Recap: Rangers Training Camp
By Christopher Decker (@HockeyGuy_Chris)
AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
Going in to New York Rangers training camp, players understood the rugged, harsh, puke-inducing skating drills that Coach John Tortorella would be bestowing upon them. After all, it’s one of the fiery coach’s trademarks. A handful of players were familiar with the grind, and of course, a handful of rookies and new additions to the team only knew of horror stories about the drills. But when you look at what Tortorella has done to this team, both during training camp and team practices, you understand why the Rangers are one of the hardest working teams in the NHL. When all was said and done, however, they all survived what many coined “Camp Torturella” – clever.
One of the most pleasant surprises that came out of camp was Wojtek Wolski. When the Rangers picked up Wolski at the trade deadline last year, he reminded many of former Ranger Nikolay Zherdev, who was extremely talented but never performed to his full ability. At season’s end, and after the buyout of former captain Chris Drury, many felt Wolski would be the next candidate to be bought out. When a Wolski buyout never came to fruition, it was clear that Rangers management wanted to stick with him. As a result, Wolski completely threw away his previous style of play and has introduced a newer, crisper style. He was put on a line with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik and he was the best player on the ice during scrimmages. Signs are pointing to this being the number one line to start the season. It’s important to remember that training camp is not the end all, be all evaluation of a player. But don’t tell that to players like Wolski, who came into camp with a mission to be better. That’s always music to a passionate fan’s ears.
Many were also anxious to see how the rookies would perform with the big league squad during camp – especially Tim Erixon, who was totally dominant during the Traverse City Tournament in Michigan. They did not disappoint. Multiple beat writers in attendance at Rangers camp praised Erixon for his work ethic, poise, and conditioning. In fact, he looked as though he’d been in the league for years. It will be interesting to see how his play transitions into an actual NHL game.
Another rookie who opened eyes during camp was former Michigan Wolverine star Carl Hagelin, who showed tremendous speed and poise up and down the ice. According to Blueshirts United, Tortorella had nothing but good things to say about Hagelin.
“He can skate, and that’s a big plus,” said Tortorella. “We’re trying to be a team that’s going to attack and chase down pucks. And he can skate, so he’s going to get a look. We’ll see now if he can sink or swim, but he’s going to get the opportunity.”
Many were very excited to see highly touted prospect Christian Thomas light the lamp in camp as well, but the main argument against him is that he needs another year to bulk up before he’s NHL-ready. But that’s not to say he won’t one day be a goal-scorer in the NHL.
While we bask in the all the positives, it’s important to recognize the negatives as well. Over the summer, Michael Sauer tweaked his knee and was a bit of a concern heading into camp. After sitting out the first day, Sauer was back on the ice skating and actually scored a goal in his first scrimmage. Rangers will, of course, be keeping an eye on their stay-at-home defenseman and they don’t expect his injury to prevent him from playing in the first game of the regular season – great news all around.
The more alarming news is the status of Marc Staal. In February, Staal was given a questionable head shot by his brother, Eric, in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Marc seemed okay after the hit, as he finished the rest of the season injury-free. However, over the course of the summer, he began to experience post-concussion symptoms as a result of that hit. Early in camp, Staal was fine. But halfway through, he left a drill after experiencing headaches and was then sent home. With the amount of head injuries occurring throughout the NHL, the Rangers are taking no chances with Staal and are most assuredly erring on the side of caution. There are no plans for Staal to play in any of the preseason games thus far. Tortorella trusts that Staal will be honest with how he feels and, based on what doctors say, he could be sitting to start the season.
If Staal is out for any significant amount of time, the Rangers have enough depth to survive. Even though rumors have swirled about the possibility of bringing in veteran Paul Mara on a tryout basis and possibly signing Bryan McCabe, Tortorella is confident with his youthful defensive core. It could not be more apparent than in this quote captured in Ranger Rants:
“We have to continue to try to infuse more youth into our lineup,” Tortorella said. “During the summer we went in a direction that got a couple of veteran guys, I think that’s where we are in our process after going with a really young team, still a young team. We added some people at the other end who can mentor. But you can’t forget about back-filling with youth and growing that way. There are spots open and there’s going to be competition along the way because we want to continue to get young guys in there. So it’s a good situation for them. They have to earn it. There’s a number of kids out there that are going to vie for a spot depending on how they play. I would be (disappointed if none made it) because it’s important for our organization to keep on trying to grow from within. But I’m not going to force feed it, either.”
Now that’s a guy who loves working with youth.
After a grueling five days of camp that allowed coaches to evaluate players from age 18 to 34, it’s safe to say the Rangers have a solid group of exciting youngsters. As we dive head first into preseason play, it will be interesting to see how the rookies who performed in the Traverse City Tournament transition into a more rugged, NHL-type atmosphere.
There’s no doubt that every player will be playing hard, as under a Tortorella system, no one is safe from being cut.
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