The Traverse City Tournament begins tonight, and it is exciting for a number of reasons. One, it is the unofficial start of the hockey season. That would be great under any circumstances, but for Rangers fans it is a long time coming given that the season ended in early April last season, but pragmatically speaking ended sometime in early February. It’s also a chance to get a look at the team’s prospects, and in the Rangers’ case that is more meaningful than ever given that this is the first time the next era of Rangers hockey will step on the ice together as one cohesive unit (with a few missing players, of course).
The tournament also creates the potential for a lot of premature and disproportionate judgment; both positive and negative. For reference, here are the point leaders in Traverse City the last six years (excluding 2012, because there was a lockout). Why is six the cutoff? Because that’s the point in which I decided I had enough.
Quite simply, it’s hard to see much of a correlation here in terms of production translating into NHL success. What does stand out, however, is that the top point producers tend to be the oldest players. That would make sense. Players like Jimmy Vesey, Ryan Haggerty, and Oscar Lindberg, were well into their 20s and had already faced high levels of competition. One would expect they beat up on teenagers, fifth-round picks, free agent invites.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing to learn from these tournaments. Alexei Bereglazov’s poor showing last September was the first sign that he wasn’t the player the Rangers hoped he would be. On the other hand, a strong showing from Marchessault in 2011 foreshadowed what would be an excellent rookie AHL season (and eventually fantastic NHL career).
But on the other hand, there’s a whole lot of noise there. Kevin Hayes went on to become a key kog in a Presidents’ Trophy that very same 2014-2015 season. Just last year Vinni Lettieri made himself into the team’s go-to call-up while Ryan Gropp and Malte Stromwall faded into the background.
These games are essentially competitive scrimmages. Teams will be using all sorts of players in random combinations with extremely loose tactical structures. This tournament is largely an orientation for youngsters before the real training camp begins. The Rangers are going to have guys not old enough to drink, or just arrived from a new continent, or just brought into the organization, and in a few days they’re going to be thrown onto training camp ice competing in drills with Chris Kreider and Henrik Lundqvist. In Traverse City, the guys will have a chance to get their toes wet in a less competitive environment and build a rapport with a bunch of peers who are in the same awkward situation.
So yes, these four games will set the tone going into preseason for a few youngsters jockeying for position. And we will learn a few things about who got stronger, or quicker, or might deserve a closer eye in preseason. For the most part, though, don’t get too caught up in the minutiae of every shift, for history indicates that it’s not going to mean very much down the road. Instead, simply enjoy the fact that Rangers hockey is back.
The first game is tonight at 7:00 EST against Dallas and can be streamed via Fox Sports Go. We’ll be posting highlights and analysis throughout the four-game tournament here on Blueshirt Banter.