Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Guest Post: The New York Rangers 2013 Draft Preview

by Matt Lavanco

Skimming stones is one of those activities that is a heck of a lot of fun to do. The satisfaction you feel from finding that perfect stone, flicking your wrist and watching it skip across the water is tremendous. Properly skimming a stone requires as much as skill as it does luck, much like predicting an NHL Draft. Such a task is made even harder when your general manager trades the first and second round selections. The farther away from shore you get, the more chance your stone will sink.

It is a shame that the Rangers – at the moment – will start a ways away from land. If they still had their own selections, they could use talented forwards like Ryan Hartman, Adam Erne, Kerby Rychel Max Domi or Bo Horvat. But, alas, the first time the Blueshirts will call a name will be in the third round, where they have three selections. Add them to the fourth and sixth round spots that the team still possess and this makes for a boom or bust draft and Gordie Clark and the rest of his scouting staff have their work cut out for them. I’m no expert prospect prognosticator, but I’ll try sorting through this year’s crop of talent for our beloved New York Rangers:

First off, the thought of sitting on the sideline for two entire rounds is disappointing. Perhaps Gordie can talk Glen into packaging a pair of their third round picks to move up into the second and draft dynamic winger Oliver Bjorkstrand. Bjorkstrand led all WHL rookies in scoring and plays a hard, fast game. The Portland Winterhawks winger needs to add some more weight to handle the rigors of a pro game, but his scoring and overall skill make him an exciting prospect. Jumping to the defensive side, while still thinking offensively, the Belleville Bulls’ Jordan Subban is a pure puck-moving defenseman that would make quite a pick. Although he is undersized, Subban is a fast skater who possesses a hard shot and is highly intelligent on the ice. Size, however, is a concern and he does need to improve his own zone play, but the Rangers really could use his skill set on the right side of the blueline. If Sather decides to sit on his three third rounders, I’ll be bummed. But there will still be plenty of projects the Rangers could decide to undertake.

One of which is the Kingston Frotenacs’ Ryan Kujawinski. The slick skating center excels in the dot and has a hard shot that challenges goaltenders. But the big hold out is his lack of consistency throughout season. If he can be coaxed into producing night-in, night-out Kujawinski could be a contributor.

The Rangers might also consider a pair of U.S. National Team Development Program players: Hudson Fasching and Tyler Motte. Fasching, a Golden Gopher-commit, is a big rangy power forward with a nose for the net who uses his size to attack the goalmouth and is not easy to knock off the puck. Motte is a small, speedy winger who tied for the Team USA lead in points at the World Junior Under-18s with five goals and two assists in seven games. But he isn’t just a scorer, Motte earned his Stars and Stripes for doing the little things as well - killing penalties, blocking shots, and jumping passes. Motte plays a lot like our own Carl Hagelin (BORK!) and will be taking his game to the Swedish Chef’s old kitchen at Michigan in the fall (BORK! BORK! BORK!).

Another possible third round selection could be Roberts Lipsbergs of the Seattle Thunderbirds, a winger who finished second behind Bjorkstrand in WHL rookie scoring. The Latvian turned it on for the T’birds down the stretch and scored 20 points in the final 21 games. His head coach in the Emerald City, ex-pro Steve Konowalchuk, has lauded Lipsbergs’ abilities as a playmaker and goal-scorer. He is encouraged by Lipsbergs desire to be a complete player, but he says Lipsbergs has to learn to finish his checks and block shots in order to do so.

A pair of offensive defenseman in Dakota Mermis and Niklas Hansson should be available in the middle rounds. Mermis was passed over last year so he defected from the Denver Pioneers to head to the OHL’s perennial powerhouse London Knights to raise his draft stock. He did just that, but this undersized offensively skilled d-man still needs to improve his consistency. Hansson is more of a sleeper, having played the majority of 2013 with Sweden’s Rögle BK Under-20 team. He is another highly skilled d-man with a big upside and he even managed to get in nine games with Rogle’s top team in the Elitserien. But, much like Subban, Hansson’s own zone play leaves a lot to be desired.

Seattle’s Jared Hauf and Sudbury Wolves’ Jeff Corbett are two of your more traditional stay-at-home defenseman. The 6’5 Hauf plays the shutdown role for the Thunderbirds and is a capable puck mover. Corbett flew up the Sudbury’s depth chart with his play and leadership. His own zone play is steady and his offensive game is improving.

A forward that the Rangers are familiar with that may slip through the cracks is Michigan’s Andrew Copp. Copp ended the season in Red Berenson’s top-6 and routinely shared the ice with the Blueshirts’ second round selection last summer Boo Nieves. This Wolverine is a solid two-way center that is adept on the penalty kill and is a leader on and off the ice. Bloodlines always get noticed and Cole Cassels, (son of former NHLer Andrew) also fills the two-way center role for the Oshawa Generals. Cassels’ feisty play earned him 43 points in 64 games but, by his own admission, had a poor postseason that will send him deeper down the draft board.

Other projects include the oversized Tyler Hill and the undersized Taylor Cammarata. At 6’6 Hill has all the tools to be a power forward in the NHL, but has yet to put it all together consistently. Cammarata, all 5’7 of him, led the USHL in scoring with 93 points in 58 games and what he lacks in size he compensates with skill. Headed to Minnesota in the fall, is always around the puck and makes plays happen on the ice.

Apologies but no goaltenders have really stood out amid my scouting that deserve spotlighting. The majority of netminders in this draft class are largely unproven and using one of the limited draft choices is a risky move, even for Sather.

It’ll be interesting to see how the draft plays out on June 30th. The many moves Sather made to strengthen John Tortorella’s team have left the Rangers cupboard close to barren. Now with a new coach coming in, does the scouting staff add size or skill, defense or offense? Do they take a flyer on a no-name foreign goaltender to eventually replace the no-name foreign goaltender they took in the seventh round in 2000, the one who turned into the King? Clark and co. are going to skip some stones, let’s hope some help this team stay afloat.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Rangers' Radio City Royal Rumble

Let's face it, the Rangers' coaching hunt and Friday's press conference unveiling Alain Vigneault was boring. It was the MSG ideal: corporate and clean. But what if the whole coaching selection process was, say, a more physical affair? What if Dolan pulled a Vince McMahon and went with a Royal Rumble to select the new bench boss for the Blueshirts? Here's how it could have went ...



Fans clad in Ranger sweaters fill the seats of the historic hall and a wrestling ring occupies the stage. Blue carpeting runs down the aisles and up the stairs to the ring. A massive screen looms behind it and an announcers table with two chairs sits alongside. Sitting at the table are Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a Royal Rumble match. Now two superstars will begin in the ring. Every 90 seconds a new participant will enter the ring. Elimination occurs when they are thrown over the top rope and both feet touch the ground. This will continue until all 30 candidates have entered the match."

"Excuse me Sam, 10 candidates. Glen's time is too valuable, he has a tee time to make."

"Um, ok Joe. As I was saying, the last remaining candidate will be declared the winner and the new head coach of the New York Rangers!"

The lights flash, and music plays as the first participant walks down the aisle.

Mark Messier rolls into the ring to a thunderous ovation, with Micheletti walking over to hand him a microphone and a kleenex to dab the tears.

"I am just so touched you guys remember me, and I love this city. I will be a great replacement for John Tortorella, because I know how to intimidate others and play favourites. Thank you."

"I love you Mark. Let's see who you will start off against."

Lindy Ruff heads down the aisle, with Darcy Regier a few steps behind him carrying a briefcase. Ruff stops for a moment to throw Ryan Miller under a bus, then gets in the ring. Regier sits down next to Sam, opens the case, pulls out some wings and the two go to town. Ruff looks over and asks what the deal is, so Regier laughs and says how he still has a job and just wants to enjoy the show.

The bell rings and Ruff and Messier begin circling. It appears that both are being blinded by the reflection of the lights off each other's foreheads so they each miss their attacks.

On the massive screen a countdown occurs, running from 10 down to zero. A horn sounds and music begins to play:


Metallurg Magnitogorsk's Mike Keenan walks in, hugs Messier and the two team up on Ruff. They each grab one of Ruff's hands and try pulling in opposite directions but the burly former blueliner yanks his arms back and Keenan and Messier collide Three Stooges style. Ruff tries to get the crowd to chant "Brett Hull Sucks, Brett Hull Sucks" but Gary Bettman shushes him.

On the massive screen a countdown occurs, running from 10 down to zero. A horn sounds and music begins to play:


Guy Boucher slowly makes his way to the stage, wearing an eye patch and cradling a cat in his arm that he slowly pets. Messier and Keenan roll around, trying to get themselves together while Ruff waves Boucher in. The former Tampa coach begins to tell everyone about SPECTRE's plans to blow up New York unless Dolan gives him $100 million and the coaching gig. Keenan gets up and giggles, because that's what the Russians are paying him.

On the massive screen a countdown occurs, running from 10 down to zero. A horn sounds but there is a pause before ...

"Pardon me Sam ..."


Micheletti gets up from the table, strips out of his suit and rolls into the ring.

"Go get 'em Joe!" 

Micheletti goes right after Keenan, who he feels has upstaged him on several Ranger postgame reports. They swing each other back and forth against the ropes, going nowhere, like their commentary. Messier laughs at Boucher's plans for world domination and snaps his eyepatch before giving him a forearm shiver. Boucher drops his cat, and it runs over to Ruff and hisses at him. Ruff climbs up on the turnbuckle to get away.

On the massive screen a countdown occurs, running from 10 down to zero. A horn sounds and music begins to play:

Clad in a classic Prada suit, Sean Avery shows up. The crowd goes wild but no one in the ring is happy to see him. They stop fighting each other to stare at him while he steps into the ring, takes his jacket off and delicately drapes it over the top rope. Avery turns around and unleashes a string of expletives about his opponents' significant others that makes Rosen blush. Boucher's cat comes over and Avery freaks out because he can't have fur on his designer pants.

On the massive screen a countdown occurs, running from 10 down to zero. A horn sounds and music begins to play:

John Tortorella walks in with a pack of pooches and grabs Rosen's microphone from him.

"You didn't think I was going to go quietly, did you? And do you really think you can replace me? With this bunch? You're out of your !@$#ing mind."

Torts drops the mic, ties the leashes for the dogs to the corner of the ring and rolls under the ropes. Boucher's cat immediately runs away while Micheletti gets down on his knees before Torts and begs not to be yelled at. Torts ignores him as his eyes are locked on Avery, who has Ruff in a headlock and is giving nuggies. Boucher takes the opportunity to talk to Keenan about expanding his evil empire into Russia.

On the massive screen a countdown occurs, running from 10 down to zero. A horn sounds and music begins to play:


Alain Vigneault saunters down the aisle with twin ginger Rockettes on each shoulder. Keenan uses the distraction to throw Boucher out of the ring and Torts kicks Micheletti in the face to clear the way to Avery. Avery drops Ruff like a bad habit and rushes at Torts. The two collide and fall to the floor. Meanwhile Vigneault still hasn't made it into the ring, as he is shaking everyone's hands and asking how their mothers are doing.

On the massive screen a countdown occurs, running from 10 down to zero. A horn sounds and music begins to play:

With Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson flanking him, Wayne Gretzky walks in. Jordan and Jackson immediately go chat up Vigneault's Rockettes, while Gretz goes up to Messier. Micheletti tries to get in between so he can hug his old Edmonton teammate but Messier backhands him so hard Joe falls all the way out of the ring and through Sam's announce table. Avery and Torts are back up and exchanging haymakers.

On the massive screen a countdown occurs, running from 10 down to zero. A horn sounds and music begins to play:

Dave Tippett enters, walks into the ring and proceeds to jump back out again, taking himself out. Don Maloney stops whispering in Sather's ear, collects Tippett and the two walk out of Radio City. Gretzky jumps out of the ring and tries to follow but Maloney says talk to the hand. Gretz tries to get back in the ring but he has been eliminated.

Avery and Torts are bloody messes but are still trading punches. Keenan goes to give Vigneault a hand to help him in the ring and Vigneault uses it to pull the '94 Cup coach out. Vigneault climbs in and a mad Messier comes over to glare. Avery and Torts are now rolling around on the floor, tearing at each other's clothes and they roll right out. Torts takes his dogs and heads to Vancouver, while Avery stands around, basking in the crowd's continual adoration. Vigneault and Messier start wrestling, and Messier clocks him with a fist full of Cup rings. Vigneault drops like a rock and Messier climbs the turnbuckle to launch himself at Vigneault, who rolls away at the last second. On the other side of the ring Ruff gets Avery's suit jacket off the ropes and tries to put it on, so Avery grabs Ruff by the legs and yanks him out of the ring.

Jim Nill appears out of nowhere and Vigneault an offer but Sather climbs in and hits the Dallas G.M. with a chair. Messier tried to use the moment to launch himself off the ropes at Vigneault but, again, Vigneault escaped at the last second. Unfortunately Mess' momentum carries him over the far ropes and out of the ring.

Ruff wakes Nill up and the two leave together, leaving Sather to celebrate with Vigneault.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the new coach of the New York Rangers! Alain Vigneault!"


Friday, June 21, 2013

'Allo Vigneault

The decisions has been made, Glen Sather has made the call: Alain Vigneault is the new head coach of the New York Rangers.

Yet again, the Manhattan team has settled for mediocrity instead of reaching for something better. Vigneault has been to the Stanley Cup Finals just once in 10-plus NHL seasons, and lost that one time with the Canucks being bested by the Bruins. He has one career championship, coming a quarter-century ago in the QMJHL.

But we don't care about championships in New York, we care about corporate money and that will come with consistent regular season success - something Vigneault had in his seven seasons in Vancity. Unlike his predecessor, AV is affable and easy going, and an easy sell to the suits. And, frankly, that is all that the Blueshirt bosses care about nowadays. They need to grab as much big business money as they can to help pay off the fan-unfriendly renovation.

Like his predecessor, Vigneault stuggles to make strategy changes and is a big fan of line juggling. He leans heavily on his stars and his team goes as far as they will take them. In Vancouver he was primarily a three-line guy, so don't expect the Rangers to pull a page out of the recent Cup winners' playbook and suddenly be a four-line team. He will give the forwards more freedom, to be sure, but that could expose our atrocious bottom three defensemen even more then they had been in the last few seasons.

Vigneault's power play, despite the telepathic link between the Sedins, went a below-average 15.8% ... the Rangers went 15.7% and the teams were 22nd and 23rd overall. For fellow fight fans, who knows what we will get: Vancouver had 28 majors last year to the Rangers' 18, but the season the Canucks went the distance they were 23rd overall (with 29, the Rangers were sixth with 62).

This particular coach is not big on this generation of kids: of the 36 players drafted by Vancouver from 2006-2011 just seven have played in the NHL and just two are regulars ... both with other teams (Hodgson and Grabner). This last season just five Canucks 25 years old or under played more than three games in the big league. That being said, there were plenty of home-grown Canucks on the roster - the Sedins, Burrows, Edler, Bieksa, Schneider, Kesler, Raymond, Hansen, etc.

Frankly, the hiring of Vigneault just looks like the NHL coaching carousel is going around, rearranging chairs on the deck of sinking ships. Sadly we know that with Glen Sather at the helm, the SS Rangers is not aiming towards the tropical waters of paradise but sailing through known seas simply trying not to hit icebergs.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Big Decision, Big Decision

Lost amid the celebration that followed the firing of John Tortorella is the fact that these are dangerous times for the New York Rangers. We sit upon the very precipice of long term success or long term failure and the replacement bench boss will have a big say in which way the franchise heads.

Failure, by the way, includes mediocrity - the malady that infected the Blueshirts for season after season in the post-94 era. Sure the team has at least made the playoffs in recent history but, as Vin Scully has said, "good is not good enough when better is expected."

And better is expected. The bar was raised last season and, despite Dolan's virtual disinterest in the Rangers, he does care about his wallet. It is a fat wallet he opened to rebuild the Garden after his mouth ruined hopes of a new building. Nearly a billion bucks have been spent on an aesthetically pleasing, physically uncomfortable remodeling and now it's time to start making money again. They expect to recoup all of that cash in the next five years so where will that revenue come from?


Nothing sold the Rangers and nothing sold the sport of hockey like the lone New York championship in the last 73 years. They made it to the Finals three times in the 54 years between Cups and have yet to get that far in the last 19. So there are veeeeerrry narrow windows for success in this town and, for all of the flaws and holes in the lineup, the players that make up the current core of the Big Apple are in or are entering their prime. Either they will take the next step toward Stanley, or they will wither on the vine.

There are no blue chippers coming to camp this fall, no saviours waiting in the wings. Glen Sather cut short the rebuild by buying Richard$ and selling three True Blue and a top pick for Nash, among other moves. Recent draft selections have been projects and are still years away. The kids contained in the current lineup are pretty much all that is in the cupboard and the new coach will have to look through it to figure out what he can make of the shattered pieces left by the last bench boss.

That being said, for all of Glen's failures - and there have been many over the dozen-plus years of his tenure - he has been accommodating of his coaches. Renney took the Czechs as far as they could go and wanted a more North American north-south team so Sather signed Drury and Gomez. Torts wanted familiar foot soldiers he could order around so Sather got Fedotenko and Richard$. So it can be certain that the new shot caller will have the mercenaries he wants to implement his philosophies.

Glen shouldn't hire an old buddy or someone who has some impressive hand writing. Taking someone off the coaching carousel brings expectations and baggage and the best of those candidates haven't had the best history when it comes to the Cup, i.e. Ruff and Vigneault. Speaking of history, it is easy to see Sather going the Gretzky or Messier route - not only are they old friends who had some success in a former life, but they also are 'names' that can sell Dolan on the thought they can sell tickets. Because fans pay to watch the guys behind the bench. /sarcasm

Dave Tippett has a nice track record, and everyone knows Glen's relationship with Phoenix. But who knows if the former Star is interested in leaving the desert.

The rebuild is over but that doesn't mean that young blood can't build this team into a winner. Just as Jeff Gorton has helped refresh the Rangers front office, someone outside of the OBN (Old Boys' Network) needs to bring new ideas behind the bench. Davis Payne and Guy Boucher weren't bad before being undone by abominable goaltending and the AHL guys out there - Dallas Eakins, Mark French (just went to the KHL), Willie Desjardins - have shown signs they can succeed in in the show.

But whoever Sather selects will have little time to implement his strategy. This team needs to win, and soon.

Or else.