The whole purpose of the Traverse City Prospects tournament is for the participating teams to get the chance to evaluate the prospects within their system and judge where they are in their development. Up until now we've heard a lot of good things about defenseman Tim Erixon after he was acquired from the Calgary Flames, but we hadn't actually seen him in action. Now, three games deep into this tournament, we are seeing why he receives so much high praise, and the Rangers are also seeing that he is very far (ahead of probably what they expected) in his development.
As it stands now, the Blueshirts have six NHL defensemen in Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Sauer, Michael Del Zotto and Steve Eminger. There are obviously a lot of question marks surrounding Del Zotto as he spent the majority of last season in the AHL with the Connecticut Whale. His performance in training camp will decide whether or not he will be getting a spot on the NHL roster this season, or if he will be returned to the Whale.
In the next coming weeks, Del Zotto's competition will be in his own teammates. Steve Eminger, in my opinion, should be nothing more than an extra seventh defenseman on this hockey club, but he's going to try to prove otherwise in training camp and preseason. If he wants to even be considered for a permanent spot, he will have to outplay Del Zotto.
Both Del Zotto and Eminger, though, will be facing their toughest competition in Tim Erixon. Erixon is young, skilled and brings to the team something they lack right now. He has the coaches' eyes in Traverse City and you better believe they are expecting a huge camp from this kid. He has the poise of an NHL defenseman and has shown qualities that normally are not developed until a young blue-liner actually makes the NHL and begins to learn there. He is way ahead of his peers as far as development goes.
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You may disagree with me on this, and that is fine, but at the moment I see Erixon snagging the fifth spot on defense for the Rangers, leaving the sixth to be battled out by Del Zotto and Eminger. Erixon will contribute more to the team offensively than either of DZ or Emmy will, and offense is something the Rangers haven't gotten very much of from their defensemen in quite some time now. I just have this feeling that head coach John Tortorella is sitting here in New York, watching this prospects tournament and picturing Erixon on his team already. It's a perfect fit when you think about it.
And I would personally like to see Del Zotto make the cut over Eminger, because he too is young and talented. Michael has worked hard over the offseason to make sure he has everything going for him by the time camp rolls around at the end of this week, but if he shows any signs of regressing like he did last year, Tortorella won't hesitate to return him to the AHL until he is ready.
This would be my ideal D corps for the Rangers this season:
Staal - Girardi
McDonagh - Sauer
Erixon - Del Zotto
Those pairings are subject to change, but you get the basic idea.