the extra man. At only 19 years old, and a 2020 first-round draft pick, Schneider is beginning his pro journey. Although I do not see him as an offensive force in the NHL, Schneider looks to have an upside of an excellent shutdown man who is difficult to play against.
Tarmo Reunanen–The most surprising skater on the ice for me was Reunanen. He was quarterbacking the first power play unit, walking the blueline very well; his passes throughout the game were pinpoint. Although he turned the puck over once that led to a Bridgeport goal, he had a goal and an assist yesterday afternoon. Both were well deserved (his goal was a seeing-eye shot from the left point). The young blueliner looked confident and in control. This is Reunanen’s first season in North America; he played well in Rangers’ training camp last fall, but it had been pre-decided that he would return to Europe for the 2019-20 season. It appears that Reunanen, who always had good vision and puck skills, further developed his game during that one-year delay and is definitely a player to watch this season.
The Wolf Pack play again Thursday afternoon at 1 pm, facing the AHL Bruins in Providence.