For the first year, fans are able to watch the Rangers games in this rookie tournament on TV. It is wonderful that MSG has decided to carry the tournament, giving fans a better idea of the scope of the tournament, the informal atmosphere, and its importance in evaluating what each team has in its system.
The Blueshirts’ prospects won tonight’s game 5-2, showing lots of speed and skill. Although everyone always says that winning is not really important at this tournament, don’t you believe it. All the organizations want to win (sometimes even bringing in more experienced players to help) and over the next few days, you will watch teams putting out their best players as “division” races develop. Not only do scouts and team staff start chattering among themselves about who is doing well and who is not, it can be an excellent reflection of the state of a team’s recent drafting and the health of its prospect system. That’s not to say that the main purpose of the tournament is to win the trophy, just don’t be fooled by all the rhetoric to the contrary.
This tournament does give scouts and management of the teams an excellent idea of how their prospects are developing, and which free agents they should sign (whether that player is appearing for their team or another). With the advent of the cameras (which was tried in 2008 by the NHL network but proved very expensive, so they did not return), everyone has a decent idea of what happened on the ice tonight.
Please remember though that this was the first game of the tournament and almost all these guys have not played in months, so timing could really be off. Also it helps to remember that some of the most dynamic players in previous tournaments never even were offered NHL contracts (eg, the Donati brothers sparkled as Detroit invitees in 2006 and never have even been AHL regulars). So take everything with a grain of salt.
Without question the best Rangers player on the ice tonight was Tim Erixon. Confident, smart, with good vision, an excellent shot, and good puck distribution skills, it appears that he may be more of an offensive threat than I would have expected from my very limited past viewings. Erixon looks very solid and adaptable. We will have to see more of him over the next few games and into training camp and exhibition games, but Erixon appears to have a solid chance to become an NHL roster player this fall.
Although I saw many tweets that indicated that fans thought that JT Miller was invisible tonight, I completely disagree. This was his first game at this level and he won many face offs, exhibited good puck pursuit, made a couple of plays along the boards and completed several good passes. I don’t know how much of a scorer he will be, but Miller did several things well tonight and he was one of the bright spots.
A quiet performer tonight was Michael St. Croix. Throughout the game, he did little things. He’s not big, but took the body. St. Croix several times showed excellent puck control and had bursts of speed. I’d like to see more offense from him, but St. Croix did well tonight.
Small forwards Ryan Bourque and Christian Thomas certainly put on a show. Each has moves, excellent passing ability and a nose for the net. The question for each long term will be whether he is strong enough to play in the NHL. Tonight made it clear that neither is ready at this point, but I personally am looking forward to seeing how Bourque and Thomas adjust over the next few games as they get used to playing against older skilled skaters and netminders.
I saw Dylan McIlrath have a very up and down game. First, the good. McIlrath played better as the game went along and he has an excellent shot. He skates pretty well for a man his size, and he can distribute the puck. But, and this is a big but, his defensive play was terrible tonight, particularly in the first period. He was beaten one on one, failed to strip the puck from onrushing forwards, had poor stick work and his gap control was terrible. It was very surprising when I read some tweets about how well McIlrath was doing, but maybe folks only saw his very good shot and rush up the ice.
Players who did not do well included defensemen Peter Ceresnak and Samuel Noreau. Both were beaten badly at critical times, and neither showed much to make up for it. But this was just the first game and both are some of the youngest members of the team.
The next Rangers game is tomorrow @ 6 pm.