My review includes both games. I had high expectations going in and my expectations were exceeded. Each of our top prospects played exceedingly well and they showed extraordinary chemistry as a group. I was amazed at the team speed, above average puck skills and high hockey IQ of this group. For the most part they played tight defense, displayed a suffocating PK and a remarkably fluid power play; very surprising in that they only had a couple of hours practice prior to the tournament.
Some observations and conclusions:
· With so much talent on the blue line it seems inevitable that the Rangers trade one of these assets or perhaps create a package in order to get a top-three or at least an above average top-six power forward. Something similar to the Pens trading Goligowski for James Neal.
· Although the Rangers prospects include a number of undersized forwards that isn’t nearly as much of a concern as it once was. The new rules and the expected downsizing of hockey violence are accommodative to the smaller player. Every team has “Smurfs,” many of whom are thriving. Just the other day Tyler Ennis of the Sabres (49 points and 20 goals) said he played at 155 pounds last year!
· The Rangers NHL squad is on the threshold of dramatically increasing their overall team speed. Several of their top prospects are in the Gaborik class of speed.
In evaluating the players who participated in these two games I’m focusing on those I consider to be the most viable prospects and omitting or merely mentioning those who seem unlikely to wear a blue shirt any time soon.
Tim Erixon: Calm and composed. Above average skater with excellent agility and balance. Sees the ice very well and is a plus passer consistently delivering the puck for easy handling. Has a very powerful left-handed slap shot which was very accurate and was invariably on net for redirects or forcing the goalie to make the save. He has no hesitation about shooting, but he was unselfish and often faked a shot and passed instead. He was excellent quarterbacking the power play. He is a very confident player but not flashy. In the first game his defense was very soft on a couple of occasions where he lost the battle on the boards without much of a fight, but in the Dallas game he was much more physical and threw some nice checks. He said he was still getting used to the smaller rink. Does he make the varsity out of camp? My guess is he’ll start out in CT, where he can play major minutes, get mentored by Redden and their coaches rather than play 10 or 1l third-line minutes with the parent club.
Ryan Bourque: Probably the best player on the ice. He is a superb hockey player who is small but seems to have an impact on every shift. His on-ice work ethic is off the charts. He is an exceptional backchecker and penalty killer. He has top end speed and can easily beat most defensmen to the outside. He has good shot strength with a quick release and will definitely score some goals at the NHL level. He makes his linemates better because of his high energy and skill. I think it’s time for him to take his game to Broadway. He’s a veteran of International play with two years of major junior experience. He can make an impact as a fourth liner and penalty killer.
J.T. Miller: Had an up and down opening game. Showed some good things but also a lack of discipline when he tried to do too much stick-handling and turned the puck over a few times. In the Dallas game he really stepped it up. He has only average speed at this point but above average agility and balance. He is a left-handed shot and is not afraid to shoot. His shot strength is only average at this time. He also tried three backhand shots and they were lacking in velocity and accuracy. He has exceptional hockey sense and is consistently around the puck. He is very physical, has a high compete level, is difficult to knock off the puck and wins more than his share of battles. He was outstanding on faceoffs, winning most of them cleanly. He plays a two-way game and was effective on the pp and pk. One thing to remember: He was one of the standout players on the ice and yet he was perhaps the only one who had no junior, college or pro experience; He was playing in under 18’s until now. My feeling is that he is a sure-fire top-six prospect who can play all three positions and may ultimately be a top-three player. He is a very mature kid who seems to be all business.
Christian Thomas: I had heard that he was strictly a give and go type player who lacked the skill to create his own shots. What I saw was someone with above average puck skills with top end speed who easily beats the defense to the outside and who can wiggle his way through traffic until he either shoots or passes. His work ethic is relentless and he did something positive on every shift. He didn’t score but he drew at least three penalties. His hockey sense is supreme; no surprise because of his DNA. He is always looking to shoot and he has a very heavy slap, snap and one-timer with a lightning quick release. He can score from anywhere on the ice. He has a top compete level and is fearless about going into the dirty areas where the giants roam and doesn’t back down to anyone. Defensively and on the PK he sticks to his man like glue. He was outstanding on the pp usually stationing himself on the goal line where his superior on ice vision resulted in many excellent passes leading to scoring opportunities for his team mates. Ultimately I see him fulfilling a power-play role similar to Stamkos where he positions himself in the circle for his quick release and powerful one timer.
Dylan McIlrath: The captain. Showed tremendous poise and exudes confidence. The swagger factor is very evident. An excellent skater both forward and backward. Has a very good first step and gets to full speed in a hurry. Very athletic with excellent balance and agility. Built like a bank vault and players bounce off him. He was physical but didn’t give up his assignments just to hit someone. He passes aggressively and for the most part delivered the puck on target. He makes good outlet passes and has a good knowledge of angles and positioning along the boards. He uses his stick very well and defends a lot of ice because of his long reach. He had one fight when he went to the aid of a teammate and the Ref had to break it up before DM killed the guy. He has a heavy snap and slap shot which was on net every time perhaps a result of his short backswing on the slapper and the fact he’s seems willing to sacrifice velocity for accuracy. He’s going back to Juniors this year although I think he could actually play in the NHL now on a team that wasn’t as flush on the blue line as the Rangers.
Carl Hagelin: Another speed demon along with Bourque and Thomas. Hagelin is smallish and appears to me to be a career special teamer. He is an excellent defensive player who goes all out on each shift but doesn’t have great offensive skills. He was outstanding on the PK. The fact that he’s five years older than some of the other players who already have more offensive skills than him tends to reinforce my feeling about his future as a special teamer.
Blake Parlett: What a pleasant surprise. This guy’s got game. Smart, steady, composed, rarely makes mistakes. Above average skater, decent shot, very good passer. Can QB the PP. Defensively responsible. Probably a victim of a numbers game because of all the defensemen ahead of him. I like his game better than Sanguinetti’s and BS fetched a second-round draft choice so a trade may be his ultimate fate.
Andrew Yogan: Played very well. Excellent size. Needs work on his skating but is a smart player who gets into position to score around the net. A very good passer with good hockey smarts. Physical and steals a number of pucks. Will probably play with the Whale where he had two goals in two games last season. Had shoulder surgery last year and they said he hurt a shoulder late in the Dallas game. Don’t know the extent of it or whether it was the same shoulder.
Michael St. Croix: Showed very well in both games. A tenacious two-way player who has an uncanny knack of winning battles along the boards despite a lack of size. Good puck skills, good passer, average shot. Only 18 with a nice upside.
Shane McColgan: Similar in many ways to St. Croix. Small, fast, smart, tenacious. Probably not more than 170 lbs yet he went to the aid of a teammate and fought a much bigger guy and gave a good account of himself. He may be more of a goal scorer than St. Croix but not as complete a player. Also 18 with a good upside
Scott Stajcer: Played well in goal. His butterfly coverage was good. He squared up very well. He protected the five hole and covered his angles well on first shots. He easily directed pucks out of danger, trapped pucks easily against his body, had decent lateral quickness. He has above average size and athletic ability. He does well under fire and finds the puck when there’s a scrum in front of the net. For a while he was perhaps the best goalie in the OHL last year before suffering a hip injury. The Rangers apparently like him a lot. He’s already signed his pro contract and he may supplant someone with the Whale this season.
Jason Missiaen: 6-foot-8 goalie who is very raw. He does have some athletic ability and with that size maybe he’ll amount to something in time.
There are some other guys who showed well particularly Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Jason Wilson and they too could end up on the Whale this year.
Conclusion: I think it’s definitely Ryan Bourque time. Personally I see him an a replacement for Avery. He can do a lot more for this team than SA, imo. I can see a fourth line of Bourque, Hagelin and Rupp. Super high energy providing excellent defense with some scoring potential. Hagelin would replace Christensen.
I hope Thomas is so good at camp that he forces his way on the team. This kid is going to score a lot of goals in the NHL. The question is where do you play him and whose spot does he take. He doesn’t really have anything more to prove in Juniors and he’s too young for CT so we’ll have to see how it plays out. If he shines in camp, maybe a nine-game trial with the varsity and he can then either stay or return to Oshawa for another year.