I had the pleasure of speaking with and profiling 2014 fifth-round pick Daniel Walcott just prior to Rangers' training camp. His story is absolutely incredible and, obviously, makes for a great article in itself. So please read that.
If you're short on time, however, then here's the synopsis: Walcott gave up travel hockey to play for his high school in Canada; something which almost nobody with high-level aspirations does. NHL teams did not have him anywhere on their radar as he was draft eligible in 2012 or 2013. In fact, NCAA schools and the QMJHL passed on him as well. He played club hockey at a small school for a year before making the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada on a tryout. He performed well there, the Rangers drafted him, and here we are.
Now, Walcott is captain of the Armada in his overage year with the team. Outside of a wrist injury which sidelined him for a few weeks, it's been all positive for him and the team. Despite not being highly rated by pundits in Quebec, the Armada are off to a 15-7-4 start. Good enough for first in their division and third overall in the QMJHL. Walcott has three goals and 10 assists (should be two goals and 11 assists, but we'll get to that later) in 16 games and is the anchor on defense for a team tied for the fewest number of goals allowed.
Last night, Walcott was named Second Star despite the Armada losing 2-1 in the shootout to the Saint John Sea Dogs. Walcott was credited with a power play goal in the second period on this shot.
Walcott actually revealed to me after the game that teammate Philippe Sanche, in the slot, deflected the puck. The QMJHL is still crediting Walcott with the goal, but in any case it's a well-placed shot by Walcott from the point. He put it in the perfect place for Sanche to get his stick on it.
Aside from that goal, Walcott was a complete player. It speaks measures about his game that Head Coach (and former Rangers' defenseman) Joel Bouchard plays him in all situations. He practically double shifts him at even strength, and he's on the top PP and PK units. My favorite aspect of Walcott's game is his ability to carry the puck up ice with such fluidity. He showed off that ability with a few rushes in this game.
And this one on the power play.
I think concepts like "intangibles" are largely overrated, but I think Walcott genuinely deserving of credit in that regard. Joel Bouchard is constantly gushing about Walcott, 20, and his influence on the team's young locker room. In many ways he reminds me of Dan Girardi, which is strange because of how different they are as actual players. But like Girardi, Walcott is definitely a calm leader who holds himself accountable. He's willing to get banged up and sacrifice for the sake of the team. He'll play ridiculously long shifts and look no worse for wear.
Walcott needs to add some more weight, and he knows that. Sometimes he'll engage physically but bounce off an opposing forward simply because he just doesn't have the size. Aside from that, however, it's hard to find many faults with Walcott's game. Barring a significant injury or some other fluke scenario, I'll be stunned if the Rangers don't sign Walcott to an entry-level contract sometime between now and the summer.
That in itself would be an impressive feat of beating the odds; something Walcott is well used to by now. Dating back to the 2000 NHL draft and through 2012, only six of the 16 players the Rangers have drafted in the fifth round were later signed to a contract by the team. He still has a long road ahead if he's going to make the NHL, but for Walcott to be pretty close to a no-brainer signing this early in the season makes him a great value pick by Gordie Clark as well as the Rangers' Quebec scout Daniel Dore.
Keep reading for some other prospect notes.
The Hartford Wolf Pack got shutout by the Norfolk Admirals, affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, 2-0 last night. I only watched parts of the game, but my observations plus a look at the stats make me infer that this was largely an unlucky result for Hartford. They put 35 shots on net but none were able to beat Yann Danis. Meanwhile, a bouncing puck unfortunately found Mat Bodie's leg and caromed into the net for Norfolk's first goal. The second goal was on the power play and Skapski could do nothing to stop a rebound that found Ducks' 2011 fifth-round pick Max Friberg wide open at the side of the net. He slammed it home easily. Skapski otherwise saved everything else he faced, including a penalty shot from Emerson Etem. To be fair, Etem pretty much made the save for Skapski as he basically skated it into Skapski's pokecheck. Still, Skapski is now two-for-two on penalty shots in the AHL and five-for-five when including the shootout.
I usually don't watch Wolf Pack games on days like yesterday when there's a Rangers game as well as a number of other prospects in action. I'll have more in-depth breakdowns of games on occasions where it's better suited. However, here are some more long-term thoughts on two players.
Ryan Haggerty was perhaps the biggest victim of bad luck last night, with none of his seven shots going in. It's been a rough start to the season for Haggerty purely when looking at the goal column; only three in 20 games. To some extent, I think this is by design. His college resume and his performance in the pre-season showed everyone that Haggerty can shoot the puck as well as most players at even the NHL level. He's in Hartford right now to work on the rest of his game; physically, defensively, and away from the puck in general. He certainly has a lot of room to improve in those areas. I'm sure his lowered goal production is by some measure a consequence of a plan to have him focus on improving other parts of his game. That being said, his 44 shots through 20 games puts him third on the team. Right now he has a 6.81 shooting percentage, which is very low. Pucks should start going in much more frequently if he continues to shoot as much as he has. He's still a ways away from being a complete enough player to earn a legitimate look in the NHL, but I wouldn't be overly concerned with his (lack of) goal production right now.
On the other end of the spectrum is Ryan Malone. We'll see what happens with J.T. Miller and how long he stays in New York, but the fact he was called up immediately after news of Kreider having personal matters to attend to implies that the purpose of his call-up was for today's game against Philly and for nothing beyond that. One might think that Ryan Malone would be the player called up in such a short-stint scenario. Instead, he remains in Hartford. I think it says about as much about Malone's time in the AHL as it does Miller's. Malone has no points in four games, only five shots, and took a bad double-minor in yesterday's game that led to the second goal against. A four-game sample size isn't exactly the most damning, but one would think that if Malone was such a clear-cut NHLer, then he would have more to contribute than that. Put Ryan Malone' career aside, and what you have is a 34-year-old who did virtually nothing in six NHL games and has made a minimal impact in four AHL games. As things stand, that very history is all Malone has over guys like Miller, Lindberg, Fast, and even Kristo, Chris Bourque, and Ryan Bourque. It's still November, but I think there's a better than 50/50 chance that Ryan Malone has played his last game for the Rangers. That's how it looks to be playing out as of now, at least.
Brady Skjei returned to Minnesota's lineup after missing four games with an injury. Minnesota surely missed their best defenseman last week in back-to-back losses to Minnesota Deluth, and Skjei was apparently a big influence in a 6-2 win over Boston College last night. Skjei earned a primary assist on an empty netter to seal the game, while John Buccigross singled out his play.
Skjei added a physical component to his game last year after he bulked up in a big way, but it's still nice to see that tendency reinforced by Buccigross; especially in a first game back from injury. Skjei now has a goal and three assists in seven games. To compare, Ryan McDonagh had four goals and 14 assists in 43 games as a junior. While the inference to be made here is not that Skjei is going to be better than McDonagh, it's still a nice measuring stick for Skjei as he hopefully turns up the offensive production this season.
Finally, Pavel Buchnevich and Igor Shesterkin were invited to Russia's training camp for the World Junior Championships, which start on December 26th. Both selections were expected. Buchnevich is not only a lock to make the team, but will surely play on the first line. As for Shesterkin, it seems that he's battling for the backup spot, with Islanders' draft pick Ilya Sorokin probably opening the tournament as Russia's starter.