Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Traverse City Primer

By now you surely have seen the roster and schedule for the Traverse City tournament so I won't re-post the full release here. I will just throw out some observations:

*There are eight teams split in two divisions - the Gretzky and the Howe. The Rangers are in the Great One's, as are Columbus, Carolina and Minnesota. Atlanta will not be back this year but Stevie Ys Bolts will take their place in the Howe alongside St. Louis, Dallas and Detroit. The Blueshirts finished third in '09, with Carolina beating Minnesota for the title. Other teams have yet to release their rosters but the likelihood of the Canes repeating is slim as Brandon Sutter and Jamie McBain are now NHLers. My guess is that the Blues, who the Rangers defeated for third, will be tough to beat as they have a lot of good, young talent yet to break their NHL roster.

*Only a select few will be able to actually watch the games as the NHL Network has decided to cheap out and not cover the tournament. Because you need to watch the top 10 goals of 2001 or Game 3 of this season's Bruins/Sabres series again. The other sports networks cover their sports year round, why doesn't the NHL? Oh yeah, Gary's 7.2 million dollar salary has to come from somewhere.

*The 'big' names on the Ranger roster will be Derek Stepan, Evgeny Grachev, Ryan McDonagh and Dylan McIlrath. Grachev is one of seven Future Blue playing for the second straight year. Hopefully McIlrath will show signs of the play that I saw that made me the only one outside of Gordie Clark to select McIlrath for the Blueshirts.

*Sam Klassen is one of the eight returnees. He had a good showing last September and I'd love to see him star this time around. Goaltender Scott Stajcer split time with Chad DosNueve last time and was clearly the inferior goaltender. This time he will go against Cameron Talbot, a college kid the Rangers signed this spring. Stajcer needs a good showing so he can show he isn't another Antoine Lafleur. Ethan Werek and Roman Horak both return after having solid seasons. Jess at Prospect Park has raved about the development of both so Traverse City should be a good test of their progress.

*Five of the six players the Rangers selected at the draft will be in Michigan, only Jesper Fasth won't be making it. We will finally get a chance to hear about the virtually unknown Jason Wilson and see if Randy McNaught has any skill to go with his size (I doubt it). Christian Thomas can line up alongside returnee Ryan Bourque to see who is shorter, who is faster and who has the better sniping skills.

*There are, of course, a few undrafted free agents on the roster. Undersized at 5'10, 178, Brendan Shinnimin from Tri Cities will try to show off the skills and toughness that led him to pick up 107 points and 111 PIM over the Americans' 92 games last season (including playoffs). That is the kind of score line that has me drooling but he did that against kids, could he do it against men far bigger and stronger than himself? One of Dale Hunter's proteges in London, Colin Martin has decent size (6'1, 205) but questionable talent - he had 33 points in 62 regular season games but 11 in 10 postseason. Both Shinnimin and Martin are forwards, on the blueline will be Bruin Brandon Manning. Not Boston Bruin but Chilliwack. His numbers - 75 games, 60 points and 148 PIM - are fantastic for a defenseman, leading me to believe that there is a major flaw somewhere in his game as he went undrafted. Let's hope not and hope that the Rangers giving him a chance gives them a chance to sign a diamond in the rough.

*Unless something significant happens - the Rangers don't sign Frolov after all, Sather pulls a trade out of his nether regions, a major injury bug sweeps Broadway - the likelihood that any of these kids will pull on Blueshirts this season is not particularly good. That means that Traverse City will be the lone spot where we can see whether this new "commitment to youth" by the Ranger brass is paying off. Fingers crossed!

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