As we previously reported yesterday, Miika Wiikman, Trevor Glass, Brent Henley, Sam Klassen, Mike Sauer, David Urquhart, Nigel Williams Andres Ambuhl, Daniel Bartek, Devin DiDiomete, Brodie Dupont, Dan LaCouture, Matt Maccarone, Justin Soryal, Dale Weise, Scott Stajcer, Tomas Kundratek, Ryan Bourque, Roman Horak, and Ethan Werek were all reassigned yesterday.
Over the next few days, I will look over who was sent back, who stayed and briefly how the system looks. A full system audit will follow as a regular article on the Hockey’s Future site next month.
Let’s first look at the goaltending situation and move out from there.
The Rangers need four goaltenders in camp, two for games and two to play in the training center. Naturally Henrik Lundqvist and Steve Valiquette remained with the team after the first round of cuts. The two netminders that were chosen to stay from among the prospects, Matt Zaba and Chad Johnson, were natural choices, given their performances thus far and the pecking order in the organization.
Right now, the Rangers are saying that both are considered to be challengers to Valiquette for the back-up slot. Not really true, but both are highly thought of in the organization, with each considered to be a possible back-up next season or if there is an injury during this year.Valiquette was signed to a one-year deal, and if he either falters or one of Zaba or Johnson has a very good year, Valiquette will lose his spot next Fall.
As for where each will play this season, Zaba is likely to remain the number one in Hartford. While there may be some competition, the Rangers are very happy with his progress last season, and, unless he falls apart over the next few weeks, he should start as the number one for the Wolf Pack. Anything less will hurt his development.
The question really is, who will back him up. In the running for the job is Wiikman, Johnson, and this summer’s Wolf Pack signing, Ryan Munce. While Wiikman, who was with the Wolf Pack for the past two seasons, is still the likely backup, Johnson has been very solid in both Traverse City as well as his pre-season Rangers appearances. But don’t count out Munce either. Munce was a 2003 third round selection of the Los Angeles Kings, is still only 24, and was one of the top netminders in the ECHL last season.
Wiikman’s play over the next two weeks will be determinative of where he plays, but he is not high in the organizational pecking order right now, so I am not sure whether there would be any hesitance in assigning him to Charlotte if Johnson looks ready for AHL play.
Although it is most likely right now that Johnson and Munce begin the season in Charlotte, expect there to be quite a battle for Hartford’s netminding slots over the next few weeks.
Organizationally, the Rangers are strong in this position. Not only do they have Lundqvist, arguably one of the top three netminders in the NHL, between the pipes for the foreseeable future, there is some very good talent coming up among Zaba, Wiikman, Johnson, and Munce. Add to that, Stajcer, who was just returned to the OHL’s Owen Sound yesterday. Of the netminders in the system, he may be the best of them all. At 18, he came into his first pro camp and Traverse City and was very impressive. Calm under pressure, with excellent instincts, I had to keep reminding myself how young he was. There was nothing that he was asked to do that he couldn’t (okay, not nothing, he was a little weak in Torts’ skating sprints on Saturday), and his attitude is just what you want from a young goalie–good skills, interested in soaking up everything that he hears and able to do so, and then to be willing to incorporate it into his game.
The Rangers went from having very little in this position just a short while ago to an excellent group of goalie prospects now. While there are no top names among the group, this position has to now be considered an organizational strength.
I will cover the defensemen tomorrow.