The Rangers released their Traverse City Tournament roster on Tuesday, to much fanfare. With it being the first bit of actual Rangers news in about a month, that’s to be expected.
That said, the tournament means different things to different players, so let’s do a quick break down now on what it means for each player of note. (Disclaimer that this tournament is always over-hyped, and success/disappointment during these games shouldn’t sway your opinions of a player all that much.)
Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson — This is just tuneup hockey to get them ready for the New Year. On Ep. 103 of the podcast Mike and I spoke to Adam and there was some speculation (on our behalf) that Andersson maybe shouldn’t take part; since he’s played so much hockey this summer. That said, he’s going to be there, and that’s fine. For both Chytil and Andersson this tournament means nothing. If they dominate? Amazing they should. If they don’t dominate? Well, whatever, it’s just another summer tournament.
Michael Lindqvist and Ville Meskanen — Lindqvist and Meskanen are two European free agent signings the Rangers grabbed at no risk this year. Mike did a fantastic deep dive into both of them here. If you want more, we talked about them on an episode of Bantering The Blueshirts a few weeks ago, which can be heard here.
While you’d expect both players to be locks for the AHL this year — the Rangers, shockingly, have a fair amount of winger depth — this is a really good chance for both of them to prove that they deserve a longer look. Lindqvist was one of two U24 players to post over a point-per-game in the SHL this year (scoring 20 goals in 33 games). Meskanen was a big-time player for Ilves in Liiga, posting 44 points in 48 games.
The quick rub on both of them? Meskanen is a more complete player who figures to have a “better” shot at an NHL career. However, Lindqvist is the wildcard, with an NHL-ready shot and a sniper’s mentality. It should be fun to see both of them on North American ice, as that will be a transition.
This is a tournament largely geared towards players in the 18-21 age range who are coming from lower levels. So the expectation for these two in Traverse City should be that they are among the best players on the ice. Anything else would be at least mildly concerning.
Libor Hajek and Brett Howden — The two prospects brought back from the Ryan McDonagh trade get grouped together in the “more than likely won’t make the team, but it will be really good to see how they look in a more professional tournament.” It should be noted that Hajek is far closer to being NHL ready this year than Howden, but I would still be shocked if he made the team out of camp.
Howden opened up a lot of eyes with his fantastic finish in the WHL last year, finishing with 75 points in 49 regular season games, posting 15 points in 14 playoff games, and having seven points in seven World Junior Championship games for Canada. Some bigger prospect writers (Corey Pronman being one of them) have mentioned that Howden’s year in the OHL last year was starting to turn the tide on him as a higher-end prospect — culminating in Pronman calling Howden a “Legit NHL prospect” in his farm system evaluations. (We spoke about Howden at The Forum, which can be heard here.) Disclaimer above, this is a guy I would expect to have a really good tournament.
As for Hajek, there seems to be a pretty big gap between overall opinions of him. Adam and Pronman have him below Howden, while I have heard from a few that think Hajek is far and away the better player. Tabbed as a great “all-around” guy, the Traverse City Tournament doesn’t really play to that type of a game. The systems on both ends of the ice are simplistic since these guys have never played together before, and offense is normally king. That said, if Hajek thinks he’s got a shot at the NHL year this (as you would want him to) he should dominate the kids here.
Ryan Lindgren, Ty Ronning, Sean Day, and Tim Gettinger — These are four AHL-bound players who are looking to start building their professional careers, all with different levels of success at lower levels.
Ronning is coming off a historic season in the WHL that saw him score 62 goals in 77 games, and is trying to prove he can do that at the next level.
Day is a prospect who has all the tools to be special, and took a big step forward in the OHL last season.
Gettinger has been a consistent success in juniors, and is looking to prove he can be the next Brian Boyle in the NHL.
Lindgren is here to prove he’s capable of being an NHL player, even if he seems destined to be a third-pairing guy.
All will be looking to turn some heads their way in this tournament, but the real goal is to shake the rust off before heading into camp.
Gabriel Fontaine — Fontaine is the one AHLer from last year who is entering this tournament not needing to boost his stock. Coming in 32nd in Adam’s Blueshirt Banter prospect rankings, Fontaine projects to be a guy who could turn into a very nice depth forward at the NHL level. Last year Fontaine stepped his game up as the year progressed and turned into a nice defensive asset for the Wolf Pack. He doesn’t need to secure his AHL spot for next year, but this tournament is another step forward for his ultimate NHL goal. From Adam’s recap of him:
It sure seems like it’s an open competition for the fourth-line center role on the Rangers. The onus will be on Fontaine to force the issue and give Head Coach David Quinn no choice but to give him a spot, but it can’t be ruled out. More likely, Fontaine gets an increased role in Hartford. Fontaine has the makeup of a quality fourth line center who eats up tough PK minutes and takes defensive zone draws, but he’s going to need to bump up his production in the AHL to make himself a serious contender for an NHL job down the line.
Chris Nell and Brandon Crawley — Two more holdovers from the AHL last year, although unlike Fontaine both need to do far more to prove themselves. Nell played 18 games for the Wolf Pack last year, and 14 games in the ECHL for three different teams. He didn’t put up eye-popping numbers at either level, and came in 37th in Adam’s rankings, and here’s the blurb from that story:
In fairness to Nell, the Wolf Pack averaged way too many quality shots against, and it would have been unrealistic to expect any rookie goaltender to look good in that situation. But Nell is now nearly 24 years old and doesn’t have much time left to make an impact.
Nell will need this tournament to jump-start that.
In the same vein, Crowley desperatley needs some good press, which you wouldn’t have guessed when he earned a nice-long look in the preseason last year. Adam had this to say when ranking Crowley 39th:
On a subpar Hartford team that was ripe with opportunity for young players to earn increased roles, Crawley mostly served as a third-pairing defenseman and even found himself in the press box a handful of time. His skating became an issue, as he had a tougher time keeping up with the speed of the game. Five points in 64 games is not very good, even for a 20-year-old defensive defenseman.
Hartford’s defense projects to be a mess again, since the Rangers will likely plunder some of their talent this season at one point or another. For a guy like Crawley, he needs to dominate in this tournament. He has extensive professional experience comparably, which gives him a leg up over most of the prospects who have none. He’s a bigger body as well.
Joey Keane — One of the “this doesn’t matter” downsides of drafting through Europe is that you don’t get a look at those prospects in summer tournaments/camp for the Rangers. All three of the Rangers’ first round picks this year aren’t showing up for various reasons — Vitali Kravtsov (who is dominating in the KHL/Four Nations), K’Andre Miller (who is at Wisconsin already) and Nils Lundkvist (in the SHL/Four Nations).
Keane is an interesting selection at 88 — one I knee-jerk did not like at the time. He’s an overage (barely) who put up respectable numbers in the OHL (44 points in 62 games) and had an enormous growth year from the year before (where he only amassed 19 points in 67 games). he projects as more of a two-way defenseman, but his underlying numbers were some of the best in the OHL according to Mitch Brown’s tracking analytics.
Keane turned some heads at the summer, as Adam reviewed here:
Pound-for-pound, Keane had one of the most impressive tournaments among all of the participants. He entered camp as a fringe participant, but quickly impressed USA personnel. First-round pick K’Andre Miller suffered an illness that kept him out of the tournament, and that opened up a bigger role for Keane. What impressed me about Keane was how his defensive impact manifested in multiple ways. He showed good technique and position awareness in defending rushes.
This is a really good opportunity for Keane to do some of the impressing directly under the eyes of the coaches on Broadway. This is expected to be a really big year for Keane — who is starting to turn heads across the board, especially since he was one of the OHL leaders among defenseman at 5v5 in terms of offensive production.
Nico Gross — Another draft pick this year, Gross is in a different category than Keane. The Rangers are taking a flyer that Gross — who didn’t have great underlying numbers in juniors last year — was struggling due to his transition from the Swiss B League to the OHL. I gave him a “D” in my next day draft grades, citing the following:
In Switzerland Gross showed flashes of a prolific offensive defenseman. In their U17 league he had 17 points in 21 games, and then just 2 points in 20 Elite Jr. A games (which, to be fair, was a U20 league where he was just 16). Last year he recorded 9 assists in NLB (the second tier of Swiss hockey) he had 9 assists in 33 games. Respectable numbers for a, then, 17 year-old.
It was this year in the OHL where things came into focus. Despite playing against men as a teenage, he didn’t take advantage of playing again peers his age — with just 14 points in 58 games. It’s not all about the offense, of course.
At this point, it’s up to Gross to prove me wrong.