Tyler Nanne, drafted by the Rangers in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, brought something new to the prospect pool that the Rangers sorely needed; a high-upside offensive defenseman. Dan Boyle is 38 years old. Mat Bodie is already 24 and is not at all a guaranteed NHLer. Calle Andersson is playing in Switzerland. Adding a pure offensive defenseman of any kind to the depth chart was a breath of fresh air.
That's why it was so disappointing to see Nanne, an Ohio State commit for the Fall of 2015, struggle mightily as he spends his gap year in the USHL. A player with his ability should do significantly better than the one goal and two assists he produced in 13 games with the Sioux Falls Stampede. Nanne recognized his need to play better, but also felt that he wasn't a good fit for Sioux Falls' system and needed a change of scenery. They granted him his wish, and he was shipped to the Madison Capitols.
The immediate result has been Nanne rediscovering that offensive ability that the Rangers were so fond of. He's potted three goals and added two assists in six games with Madison. The move has been mutually beneficial, with Nanne greatly improving the team's power play.
I watched Nanne and the Capitols in a couple of recent games, including their shootout win over the Dubuque Fighting Saints this past Friday. Here were the highlights.
Nanne earns a primary assist on the PP. Teammate Freddy Gerard puts home a rebound from Nanne's big point shot.
Nanne is very deceptive. Despite being 5'10 and 175 pounds on a good day, he possesses an incredibly heavy shot. The result? Goals for him, or convertible rebounds generated for his teammates.
Nanne scores in the dying minutes of a 5-4 game to tie the score.
Not great goaltending, but it is impressive how quickly Nanne was able get his center of gravity towards the goal and get a shot on net.
Nanne scores the only goal of the shootout to seal the win for Madison.
Nanne believes that the trade is exactly why his offense is starting to pick up.
"I think it's the way Madison plays," Nanne told me. "I get to be more involved and the power play is more effective."
Still, Nanne understand his own burden to improve his play.
"I've been way more engaged with when to rush and when not to, and a lot more stick-to-tape passes with better scoring chance."
Nanne spent a lot of time at forward in high school and only recently made the call to permanently move to defense.That's a big reason why his defensive game is severely underdeveloped. As good as Nanne is in the offensive zone, he's a huge work in progress defensively. He's still learning what spots he needs to be in and when it's his job to chase the puck carrier in the defensive zone. This is something Nanne fully acknowledges.
"Mostly to develop my defense and round it out so I could go right into Ohio State and be an impact player. But also to mature," Nanne said of the decision to spend a year in the USHL.
It's going to take a long time for Nanne to get comfortable in the defensive zone, and by no means is his offensive game polished. But Nanne has a lot of individual attributes - he's an above-average skater, possesses a huge shot, and can send hard passes through - that make him similar to PP QB's like Brian Rafalski and Torey Krug, who also needed a lot of time to develop. Among all Rangers' prospects, he's probably the farthest away from being NHL-ready. He's more or less the definition of a "project" or a "boom-or-bust" prospect. But his raw assets make him a worthwhile gamble with a fifth-round pick. If those individual abilities can be properly harvested over the next 5-7 years and he turns into the dynamic offensive-defenseman that the Rangers have not developed internally in a long time, then the wait will be well worth it.
After a tough shootout loss to the Springfield Falcons on Saturday in which the score was 0-0 through 65 minutes, the Hartford Wolf Pack beat the Binghamton Senators 4-2 at home yesterday afternoon. Danny Kristo scored twice for the Wolf Pack and, quite frankly, deserved a hat-trick. Here was his first of the two goals.
Great wrister from Kristo, but that's nothing new for him. What is relatively new is his effort in the defensive zone to set up the transition rush in the first place. He worked hard to get to the puck first along the boards and chop it into the neutral zone, where Chris Bourque picked it up.
Chris Bourque had a great game all-around. He earned an assist on Kristo's second goal as well, and scored one of his own. Bourque has 22 points in 23 games. It's not going to happen with the Rangers - at least not with the depth they currently have on the wings - but I believe he's played well enough to merit another chance in the NHL somewhere else. He's exactly the kind of dominating offensive presence that Hartford was not getting out of its veterans last season.
Mackenzie Skapski, who was pulled on Friday after letting in three goals on the first seven shots against Syracuse, came back strong and earned the First Star with 45 saves on 47 shots. Skapski was confident in net and didn't wilt in the times that he was peppered with shots. His best spell occurred in the second period during a long five-on-three for the Senators. I counted four saves during that penalty kill, including three on just this shift alone.
Also having strong games for Hartford were Ryan Bourque, Conor Allen, and Michael Kostka.
Richard Nejezchleb continued his strong overage season in the WHL with a three-point performance last night against the Kootenay Ice. Nejezchleb made two great passes to earn primary assists, and he put this shot past Wyatt Hoflin, Mackenzie Skapski's backup last season.
Nejezchleb now has 18 points through 13 WHL games this season. He's 11th in the WHL in points-per-game.
Keegan Iverson, drafted in the third round this past summer, scored for the first time in 18 games with this blast Medicine Hat's Marek Langhammer in the first period. Portland went on to win 4-1.
Apparently a big fan of metaphors, Iverson did this before skating to the bench and screaming at all his teammates in an effort to motivate them further.
What this clip doesn't show is the tremendous work he put in just prior while Portland killed off a five-minute major. And that's apropos of the season Iverson has been having. He's done a lot of good things for Portland in ways that don't show up on the scoresheet. He has to be one of the hardest working players in Canadian juniors right now and puts forth an effort to make his mark in little ways every shift. That obviously isn't good enough in itself, though. The hard work and little contributions are a big part of his game, but Iverson, particularly as a third-round pick, needs to start getting on the scoresheet more often than he has; three goals and seven assists through 30 games prior to tonight just isn't good enough and more of the same will not earn him an entry-level contract. To be fair, he hasn't been getting much puck luck, but in any case it's up to him to start finishing his chances. Last night was a great start, and hopefully it will relieve some of the pressure he clearly has been feeling. Oliver Bjorkstrand, arguably Portland's top winger, will be representing Denmark at the World Junior Championships and thus won't be available for a while. It should mean increased offensive minutes for Iverson. Let's hope he makes the best of that opportunity.
Adam Tambellini scored in each of his games Friday and Sunday respectively. On Friday against the Edmonton Oil Kings, he made a superb individual play on the penalty kill to force a turnover, beat two Edmonton players to the loose puck, and rush up the ice only to be hooked on a breakaway. He was awarded a penalty shot for the effort and faced off against highly-rated goaltending prospect Tristan Jarry.
Tambellini now has 33 points through 30 games and is tied for sixth in the WHL with 17 goals.
Some final notes: Brandon Halverson relieved Joseph Raaymakers and stopped nine of 12 shots as well as two of three shootout attempts in Sault St. Marie's 7-6 shootout loss to the Sarnia Sting last night. Halverson is dealing with what is being described as a "minor hip injury" (H/T Richard Tharrett) and sat on the bench for the previous five games. Troy Donnay returned from his foot injury on Saturday. The Greenville Road Warriors won 5-0 on Friday. Chris McCarthy had one goal on three shots.