The Rangers prospects ran into a buzz saw tonight as Buffalo’s bigger, stronger players defeated the baby Blueshirts by a score of 5-2. The New York team had not previously played a group anywhere near as talented in this tournament. Buffalo had size and skill, both on offense and defense, and used their sticks and superior positioning to stop the Rangers fast breaks and step in the way of passes. Unable to make adjustments or to position themselves in front of the opposition net, New York was playing catch up from the beginning of the game. And since the Rangers just did not play the style of game to be able to compete with the Sabres, it was a losing cause.
What can be said is that until the final buzzer the Rangers played with heart, never giving up. Although several players looked good at times (specifically JT Miller and Shane McColgan), mistakes abounded. It was the kind of game a coach would use the video to go over with his players before the next game. The only problem being, there is no next game in this tournament. Hopefully, there will be some instruction following the game, because some important lessons can be learned from what happened tonight, both for the players’ development, as well as looking toward next year’s tournament.
There many positives to say about the tournament, both in how it is run, and in how the Rangers played. Of particular note was the play of the following skaters:
Tim Erixon, perhaps the best player for the Rangers during this week, looks like he will compete for a spot on the Rangers blueline this Fall. Although he did not have a great game tonight, he may be ready for NHL competition. The Rangers brass will be watching very closely over the next few weeks during scrimmages and exhibition games to see where Erixon is in his development.
JT Miller did exactly what you would hope for from an 18 year old. He was a little shaky at first and got better and better as the week went along. His play in this tournament showed that he deserved to be picked in the first round of this summer’s draft.
Shane McColgan could wind up being a steal in the fifth round. He looks to be a potential third line, speedy, agitating, good face off man.
By making Dylan McIlrath the captain at this tournament, signing him early, and talking him up so much, its clear that the brass wants to give the signal that McIlrath will be a big part of the Rangers’ future. He may just be that, and if his “fight” earlier in the tournament is any indication, his pugilistic skills will be frightening. But he has a ways to go. McIlrath’s defensive play is probably two years from being NHL ready, and maybe more. Usually Traverse City captains don’t return to the following year’s tournament, but I think that McIlrath will be the exception.
One player that I expected more from was Carl Hagelin. At 23 years old, he was one of the older Rangers’ players in Traverse City. He is fast, but I did not see him take very good shots, nor did he appear particularly strong along the boards. It’s not that he played badly, but Hagelin was supposed to be almost NHL-ready, and he just does not look it yet. That does not mean that he won’t get a call-up at some time this season, but I was expecting a more mature player than I saw on the ice.
Ryan Bourque is also about to begin his professional career, and he made some very good plays in spurts this week. Bourque is an interesting case, a long shot to start the season in the NHL, but not totally out of the question if he has an outstanding camp and exhibition season.
Christian Thomas was one of the scoring leaders of the tournament, and he was one of the speediest players on the Rangers’ squad. But there were aspects of his game that seemed to me to indicate that he needs another year of junior play. He was overmatched at times (he needs more body strength), and his decisions seemed questionable at other times. I just don’t see him making the NHL team, so I believe that he will return to the OHL.
One player who started slowly and got generally better as the tournament went along was Samuel Noreau. Not as much tonight, or in the first game, but Noreau showed some defensive skill to add to his toughness, and considering this was his first exposure to this tournament, I believe that he impressed.
All in all, a very good tournament and something to build on for next year. Several of the prospects should return, and Chris Kreider and perhaps Jespar Fasth, Oscar Lindberg and Danny Hobbs will join them. Could be quite exciting.
With another Traverse City Rookie Tournament in the books, the prospects return to New York, where the majority of them will participate in the main camp, which begins on Friday. The announcement of which players have been invited to the Madison Square Garden Training Center will come tomorrow.