I will give you a few quick hits from some of the kids I interviewed today.
Some thoughts first: Evgeny Grachev and Ryan McDonough are big, big boys, and sure don’t look as if they would physically have any problem fitting into an NHL team.
The Traverse City team will be coached by the Hartford staff: Ken Gernander, J.J. Daigneault and Pat Boller, but the Rangers’ coaches and front office will be there watching closely.
Chris Kreider is not going to the tournament, because he’s staying in college. But pretty much every other top prospect in the organization will play.
Here now some quotes:
Ryan Bourque (headed back to juniors; this will be his second Traverse tourney):
“I want to have a really productive season, obviously, and give my team everything I possibly can, the best offensive and defensive player that I can be there. I had a pretty solid year last year, I think. It was a tough adjustment, and this year going into it I know what to expect. I’ve adjusted to the league and I’m an assistant captain now in Quebec, so I’ll just try to be a leader and help the young guys in any way I can.”
Kelsey Tessier, in on a tryout with the Rangers, was a captain on Bourque’s Quebec team last season.
Evgeny Grachev (also in third Traverse City tourney, and third training camp.
“It makes it easier because you know what’s going to happen, what the games are going to be like. At the same time it’s more pressure because it’s your third time, to show you’re getting better every year. So it’s kind of different.”
(Been working out for the past 10 days with many Rangers regulars)
“It helped me a lot. I feel ready to go and can’t wait to play.”
I asked him if or how he’ll know he’s ready.
“I guess you just have to feel it. Once you feel comfortable there, and feel confident, I think you’re ready.
“I don’t feel any different this year. I hope to have a good camp again, and hopefully things will happen for me.”
Derek Stepan (who, by the way, is impressively mature and personable):
On when you know you’re ready to make the jump:
“It’s one of those things that you’ve got to have the confidence to know that you are. There’s got to be a little bit of outside sources saying, ‘Yeah, you can make this step.’ And other than that you’ve just got to tell yourself mentally that you’re ready to make this step. Because if you come in saying you’re not ready for it, you’re going to get eaten alive. So you have to have the right mindet and prepare yourself to be ready for the next level.”
Does he have that?
“Yeah, absolutely. If my next level is Hartford, then that’s my next level. But that’s the mindset you’ve got to have. You’ve got to be ready to playing against older guys and bigger and stronger guys.”
“I’m excited to get to Traverse City to play. I’m just excited to get the ball rolling.”
“I’m just excited. Everybody I’ve talked to says this is a pretty nice tournament … play against some good young players. Most importantly, guys say it gives you a good jump-start going into your first training camp. So it’ll be good.”
I asked him about knowing if he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL.
“First and foremost, I wouldn’t have left college if I didn’t think I was ready. I already feel I can play with the bigger, stronger, more veteran guys. It was good that me and Stepan got to come out this week and skate with some of the Ranger players and get a feel for what they’re like, and meet some of them, and just start the process. I think it’s getting better every day so far.
“I think as the week went on, guys kind of help you out and understand how they play the game together. I felt good.”
Dylan McIlrath (who is almost certainly going back to juni0rs):
“I’ve heard lots of good things (about Traverse City), fast-paced games, and guys trying to make a name for themselves, and that’s what I’m going to try to do, play my game and have some fun.”
Already had Moose Jaw training camp, but left there for this tournament.
On whether this will be a guage on his readiness to go to the next level:
“For sure, all the top rookies competing for a job. If I’m one of the elite in this tournament hopefully I can take my game to main camp and, if not I’ll go back to a great situation in Moose Jaw.
“If I get the opportunity (to play against NHLers in camp), great, to get a bearing of where I am against guys like them. But I’m just going to try to take in this experience. It’s my first training camp, so it’ll be exciting, I’m sure.”
“There’s obviously things I’m specifically working on, like, being a bigger guy I’m working on my feet and getting to the pace of the game at the NHL level. And my hands. You can never get good enough at both of those things. So I’m trying to focus on those things.”