The Rangers are in the middle of an identity crisis, but the season has started well for the Hartford Wolf Pack; the team’s AHL affiliate. A completely revamped roster and coaching staff have come out of the game with a 3-1-0 record and are getting contributions from a number of players.
The biggest name, of course, is 2017 first-round pick Filip Chytil, who became the youngest player to play an AHL game since 1974. He had a three-point night on Saturday, and was named the game’s first start in a 4-3 Hartford win. Here are some of his highlights.
He also earned an assist by winning a faceoff back to the defense and then setting up the screen in front. Throughout the night he looked confident and was an offensive catalyst for Hartford. The kneejerk reaction might be to call him back up to the Rangers, but Hartford is the best place for him right now. He is getting top-six minutes and PP time with a lot of veteran talent around him. He’ll be able to get used to a long schedule and the intricacies of North American hockey in a competitive environment. If he’s tearing the league up by December then that can be reconsidered.
As shown in the Chytil clips, Lettieri scored his first AHL goal on a sweet backhand shot. He was an active contributor the entire game. He registered six shots on goal and was strong on the defensive side, making plays like this one to help hold Springfield to one goal on six power play opportunities.
Calling up Lettieri seems like the easiest short-term move the Rangers could make to add a different element to the roster. I don’t see how he could prove to be much of a downgrade over Paul Carey and Adam Cracknell. His speed and defensive ability could give the Rangers a boost on the fourth line and penalty kill.
Adam Tambellini, a 2013 third-round pick, was kept off the scoresheet. Nonetheless, he is playing the best hockey of his AHL career to start the season. He scored a goal in each of his first three games, which isn’t unexpected given his gift for shooting the puck. Maybe more encouraging is that he is noticeable in other areas of the game, too.
A shift like this one - where he forced a turnover in the neutral zone, won a puck battle behind the net, and then drew a penalty - was rarely seen from Tambellini in his first two AHL seasons. This is likely a make-or-break season for him developmentally, and he’ll need to show more of this if he wants to have an NHL career.
Finally, Chris Nell is quickly adding himself to the Rangers’ long list of intriguing goaltending prospects. The under-the-radar free agent signing had a competent showing in Traverse City, and now has 86 saves on 92 shots (.935 save percentage) in three starts this season. On Saturday, he made 33 saves on 36 shots and frustrated Springfield the entire night. Here are a few of his saves.
Nell does not possess compelling athleticism, nor size, but he is very steady in the crease and plays his angles well. He and Aleksandar Georgiev will be battling it out all season for the edge in starts. So far, Nell has stood tall.
Though only four games into their season, Hartford look substantially improved from the last two seasons. They did not concede a shot for the first 15 minutes of the third period against Springfield while protecting the lead, which speaks to their coaching and talent. The Rangers finally have some skilled prospects in Hartford, and they have done a tremendous job surrounding them with veteran talents like Matt Puempel, Joe Whitney, and Scott Kosmachuk. This is definitely a team that will be competitive, and that appears better prepared to develop the team’s youngsters.