With all that has gone on this season, the Rangers faithful are desperate for whatever silver lining they can lay their hands on. While many are happy that the organization looks as if it is finally heading in the right direction, it’ll be the future on which the Rangers will have to depend for their success. In the follow-up to “Dark Days”, we take a look at what is in the stable as far as the Rangers are concerned.
In the third edition of out Future Forward series, we take a look at the Rangers Right Wing. A position that typically has been easier to fill than the left, the Rangers will go into next season with just one proven NHL Right Wing signed, Jaromir Jagr. That leaves an opportunity for several players to make a run for a roster spot.
Josef Balej – 6’0″ 187lbs – 22 years old
9GP 1G 0A 1Pts 2PIM with New York Rangers (NHL)
1GP 0G 0A 0Pts 0PIM with Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)
4GP 0G 0A 0Pts 0PIM with Montreal Canadiens (NHL)
55GP 25G 33A 58Pts 32PIM with Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Acquire in the trade that sent Alexei Kovalev to Montreal, Balej had his Ranger debut delayed slightly by stricter border regulations on the US side. A speedy skater with good quickness, Balej is primarily known for his offensive ability, but does need to work a little on his strength and using his quick shot more often. One of the most positive aspects of his game is his ability to get to loose pucks in the opponent’s zone, and on more occasions than not, he’ll throw the puck at the net.
He could perhaps try to be a little less fancy at times and drive to the net more, but it’s certainly not his strength. As a side note Balej played with fellow Slovakian Marian Gaborik on the national junior team, but many wonder whether his confident (almost cocky) attitude and style will translate fully to the NHL.
Joey Crabb – 6’1″ 179lbs – 20 years old (21 in April)
39GP 15G 12A 27Pts 20PIM with Colorado College (WCHA)
A late round draft pick by the Rangers, Crabb had an impressive start to the season with the Colorado College Tigers. Moved up to a more offensive role, Crabb almost quadrupled his rookie season output of 4 goals and finished the season second on the team in goals and power play goals. Much of Crabb’s game goes under appreciated. He is not a flashy player, but finds open ice and is willing to go through traffic to make the play.
Joey has two more years of NCAA eligibility and will be looking to capitalize on the first half of this year rather than the latter half which saw his offensive production drop off substantially.
Brandon Cullen – 6’0″ 212lbs – 23 years old
17GP 1G 1A 2Pts 25PIM with Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)
20GP 8G 7A 15Pts 54PIM with Charlotte Checkers (ECHL)
A free agent signing last year out of the Ontario Hockey League, Cullen is the type of player fans love to watch. A physical force, Cullen uses his body to make an impression on the game and typically scores his goals in and around the net. Injuries have hurt Cullen’s progress this season, and perhaps have kept him out of longer duty with the Pack, but if he can overcome the injury bug and remain an “even” player on the ice, Cullen might find himself one step closer to the NHL next season.
Ryan Cuthbert – 5’10” 185lbs – 21 years old (22 in April)
3GP 0G 2A 2Pts 4PIM with Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)
62GP 10G 13A 23Pts 89PIM with Charlotte Checkers (ECHL)
Not technically a Ranger prospect (he’s under contract to Hartford), Cuthbert won a pro contract despite missing much of training camp with injuries. Predominantly playing in Charlotte this season, Cuthbert has won a couple of call-ups based on his energy and may ultimately find himself with a shot at a Wolf Pack roster spot. His coach in Charlotte certainly appreciates his ability, but he has a long way to go to the NHL at this stage of his career.
Jeff Heerema – 6’1″ 190lbs – 24 years old
22GP 1G 2A 3Pts 4PIM with St Louis Blues (NHL)
32GP 10G 12A 22Pts 25PIM with Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)
1GP 0G 0A 0Pts 2PIM with Worcester IceCats (AHL)
As a first round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes, Heerema has never really lived up to the expectations in his young career. After first claiming him off waivers and then losing him in the waiver draft, The Rangers once again brought Heerema back into the system. Jeff is a speedy winger who has yet to convert minor and junior league success to the NHL. His effort some times questioned by his coach, Heerema has not made enough of an impression in Hartford perhaps to warrant a return to the organization next season.
Hugh Jessiman – 6’5″ 218lbs – 19 years old (20 in April)
34GP 16G 17A 33Pts 71PIM with Dartmouth (ECAC)
If you ask the Rangers, Jessiman ranks amongst the best prospects in the organization. An already hefty 218 pounds at age 19, Hugh has speed and hands that you don’t normally expect from a player his size. Considered a raw prospect by many scouts and coming from a prep school not known for producing good hockey players, Jessiman leapt to prominence with an impressive 23 goal outing in his rookie season with Dartmouth.
Jessiman’s production dropped off this season, which is partially the result of attracting more attention from opposing defenders, but he still managed to share the team lead in goals and was second on the team with 33 points. The Rangers are endeavoring to get the young forward to give up his final two years of NCAA eligibility and to join the Hartford Wolf Pack next season to work on rounding out his game.
As a side note, Jessiman has been a lifelong Ranger fan and attended camp as an observer, though the Rangers were unable to convince him to participate…Hugh deferred to the wishes of his Dartmouth coach.
Lee Falardeau – 6’4″ 203lbs – 20 years old
34GP 5G 5A 10Pts 28PIM with Michigan State (CCHA)
Since being drafted by the Rangers, Falardeau’s stock has dropped significantly. A rangy winger who used his body to make room, Lee has struggled with inconsistent scoring and injuries this season. Used on the penalty kill and to take important face-offs in the defensive zone, Falardeau still has an opportunity to right the ship, but not having much in the way of quickness and having just average hands, it will up to Falardeau to establish himself as more of a physical player.
Falardeau has one more year with the Spartans.
Rob Flynn – 6’2″ 210lbs – 21 years old
28GP 2G 3A 5Pts 14PIM with Harvard (ECAC)
A late round draft pick, Flynn is the definitive “lunch- pailer”. Below average in many aspects of his game, Flynn works hard each shift and uses his size and strength to make plays on the ice. Flynn has two more years of college eligibility and would seem a long shot to have a pro career at this stage.
Ken Gernander – 5’10” 175lbs – 34 years old
2GP 0G 0A 0Pts 2PIM with New York Rangers (NHL)
68GP 10G 14A 24Pts 24PIM with Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)
A career minor-leaguer, Ken Gernander was recently rewarded for his dedication to the organization with a two game cameo with the Rangers, the first NHL action of his career since the 1996-97 playoffs. Gernander has been the only member of the Wolf Pack to be with the team their entire existence.
Petter Henning – 6’0″ 209lbs – 23 years old
30GP 9G 5A 14Pts 8PIM with Tingsryd (SWE-2)
Playing in the second tier of the Swedish hockey league doesn’t bode well for Henning’s future in North America.
Rick Kozak – 6’2″ 185lbs – 18 years old
29GP 9G 16A 25Pts 77PIM with Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
25GP 5G 3A 8Pts 83PIM with Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
The Rangers acquired Rick from the Philadelphia Flyers as part of the deal that sent Vladimir Malakhov down I-95. Kozak has been described as a fan favorite and physical force on the ice, and even was a first star in a recent playoff game for his Kamloops Blazers. With a year or two left of junior eligibility, Kozak will no doubt continue to work on his game in Western Canada.
Radoslav Kropac – 6’0″ 198lbs – 28 years old (29 in April)
27GP 7G 6A 13Pts 8PIM with Slavia (CZE)
13GP 3G 4A 7Pts 8PIM with Liberec (CZE)
Looks to be another who will never make it to North America.
Greg Moore – 6’1″ 207lbs – 20 years old
36GP 15G 8A 23Pts 42PIM with U of Maine (HE)
Another of the Ranger acquisitions in the recent trading frenzy, Moore was originally drafted by the Calgary Flames. A member of the recent US world junior gold medal winning line-up, Moore has become one of the leaders of the Maine Black Bears. A power forward perhaps in the making, Moore has shown the ability with Maine to be creative offensively, both shooting and setting up the play. Playing in all scenarios, the solid winger has shown at least this observer that he has NHL potential.
Moore does not have the hardest shot, and it appears he is more inclined to use the wrister than a slap-shot, but Moore is often the player who carries the puck up ice and sets either the shot on goal or the pass into the slot. Moore has two more years of NCAA eligibility
Jason MacDonald – 6’0″ 195lbs – 29 years old (30 in April)
35GP 11G 9A 20Pts 44PIM with New York Rangers (NHL)
35GP 11G 9A 20Pts 44PIM with Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)
A journeyman forward, MacDonald finally got a chance to play in the NHL at age 29. MacDonald is a rugged forward who has made his career out of playing hard every shift and at one time lead the Wolf Pack in goals this season. MacDonald may not however have played well enough to guarantee a spot for next season, especially with the potential NHL lock-out and the roster pressure that that may put on Hartford.
With several other forwards who could play the Right Wing in the system, the position perhaps isn’t as bad as it looks. It’s fair to say the Rangers could use some extra depth at forward overall, but the additions of Balej, Moore and Kozak have certainly helped the situation.
Depth Chart In Terms Of Potential
Hugh Jessiman – A B+ prospect who could become an A prospect
Josef Balej – It’s up to Balej to make the most of his opportunity this season and next
Greg Moore – A couple of years away, but Moore might be one to watch
Joey Crabb – Continued improvement will bring him more attention
Rick Kozak – Bruising forward will play in the WHL next season
Ken Gernander – Mr Wolf Pack will likely be back next season
Lee Falardeau – Disappointing season for the lanky winger
Jeff Heerema – At the moment future with the organization seems unlikely
Brandon Cullen – Has to overcome injuries
Rob Flynn – Grinder keeps grinding
Ryan Cuthbert – Hoping to remain in the system
Radoslav Kropac – European staying in Europe
Petter Henning – See Kropac