Ever since the New York Rangers ended their last campaign, team president and general manager, Glen Sather and head coach John Tortorella have repeatedly stressed that they want a younger group for the 2010-2011 season. Front and center, or front and right wing as the case may be, is 21-year-old Dale Weise.
The 6-2, 206 pounder from Winnipeg, Manitoba had his second season of professional hockey in 2009-2010 in Hartford. Weise’s improvement was stellar and he went from being virtually unknown to spending the final week of the season on recall in New York and is the front runner of all the Hartford prospects to make the leap to the NHL.
In Weise’s rookie season, while playing minimal minutes, the 2008 fourth rounder (111th overall) put 11 pucks past opposing netminders while helping out on 12 others while adding 64 PIM over 74 games. In his sophomore year as a pro, Weise put 28 lamp lighters in the net while adding 22 helpers and 114 PIM onto his tally sheet.
Coming from out of obscurity and without the pressure that a high draft pick would face certainly helped Weise’s ability to adapt to the next level. “My whole life I’ve always kind of fought the odds,” Weise said. “I was never a high profile player. I was a late (draft) pick coming into junior. I kind of worked my way up my first two years there and every year I got better. It’s just who I am.
“If you look at my pro game I had a so-so rookie season. I came back in my sophomore year and really had a good year, so I put a lot of good time on and off ice in the off-season and I think I’m ready for the jump.”
Weise started his second season by being asked to lead the Rangers’ prospect squad in the Traverse City tournament as the team’s captain. That team featured Ethan Werek, Ryan Bourque, Evgeny Grachev and first round pick Michael Del Zotto. “It’s always an honor to be asked to be a captain. Any time you get that leadership put on your shoulders you pick up a little something,” he said. “I think I was focused on making sure that everyone was comfortable and that we could jell together as a team. What I learned most as the captain out there was that you have to be the peacemaker.”
Confidence has never been a problem for the young pro. The experience in Traverse City gave him momentum that he carried into the new season. “I didn’t know what kind of role I was going to play. In my rookie year I didn’t really play a lot,” Weise said. “I didn’t really know how things were going to play out, but with P.A. Parenteau getting called up and then injured (concussion) I kind of got an opportunity to play more and get on the top power play unit so that obviously helped.”
“I set the goal of scoring 25 and once I got rolling into the season I kind of thought I could push 30. I think if I had played the last week of the season I probably would have.”
Over the last week of the season when he was called up to New York, Weise picked up an appreciation for the level of commitment that it takes to make it to the NHL. “Everyone is faster there, bigger and stronger and everyone can play there so I picked up what I could at practice and it’ll take a little bit of time to get used to it,” Weise said
Weise has not taken the promotion lightly and is committed to not only make the team out of camp but to stay there and have a good rookie campaign. “I got a personal trainer that I go to five days a week,” he said.” We’re working on a lot of conditioning and strength training and I’m just starting to skate now. I’m up to two or three times a week now. I’ll be coming to camp a bit early and just get ready to play.
“I’m going to see it the same way that I did my first year in Hartford. A guy who’s going to start off on the fourth line and fight tooth and nail to get more ice-time and do whatever it takes to work my way up the lineup and hopefully get a regular shift and stay in the lineup every night.”
Fans who haven’t seen Weise play yet will certainly be excited about the player who he thinks his game most resembles, “I think fans will see that my game is a lot like Ryan Callahan’s,” he said. “I think we’re similar in the way we play. We’re both kind of crash and bang players who can put the puck in the net. It’s the way that I am now and the way that I think I can be at the next level too.”
Weise thinks that there are a couple of other guys to watch for apart from some of the more media friendly names currently in Hartford. “I’ll take a moment to pump the names of some of my close buddy’s tires,” Weise said. “One would be Justin Soryal. He’s a talented fighter. He takes on anybody. He’s 6-2 and 215, pretty small by heavyweight standards. He gets in there and crashes and bangs and has a little bit of offensive flare to him. One year at Peterborough (OHL) he put in 26 goals, so I think he can play.
“Another guy that I’m excited about is Devin DiDiomete. He’s a more talented version of Ryan Hollweg. He’s a real good agitator. I think he’ll be in the NHL someday.”
So how does a young player like Weise feel about all the talk about the Rangers getting younger? “Obviously you have to be excited about it, but you can’t read too much into that,” he said. “You have to go in and put your best foot forward and earn it. Nothing’s going to be given to you just because you’re a young guy. But I’m pretty excited about the opportunity.”