The Traverse City Prospect Tournament kicks off Saturday with the Rangers scheduled to face the St Louis Blues in the first of three group matches - 7:00pm MSG/NHL. All four Ranger games are set to be televised for the first time, and it will give many fans their first chance to look at some of the prospects in the system.
Several prospects will be pushing for a chance at an extended stay at camp, at least until the team heads to Europe on September 27th. For a select one or two, it might be the chance to make an early stake for a Rangers roster spot, as Michael Del Zotto did just two years ago. Below is a profile of some of the players to keep an eye on in this year's competition.
Tim Erixon is possibly the one player who has the best shot at securing a Rangers roster spot for opening night. The son of former Blueshirt winger Jan Erixon, the former 2009 first round pick appears ready to make the leap to the NHL.
Having already competed against adult level competition in the Swedish Elite League, the 6-2 190lb defender wants an opportunity to play at the highest level. He and his agent felt that wasn't going to happen in Calgary, and so the Rangers picked him up in June just hours before he was set to become a UFA.
The tournament will be Erixon's first chance to impress in North America, and he'll be hoping that he'll be able to impress not only offensively, but more importantly in his own zone.
Another blueliner to watch will be 2010 Rangers first round pick Dylan McIlrath. McIlrath was a moderate surprise pick for New York last year, but brings a physical presence that is otherwise lacking in the organization. This will be McIlrath's second tournament appearance, and will give the team a chance to guage his progress.
McIlrath still figures to be 2-3 years away from the NHL, but off-season work on his shooting and puck handling may help improve an area of his game that was perhaps a little raw this time last year. By contrast 23 year old Carl Hagelin looks much closer to challenging for an NHL spot. While the Swedish native has probably too many players in the way to start the season in New York, it's not out of the question that he'll get a look later in the year if he has a good camp and/or good rookie season in the NHL.
A two-way forward, Hagelin looks to be your classic third liner who can play in all situations. The former Michigan Wolverine captain completed his NCAA eligibiity last year, and so will likely start the year in Connecticut with the Whale.
Potentially the most exciting prospect to watch will be the son of another former NHLer. Christian Thomas was drafted in the second round by the Rangers in 2010, and went on to put up 47 goals in just 58 games with the Oshawa Generals. The undersized - 5'9" 162lb - right winger is perhaps the most talented offensive forward in the Rangers' system, and should be featured on the top line during the tournament.
At 19 years old, Thomas will likely get a longer look at camp this year, before he returns to the OHL for his last year of junior eligibility. It won't be until next season that he's likely to seriously challenge for a spot in the NHL or start his pro career in the AHL.
Like Thomas, Ryan Bourque is both a smaller forward, and the son of a former NHLer. Bourque is back for his second tournament, and should see time in the AHL this season as he continues to build his career. At this stage, he doesn't look like he has the top end offensive skills to overcome his smaller stature, which is still considered a bit of a liability defensively. Regardless, the former under 20 US representative will get a chance to prove he can belong in the pro ranks this year.
Rounding out the roster of most anticipated will be 2011 first round pick JT Miller. Miller gets to join the tournament team following his decision to opt out of joining the University of North Dakota, and heading to the OHL. Miller is described as a raw power forward, and it seems unlikely he'll be an impact player immediately at this level. With that said, as a first round pick he's going to draw an extra level of scrutiny, as the fans get their first chance to really evaluate one of the latest additions to the team.
Of the remaining players, fans will most likely be anxious to get their first glimpse at 2011 draft picks Shane McColgan, Michael St Croix, Peter Ceresnak and Samuel Noreau. Both McColgan and St Croix have offensive upside potential, while the two defenders will likely be substantially less noticeable.
Goalies Jason Missiaen and Scott Stacjer will be under the microscope in what is traditionally a relatively high scoring tournament. Neither was particularly impressive dure the prospect camp earlier in the year, though both signed their first pro contracts in the off-season.
Stajcer, along with forwards Andrew Yogan and Randy McNaught will be looking to bounce back from injury plagued seasons last year.
Finally, the four invitees - down from six last year - will be hoping to do enought simply to get a pro contract of some sort, even if it's at the ECHL or AHL level. Such was the path of defenseman Blake Parlett, who signed his first NHL contract this Spring, having played his way into an AHL contract last year.
Alternatively they might catch the eye of another team, as Luke Pither did two years ago, ultimately signing with the Philadelphia Flyers.
For roster and schedule, check out the OTG Traverse City Tourney page