Training camp is over, the first cuts have been made
to the Rangers roster, and perhaps Sather is just a little closer to
deciding what to do with the lack of depth on the wing. Several
players have put their bids in for what could very well be some of the
best jobs in the NHL this upcoming season.
First amongst them have been the youthful trio of
Mikael Samuelsson, Jamie Lundmark and Rico Fata. Samuelsson, who was
acquired last year in exchange for fan favorite Adam Graves, has by all
accounts turned in a strong camp. The young Swede showed last year
that he's capable of playing in the NHL as a defensively responsible
winger used primarily on the third line and short-handed situations.
But there is more to Samuelsson than just defense. The Rangers
felt they got a good deal when they pried him away from the San Jose
Sharks and it's easy to see why when you take a look at his AHL numbers
for the prior season...an impressive 32 goals and 46 assists in 66 games
with the Kentucky Thoroughblades. New York fans saw glimpses of that
offensive ability last year, including a nice fake on Patrick Roy for his
first ever NHL goal.
With a strong camp under his belt and more confidence with shooting the
puck, Samuelsson is primed for a big improvement on his 2001-02 season and
Sather can only be too happy with the results.
Meanwhile many observers rated long time prospect, Jamie Lundmark as
having the strongest camp of any player. The young centerman turned
winger, scored several goals including two in Monday night's final
scrimmage. Fans have longed to see the 1999 first round pick in a
Rangers uniform and this season could see that potential finally become
Lundmark has reportedly come into camp much stronger than previous
years and has benefited from the transition to wing from the more crowded
center position. Perhaps Lundmark's only concern will be whether
there's enough roster space left over to finally give his shot at the big
Rico Fata's journey to success in the NHL has probably been the
bumpiest so far. The speedy winger has yet to score a point at the
top level but drew the prime assignment in camp when he was teamed up with
Lindros and Bure. Fata showed a lot last year when he had what was a
breakout season at the AHL level and needs desperately to translate that
to the NHL if he is to salvage his stalled career.
Benoit Dusablon and David Inman also managed to make it through the
first cut, but they still have to be considered long shots to make the
team. Dusablon started last season in Charlotte of the ECHL and
ended up playing with Lundmark and Heisten on a moderately successful kid
line in Hartford. Inman by contrast finished his NCAA eligibility
last season and impressed the coaching staff enough to take another look
Pushing the youngsters has been the surprisingly successful Dixon Ward,
formerly of the Buffalo Sabres. Ward played in Switzerland last
season and was invited to camp on a try-out basis. The former twenty
goal scorer lead all players in goal scoring and has positioned himself
well for a contract offer with a good pre-season.
The soon to be 34 year old Ward is seen as a viable two-way forward and
will keep the kids honest as they attempt to break into the line-up.
Last year's late season pick-up, Martin Rucinsky seems by contrast, to be
further away from an NHL contract than before. Sather has stated
several times that he's not willing to be flexible on the issue and has
already driven down Rucinsky's asking price from 3 to 1.6 million.
Further rumors considering Peter Schaefer and Jarko Ruutu out of
Vancouver continue to keep everyone honest, though it appears that a deal
is not imminent.
Ultimately there is more optimism regarding the Rangers this week than
in much of the off-season. Going into the pre-season it appears that
some of the younger players will be leading the way for once, and it's
hoped that this will be a sign of things to come and not the
disappointment that has plagued the Rangers in recent seasons.