All during the offseason we wrote a lot about how the Hartford Wolf Pack need to be a focal point of the Rangers’ rebuild. For years, Hartford languished as the franchise’s AHL affiliate often serving as nothing more than a dumping ground for veterans playing out the last stretches of their careers or for rushing or stopping and starting prospect development.
With the Blueshirts finally diving head first into a rebuild, Hartford takes on a much greater importance as a place to groom the waves of new talent that looks to make an impact on Broadway in the future.
With the AHL getting underway this past weekend, the Wolf Pack had a challenge right out of the gate with a matchup against the reigning champion Charlotte Checkers followed by a meeting with their in-state rival Bridgeport.
Forwards Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov in the lineup up front on Saturday, along with Joey Keane and Sean Day on the backend, and the Heir Apparent, Igor Shesterkin, made his North American debut. For the most part, it was everything you could have hoped for.
Hartford fell behind early as Charolette forward Janne Kuokkanen got a quick shot through Shesterkin to open the scoring. But he settled in from there and eventually Hartford evened the scoring when Joey Keane picked up his first professional goal to the tie the game. Hartford extended the lead to 5-1 on goals by Vincent LoVerde, Vinni Lettieri, and two from Matt Beleskey on its way to a 5-3 victory.
Chytil, who skated between Patrick Newell and Phil Di Giuseppe, looked like an NHL center playing in the AHL. The 20-year-old Czech looked stronger, controlled the puck all across the offensive zone and was active in all ends of the ice.
Kravtsov, on the other hand, didn’t have the best debut playing on the third line and only saw a handful of minutes, making it difficult to judge him based on such a small sample size.
Hartford was back in business on Sunday, and this time it was the defense that led the way against the Sound Tigers.
Adam Huska got the start in goal, while Kravtsov was scratched and Ville Meskanen drew into the lineup after not playing Saturday.
The teams traded goals in the first period, including a strangely beautiful end to end rush from Ryan Lindgren.
Lettieri and Keane each notched their second goals in as many games in the opening frame, while Chytil picked up where he left off 24 hours prior and was a dominant force in all three zones and added a couple of assists.
Filip Chytil had a great all-zones shift in the first period. Squeezed out the Bridgeport forward behind Huska's goal, transitioned through NZ, and then kept the puck on a string (below) before setting up Joey Keane. #NYR pic.twitter.com/j1sr84jV60— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) October 6, 2019
Defenseman Sean Day ended the weekend in style with a beautiful solo effort in overtime that finished with a nifty snipe gloveside high.
brb, replaying Sean Day's OT goal for the rest of the day pic.twitter.com/VJ7ShKArF8— Hartford Wolf Pack (@WolfPackAHL) October 6, 2019
Day, Keane and Lindgren all had big offensive weekends to open up the Pack season, but more importantly they also looked solid in the defensive zone to varying degrees and should make for a very intriguing subplot for the Hartford season going forward.
With the first weekend of the AHL season in the books, my three stars for the Pack are
- Joey Keane: Registered his first two professional goals, skated smoothly in both contests and was able to hold his own against the raised level of competition.
- Igor Shesterkin: The Rangers have a lot hanging on Shesterkin and he got his North American career off to a flying start. While he did give up a goal early, Igor was a calm, steady presence in the Hartford net on Saturday.
- Filip Chytil: Two points on the weekend and looked like he’s not long for Connecticut.