Matt Gilroy

Camp Fire Stories

Traditionally Rangers training camp has been more about getting veterans into shape, than any real competition for spots. Not so in 2010, when the Rangers entered the preseason preparations with an abundance of players looking to rebound, along with several good rookies looking to make their mark.

Certainly not all questions have been resolved, but several players saw their careers turn on their performances over the past sixteen or so days. In this column, I take a look at the winners, losers and those who simply held steady.

Clearly the biggest winner coming into camp has to be Ruslan Fedetenko. Without a contract, he seeming came to the Rangers reluctantly on a try-out basis after he was unable to secure an NHL contract.

After a slow start in his first outing, Fedetenko quickly proved to be a solid offensive force, picking up points in all five of his games, and leading the team in preseason scoring with one goal and five assists. Expectations are that he’ll agree to a contract as soon as today.

At the other end of the scale, Brian BoyleSean Avery and Matt Gilroy all came to camp with question marks over their positions, and a level of distrust from Rangers Head Coach John Tortorella.

For Boyle, it was about contributing more in the game. As a fourth line he certainly had limited opportunity, but the Rangers wanted him to use his size and strength more and to find ways to contribute more on offense. Boyle got the message and worked with former Olympian Barbara Underhill, to improve his skating. Not only has that improved, but it looks like his energy level has increased too.

After looking like a sure casualty, Boyle now appears ready to start the season again as the fourth line center.

Sean Avery had quite a different obstacle to overcome. The difficult relationship between he and Tortorella is well understood, but Avery was simply invisible too much last season. Going into camp, he was very much in jeopardy of losing his position to the likes of Fedetenko, Kennedy or White, but to his credit, he put those prospects to rest quickly.

One of the best performers in the preseason, Avery was his agitating best. Stirring it up with the Devils was just part of the equation, perhaps more importantly was his ability to spark the Rangers offense when things seemed to be heading nowhere. In the first Devils game he was the reason the Blueshirts responded, looking more like the Grate One of old. He carried that sense of purpose through camp and formed a pretty good line with Fedetenko and rookie Derek Stepan

Back on the blueline, the Rangers brought in two try-outs, as well as opened up opportunity for a handful of rookies to compete. The dispatching of Wade Redden to Hartford certainly helped the equation, particularly for Matt Gilroy. In his rookie season, the Long Island native lost the confidence of his head coach, and spent a good portion of the home stretch in street clothes.

Not willing to give in without a fight, Gilroy spent the Summer working on adding some muscle to his slender frame, and the results have been moderately encouraging. With the Rangers set to carry a seventh defenseman to start the season, Gilroy’s leash will be a short one, but he as at least earned the chance to prove he can improve with an opening night spot.

The veterans aside, perhaps no one has moved up the depth chart quite as quickly as rookies Derek Stepan, Michael Sauer, Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko.

Leading the next generation is the gold medal winning captain of the USA U-20 World Championship team from last year. Derek Stepan went into the prospect tournament in Traverse City as a relatively unknown quantity to Tortorella. He left the five day tournament having left a strong impression.

Right from the start of the scrimmages, Tortorella elected to put the rookie between his two big offensive players, Marian Gaborik and Alexander Frolov. Stepan for his part, looked the part, especially during the Rangers first game against the Devils.

He struggled a little in Detroit, but then bounced back with some strong play centering other lines in the head to head with Ottawa, and thanks to some untimely injuries to veterans Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal, looks set to start the year on the Rangers roster.

When asked to comment on Stepan, Totorella simply said “his game speaks for itself”.

Joining him on the roster will be rookie defenseman Michael Sauer. Coming into camp, Sauer had just a handful of NHL games to his credit and a long history of missing games through injury. Such was the case last season, when he missed half the year after he damaged his shoulder playing for Hartford in the AHL.

Early on he impressed the coaching staff with his steady play, and despite a nervous performance in Detroit, he rebounded with three steady games and ultimately the prize last defensive spot on the roster.

No doubt he was helped in some respect by being waiver eligible, and the Rangers reportedly felt that he would have been claimed if they had tried to reassign him to Hartford. But even factoring that into the equation, Sauer has potentially turned around a career that could easily have been heading to that of a career AHLer.

Fellow defensive rookies Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko ultimately were reassigned, but didn’t hurt their chances in the short term. The poised McDonagh looks certain to be amongst the first call-ups for injury or form, while Valentenko came from relative obscurity, to be firmly placed in Tortorella’s radar.

Of the remaining camp roster, Mats Zuccarello Aasen didn’t hurt his chances to play in the NHL this season, and Dale Weise looks to be a guy that Tortorella likes.

Clearly the injuries to Drury and Prospal have not helped either’s cause, though Prospal appeared to have plenty of credit built up with Tortorella. The Rangers’ captain though, may find himself with a much lesser role to come back to after missing camp, depending on how successful the team is in his absence.

Erik ChristensenTim Kennedy and Todd White all came into camp as prospective bidders for the center position in camp. Brandon Dubinsky had been moved to wing, Boyle was out of favor, Drury was injured in the first days and Stepan had plenty to prove.

Instead of seizing the opportunity, all three fell well short of expectations, with White perhaps the luckiest of the trio, at least in the short term. The 35 year old utility forward looked a step behind the pace in the preseason, and is only on the roster virtue of injuries.

Kennedy made a positive impression early with Tortorella, but then failed to live up to the expectation in the preseason games, despite playing with plenty of energy. The Buffalo native constantly had difficulty in traffic, and finding open space, and probably got outplayed by Zuccarello in many aspects.

Perhaps the most disappointing of the three was Christensen. Signed to a new two year contract over the Summer, he came to camp seemingly guaranteed of a spot and in the coach’s favor. He finished camp with the Rangers trying him on the wing, as Stepan and Anisimov both moved past him.

Unlike White and Kennedy, Christensen will likely get to start the season playing games, he’ll even get a shot at centering Gaborik and Frolov, but when Drury comes back it may be Christensen that loses his spot in the starting line-up.

On defense the biggest loser had to be Wade Redden. While his reassignment was much anticipated, it still no doubt hurt to have his NHL career effectively ended because of his salary. Redden wasn’t alone in moving down the depth chart however, both Alexei Semenov and Garnet Exelby likely did their future in the NHL career no favors, by losing out on NHL contracts.

Semenov in particular must look back to last year, when he was offered a spot on the Rangers roster, but turned it down to play in the KHL, as a costly mistake in his pro hockey career.

Steve Eminger also perhaps missed a chance to secure a spot on the opening night roster, though it remains to be seen who’ll dress for the first game.

Of the players I’d hope to see more from…

Brandon Dubinsky played probably only one good preseason game, and no great games. Martin Biron looked efficient if unspectacular, and I would have like to see him make a couple of game changing saves.

UFA signing Alexander Frolov started well, but was much less as factor as the preseason wore on, and the duo of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi looked far from mid-season form.

The flu seemed to restrict Brandon Prust somewhat early in camp, but he bounced back with a couple of better games against Ottawa.

As for Derek Boogaard. Nice goal, but will anyone even want to fight this guy? Seems like he’s so intimidating, that no one will actually drop the gloves with him…leaving the big guy to take some questionable penalties, while at the same time being seemingly unable to prevent guys like Chris Neil taking runs at the Rangers.

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