We're getting dangerously close to real hockey, guys. So far, we've seen (or at least been able to document) the first two Rangers Traverse City games so far. Here are a few of my notes:
- The NCAA free agents the Rangers brought in (this does not include Kevin Hayes since he's not really an NCAA free agent) have actually surprised me. Ryan Haggery -- who to be fair was one of the top free agents in his class -- has looked pretty spectacular. Throw Chris McCarthy (who assisted on Adam Tambellini's game winner in Game 2) into that category, too. Both players have shown their stripes and it's been nice to see.
- Mat Bodie (who was also an NCAA free agent) has been good, but people are still questioning his size. He's a puck mover, and proved that during the first game. It's something the Rangers lack in their system and everybody wants to have. So far the Rangers have been using him in all situations, which should give the brass a good idea of how his lack of size impacts his game on the ice at a higher level.
- Since we mentioned him earlier: Tambellini is sort of like the forgotten son from that 2013 NHL Draft class by the Rangers. With Pavel Buchnevich and Anthony Duclair taking up all of the spotlight, a lot of people seem to forget the Rangers actually selected Tambellini before both of them. And while that probably wouldn't be the case if you re-drafted them now, Tambellini has been impressive. Not only did he score the game winning goal of the Baby Rangers second game victory over the Baby Sabres, but he's been great since the Rangers drafted him. After his ill-fated start in the NCAA ranks with the University of North Dakota ended with him jumping to the WHL, Tambellini scored 17 goals and 39 points in 31 games for the Calgary Hitmen before adding nine more points in six playoff games. He has an incredible wrist shot (which he scored his OT winner with) and his vision is underrated. I think he's going to be a good player.
- Hayes and Duclair have the biggest spotlights on them -- rightfully so. And while neither has lit up the scoreboard (Hayes has an assist, I'm not sure Duclair has any points) the conversation surrounding the two has been focused around the same word: Dominant. Hayes has not only looked good but he's looked comfortable at center, which is a huge talking point right now. I could focus more on these two but I don't think I have to.
- For those of you who don't know, I'm a huge Arsenal supporter. If you don't know what that is, then don't worry about it. If you do, well, the reason I'm telling you this is because every time I write out Daniel Walcott I want to write Theo Walcott and yell about his fitness. Anyway, hockey Rangers Walcott has been really impressive. There was chatter the Rangers got a steal in the draft by landing him in the 5th round. It's a big year for him coming up, but we'll see.
- The Rangers made it a team policy the past two years to fix one of the glaring holes in their farm system: A lack of an heir to the goaltending throne. No, Henrik Lundqvist isn't going anywhere for a long time, but that doesn't mean you can just abandon the position altogether. The Rangers sort of did that once Lundqvist rose to power, and now they're trying to fix it. Mackenzie Skapski (2012 draftee) was the player of the game in the Baby Rangers' win over the Baby Sabres. Brandon Halverson (2014 draftee) was solid in the first game. And Igor Shestyorkin (2014 draftee who is not playing in the tournament) has looked awesome in the KHL so far this year. The best part about guys like Halverson and Shestyorkin is how young they are (both 18) so they don't need to be expected to make an instant impact. Right now, all three are impressing. It's a good problem to have.
- Last note: Don't take your eyes off of Richard Nejezchleb. He was passed over twice in terms of being drafted, but injuries played a major role in both of those decisions. He was a force in the WHL last year (nearly a point per game) and he's been good so far in Traverse City.
Sometimes it's tough to accurately pinpoint some of the finer aspects of this tournament, especially when you're not watching it in person. Regardless, it's something to talk about, and it means Rangers hockey is one step closer. I felt a chill in the air this morning.
I love the hockey season ...