It's not October, but as of tonight, we have hockey. Those words are pretty sweet to type, and while it's only Traverse City, there are many things to watch for as the Rangers prospects open play tonight, beginning with a game against the Stars. Here are some players that are definitely worth paying attention to, and why.
Kevin Hayes, Forward
You may have heard about this guy. After he was unable to come to terms on a contract with the Blackhawks, the Rangers front office (with the help of fellow Boston College alumni Chris Kreider and Brian Boyle) were able to convince Hayes New York was the place city for him. I've seen Hayes play extensively, and wrote about him after he signed his deal with the Rangers.
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Hayes is a north-south player. He should be. With a big, physically imposing body, Hayes is a freight train with top-end skill. He's a candidate to make the Rangers opening game roster straight out of camp, mostly because the rookie can physically assimilate to the pro game rather quickly. He absolutely dominated during his senior season at Boston College, posting the second most points in the country. Hayes knows this is the first part of his audition to making the NHL Rangers, and certainly won't need any motivation in that regard.
Anthony Duclair, Forward
Another player who needs no introduction. An under-the-radar draft pick back in 2013, the third round selection has skyrocketed up the prospect ranks with his torrid QMJHL scoring pace. While Duclair is likely headed back to Quebec and major juniors for the season, Traverse City represents a chance for him to catch the Rangers brass' eyes, and force them to keep him around a bit longer.
Duclair is a player who can make a lot out of a little. He's a wizard on the puck, and he's posted gaudy offensive totals in Quebec with relatively weak teammates. Depending on how the Rangers are approaching this, Duclair could see time with Hayes playing opposite wings, or perhaps even with Hayes in the middle. It would be nice to see Duclair with some of the other top prospects simply to see what he can produce with strong players around him. After the breakout year he had in Quebec last season, look to see if Duclair can carry that momentum into Traverse City.
Ryan Haggerty, Forward
After finishing his collegiate career at RPI, Ryan Haggerty signed a pro deal with the Rangers as one of college hockey's top undrafted free agents. If there's any part of Haggerty's game that's pro-ready it's his shot, which is his bread and butter. This guy is a scoring forward, and a sniper.
He's been around the Rangers for a while having signed his deal in March, and traveling with the team ever since. For that reason, he's sometimes forgotten when it comes to the team's prospects, but Haggerty should provide some maturity and leadership to this group having been in a professional environment for so long. But you should be watching to see if Haggerty can find the back of the net with his shot, and how well he's able to get it off.
Mat Bodie, Defenseman
At one point or another, Bodie will be a starting defenseman in the NHL. Whether that's with the Rangers or another organization remains to be seen, but Bodie is a player who simply has worked hard and won at just about at every walk of his hockey career.
A 24-year-old, Bodie is another player who could provide maturity and be a strong voice among this prospect group. It also means the clock is ticking a bit quicker for him, despite the fact that he turned pro under a year ago. Bodie is in many ways the type of defenseman the league is trending toward. He's a strong skater who can move the puck, and also provides offense from the blue line. He kind of projects to be a good third pairing defenseman, which may seem like a crack, but by no means is.
Brandon Halverson, Goalie
When the Rangers took Havlerson with their first overall selection (in the second round) of the 2014 Draft, it may have come as a surprise to some. But to scouts and those familiar with the draft, Halverson was an absolute steal. Some thought he was the best goalie available (not just on the board, the best goalie in the draft, period), and he adds to the Rangers organizational depth at that position, which has gone from "non-existent" to quite good.
In Halverson, there's no use in getting very upset if he doesn't stand on his head in this tournament. Henrik Lundqvist isn't going anywhere for a few years, and until anything happens to the contrary, neither is Cam Talbot. But remember this: Talbot is 27, and Halverson won't be 27 for nine(!) years. This is a young kid, with a ton of potential between the pipes, and certainly a prospect worth stashing away. A lot can change in nine years (or less than that), and Halverson will get his first crack to show the Rangers he was worth the early pick. Just think back to the beginning of last season when Lundqvist was hurt, Martin Biron retired, and the Rangers goaltending situation looked downright dreadful. Oh, and Halverson is also from Traverse City, so this is a homecoming for him. That whole bit about not getting upset if he doesn't play well ... well, he probably will have a few friends and family members in the stands. So expect him to potentially be motivated.