When the month of August arrives and news in the hockey world slows down to a crawl, the only interesting bits of info that tend to emerge are teams agreeing to professional tryouts. As of today, only the Dallas Stars (R.J. Umberger) and Los Angeles Kings (Andrei Loktionov and Brandon Prust) have agreed to bring players into camp on PTO’s. While the Rangers don’t appear to be in a position to extend a tryout to any veterans in the hopes of an NHL salary next season, the team has been in similar situations in years past, and that hasn’t stopped Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton from bringing in an extra veteran or two.
The Rangers have brought in at least one player on a professional tryout three of the last four years. With a bevy of talented players still unsigned, it would be shocking if the team opted against bringing in another player or two to serve as a camp body. Unfortunately, the players New York has brought to training camp rarely work out in the long run, and usually only go down as a footnote in Blueshirts history and a header image for Bantering Points later in the year.
With roughly a month before the team arrives at camp to kick off the 2017-18 season, let’s take a trip down memory lane and reminisce on some of the Rangers’ training camp tryouts:
2016: Maxim Lapierre
After opting to let Dominic Moore leave New York and sign with the Boston Bruins, the team was in need of a 4th line center while Oscar Lindberg was recovering from hip surgery at the start of the season. Brandon Pirri ended up turning a stellar pre-season performance into a chance at becoming Lindberg’s replacement, but he wasn’t the only candidate for the job.
Nearly a month before inking Pirri to a one year contract, Jeff Gorton (probably) asked Alain Vigneault for any possibilities to replace the defensive prowess Moore had brought to New York’s bottom six over the previous three seasons. As Vigneault had done previously, he (probably) thought back to his days in Vancouver, and recommended Maxim Lapierre.
From the moment news broke of Lapierre’s “signing”, the move was widely derided from all portions of the hockey world. Statistically, Lapierre was one of the worst players in the NHL during his time in North America. After an unsuccessful playoff run with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015, Lapierre bounced around Europe during the 15-16 season. The agitating forward skated in 34 contests for Modo of the Swedish Hockey League before having his contract terminated before jumping to HC Lugano of the Swiss League and appearing in six games for them.
Once training camp began, Lapierre was a non-factor, as he donned a Rangers sweater four times while notching one assist before being released from his tryout. Once the World Cup of Hockey had ended, Lapierre had outlived his usefulness as a camp body, and he ended up resigning with HC Lugano for the 16-17 season.
2015: Kirill Kabanov and Brett Bellemore
Heading into his first season as New York’s general manager, Jeff Gorton opted to extend tryouts to two players, those being former Islander Kirill Kabanov and former Carolina Hurricane Brett Bellemore. While Kabanov had been labeled as a lazy, enigmatic malcontent during his days in the Islanders organization, the Rangers decided to take a flyer on Kabanov. While his odds of making the team seemed slim at the onset of camp, all it would take was a couple of strong showings in preseason games for the talented Russian to crack a roster that would later feature the likes of Jarret Stoll, Emerson Etem, Jayson Megna, and Daniel Paille.
Unfortunately for both sides, the experiment just didn’t work out. Kabanov only skated in one game for New York before being cut. The team offered him a tryout with the Hartford Wolfpack, but he eventually turned it down and returned to Russia. Since then, Kabanov has appeared in thirteen KHL games over the last two seasons while failing to record a point, so it’s safe to say the Rangers didn’t miss out on much.
The decision to extend a PTO to Bellemore wasn’t a bad one, it was just curious. Bellemore had been a serviceable depth player for the Hurricanes, scoring 18 points in 113 games over the previous two seasons. However, even if Bellemore had turned heads during September, there just wasn’t any room for him on the roster.
The Rangers had their top six of Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle, and Kevin Klein entrenched. Raphael Diaz and Dylan McIlrath were neck and neck to become the team’s 7th defenseman, and Ryan Graves and Brady Skjei both flashed enough puck skill to become the top call-up options in case of injuries. As such, Bellemore only appeared in two games before being released and signing with the Providence Bruins of the AHL. Today, Bellemore is skating alongside former Rangers Wojtek Wolski, Magnus Hellberg, and Ethan Werek for HC Kunlun Red Star of the KHL.
Pre-2015: Johan Hedberg, Garnet Exelby, and Petr Nedved
Glen Sather opted against inviting any veterans to training camp in 2014, but New York’s former general manager brought in a familiar face from across the river before Alain Vigneault’s first season behind New York’s bench in 2013. After being bought out in the wake of New Jersey’s acquisition of Corey Schneider, the Rangers agreed to a professional tryout with The Moose, Johan Hedberg.
Martin Biron was attending to a personal matter at the onset of camp, but returned to the team before Hedberg appeared in a game for the Blueshirts. After being released from his tryout, Hedberg appeared in one game for New Jersey’s AHL affiliate in Albany before retiring. The Moose is still active in the NHL however, as he currently serves as a goaltending coach for the San Jose Sharks.
I don’t remember all of the circumstances surrounding the Exelby and Nedved PTO’s, but what I can recall doesn’t seem to be very positive. Over the course of his career in the NHL, Garnet Exelby recorded 50 points and a whopping 584 penalty minutes over parts of seven seasons before coming to the Rangers’ training camp in 2010. While the game of hockey has changed since then, it’s still difficult to imagine a player of his ilk being a legitimately capable NHLer at the turn of the decade. That seemed to be the consensus of the rest of the league, as Exelby didn’t earn a contract from the Rangers, and spent the next four seasons in the AHL before making the move to Europe for two more seasons before retiring.
As for Nedved, most will remember him for the trades he was involved in during his first two stints in Rangerstown. He initially arrived in a trade from St. Louis in the summer of 1994, and played one season on Broadway before being included in the infamous Segei Zubov deal. Nedved would return to New York via another trade, this time being swapped for Alexei Kovalev. After more than five seasons of statistical success during the team’s dark ages, Nedved was shipped off to Edmonton during New York’s 2004 fire sale. What some fans might not remember was his brief third stint with the team during the pre-season of 2008.
(There aren’t any clips of Nedved from 2008, so enjoy one from the Dark Ages)
Looking back on it after nine years, the Rangers’ 08-09 season was really weird. Their two leading scorers (Scott Gomez and Nik Zherdev) were ran out of town after the season concluded. Aaron Voros was a folk hero for the first month of the season. Markus Naslund was a Ranger and Mats Sundin almost joined him. The Rangers blew a 3-1 playoff lead to the Capitals of all teams.
What would have made it even weirder was if Petr Nedved cracked the roster out of training camp. The Czech forward actually approached the organization about joining the team, and Glen Sather obliged by handing him a professional tryout on the last day of July. Nedved actually performed reasonably well, notching two goals and an assist in three games before being cut and finishing his career in the Czech league.
To say that New York’s training camp tryouts haven’t worked out would be an understatement. Out of their five most recent players they’ve brought in on tryouts, none of them skated in a regular season game for the club. However, that shouldn’t dissuade Jeff Gorton from kicking the tires on some of the top available players. Despite the team’s lack of success with PTO’s in years past, all it would take is one successful one to shore up the team’s current depth issues.