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Traverse City Tournament: Final Thoughts

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The Baby Rangers finished the Traverse City Tournament with a 6-4 loss to the Baby Blue Jackets, ending up in fourth place overall.

We, quite obviously, don't care about the team results in this situation, but more about the way individual players stood out.

The defense of this group was headlined by Sean Day (this year’s 3rd round pick), Sergey Zborovsky (3rd round pick last year) and John Gilmour (an NCAA free agent). Outside of them, it was free agent invites galore.

In a twist of true irony, the Baby Rangers sort of look like what we all fear the real Rangers will be: a great offense with no defensive support (factor out the rocky goaltending, though).

Anyway, now that the tournament is over I wanted to finish off things with some overall notes about individual players:

Jimmy Vesey — The Rangers nabbed the the most coveted NCAA free agent since Kevin Hayes and he showed why he’a such an asset during this tournament. I understand that guys like Vesey — older, more physically mature talents — should dominate these types of tournaments, but Vesey shattered even those expectations.

Looking down on his performance because he should be dominating misses the point that he did, in fact, dominate. His seven points (five goals) tied Derek Stepan and Oscar Lindberg for most in a single tournament in team history.

Vesey was a goal scoring machine, showed salivating chemistry with Pavel Buchnevich and was a fantastic playmaker too. There really wasn't much he wasn't doing, and for a guy who the Rangers would love to make an impact right away, he couldn’t have had a better showing.

Pavel Buchnevich — The Rangers biggest internal free agent was being watched like a hawk. According to the official scoresheet he had zero points in the tournament. I have no idea how the stats guy missed this:

But he did. I checked around Twitter and we think Buchnevich definitely had three assists and might have had as many as five. He did have zero goals, though, that part was accurate.

I went on a mini twitter rant about Buchnevich that I will try and condense here:

As strange as it might sound, I do think Buchnevich was too good for his teammates a lot of the time. There were multiple times where Buchnevich passed the puck to where a teammate should be, only for there to be no one home. Often times he protected the puck in the corner or won a puck battle, circled into space and had no options because his teammates abandoned the zone. With a more seasoned group, Buchnevich would have dominated even more than he did as is. And it’s no surprise him and Vesey had such chemistry, since Vesey knew where to be and worked well with him.

This was a big first step for Buchnevich as it was his first real taste of North American hockey. The preseason should have some expected transition, but the only knock on Buchnevich from Traverse City is that he needs to shoot more.

Robin Kovacs -- I don’t think I can say enough good things about him. He’s a ball of offense and energy who uses his speed to knife through the defense and has an unreal shot.

As a 17-year-old Kovacs led his SHL (second tier) team in scoring. That’s a men’s league, on a team with men and he was the best player on the team. As an 18-year-old he followed that up with another dominant performance, and won the MVP of the second tier for the second year in a row. His numbers in Sweden are akin to Filip Forsberg’s. There’s a lot of reasons to be excited about him.

It’s these reasons why his performance was so intoxicating at Traverse City. As much as guys like Vesey, Buchnevich and Malte Stromwall should be dominating due to their age and physical maturity, Kovacs is the opposite. He’s 19 years old, and while his experience in a men’s league certainly shined through, he has a ways to go physically.

He excelled on raw talent — of which he has an immense amount -- and that’s exciting to see. I can’t wait to see him in Hartford this year.

Malte Stromwall — Like Vesey and Buchnevich, Stromwall (22) should have been a dominating presence this tournament. And he was.

Stromwall is a sniper, who is coming off a 25-goal in 49 games in the SHL second division. His water-bottle snipe was easily the prettiest goal in the tournament:

If you were able to catch the games you could usually find Stromwall either shooting or standing in front of the net. One of his goals came off his face. You read that sentence correctly.

Stromwall does have some North American experience (he spent two years in the WHL) so I am expecting him to do big things in Hartford. Where Kovacs might need to adjust to the smaller ice surfaces, Stromwall should be ready to go. His performance was right where you’d want it to be as a Rangers fan.

Cristoval “Boo” Nieves -- The captain of the squad, Nieves is another older player who should have (and did) dominate in the tournament. Nieves’ biggest knock is that he never put everything together in Michigan, despite showing flashes of true talent.

Nieves was a big body presence for the Rangers, scored a big goal and was reportedly a leader in the room. All of that is great to see for someone who I have high expectations for in his first pro season this year. Like Buchnevich and Vesey, he should have been a presence in Traverse City and he was.

Ryan Gropp — This was not a good showing from the Rangers “true” return from the Carl Hagelin trade. Gropp was scratched for two of the four games, had a single assist on a Sean Day goal, and outside of that I don’t think I noticed him once.

Actually, not to be rude, but I forgot he was in the tournament until I noted that he was a healthy scratch for the third game.

I wouldn’t put too much stock into this tournament as a whole — remember, Anthony Duclair was shut out two years ago if I recall correctly — but as an overage in juniors I do expect more out of him than what he showed.

Gropp is up against a lot of things that aren’t his fault. 1) He’s the return on the Hagelin trade, 2) the Rangers valued him over a slew of already more successful draft picks and 3) they picked him specifically because of his size.

He can’t do anything about any of that. His year in the WHL was fine, and Adam has run through some loose comparables that shine a favorable light on him.

To have a single assist in this tournament is not good. To be invisible — especially for the game he plays — is a much bigger problem. Let’s hope this was just a blip on the radar.

Sean Day — The Rangers first pick in this year’s draft (81st overall) is quit literally the perfect example of a project. He’s got all the tools to be a defenseman on the level of Victor Hedman. But, there’s a reason he fell to the 81st overall slot. He hasn’t put it all together yet.

He had two goals (both in the same game) and an assist. He played through an injury in his first game and looked noticeably bad (with some flashes of good). His improvement in the second and third game really solidified what he can be. He is an effortless skater, joins the rush like a forward, made some really smart pinches and had a perfect (and I mean perfect) touchdown pass to Robin Kovacs for his lone assist.

Day had a lot of pressure on him because of his exceptional player status, and being taken in the third round should help ease some of those expectations. Maybe with a self-described new attitude and a little less pressure he can focus on putting everything together.

Ty Ronning — Ronning was hailed as one of the steals of the draft to be taken in the seventh round. And while he didn’t dominate the scoresheet, he was a very effective player. I can see Ronning turning into a bottom-six scoring winger at the NHL level, and I saw flashes of that in Traverse City.

John Gilmour — The NCAA free agent signing played a solid game for the Rangers at Traverse City, and might have been one of the more solid defenseman there. While I can’t see him being anything more than Hartford depth, it’s a good showing from him.

Sergey Zborovsky — I didn’t really notice Zborovsky at all. For a tournament where the Rangers defense was in shambles, that might be more of a compliment than a complaint.

Calle Andersson -- This was not a good showing for a guy the Rangers were hoping would develop overseas into a puck moving defenseman. Last year was a transition year for him as he got used to North America but I was hoping for more out of him in this tournament. Especially with his professional experience overseas.

Brad Morrison — Played a single game and was scratched the other three. Not sure what else you can say about that other than the fact that it’s not a good look.