The buzz around this year’s training camp is that things are a little different this year. The roster is just two thirds the size of last year’s total of eighty, and the consensus is that camp under Glen Sather is more about work and skills and less about meaningless scrimmages. That’s not to say that the lines didn’t match up today, but it was clear that this was about hard work with the players working on skating, defense, breakouts and simple repetition that had many hanging their heads, sucking deep breaths as the whistle went to end the session.
Eric Lindros sported a new, sleeker look and it appears that he has already put last year’s disappointing season behind him and is enjoying once again playing with Martin Rucinsky on his wing. The Rangers #1 center was amongst the hardest skaters today and looked particularly comfortable feeding the puck to his wingers as he broke into the offensive zone. Greg de Vries is another who worked hard in today’s camp, outshining his defensive partner Tom Poti by working hard and carrying the puck on a couple of occasions. There were however still a handful of Rangers that have yet to break out of their summer vacation and these included Alexei Kovalev, Tom Poti and Chris Simon, all of whom looked as if their timing was off and their minds perhaps not fully focused on playing yet. The good news is that it’s early and there’s still plenty of time to get into the groove.
Perhaps most encouraging was the number of young prospects that were attending camp. As with the Rangers, it appears that the Hartford lines are already forming, chief amongst them a line featuring Jed Ortmeyer and Garth Murray flanking the impressive Dominic Moore. The trio looked strong during the drills and look as though they might be able to establish some significant chemistry down in Hartford this season, and perhaps gain themselves some time in the NHL. Another youngster who impressed some of the other fans around the arena was Juris Stals, a tall, smooth skating Latvian winger who paired with Ken Gernander and Mike Wirll in the morning practices. Stals does need some work on his stick handling, but might be worth a shot in Hartford.
There were a number of unknown faces and try-outs at camp too, and perhaps the best amongst them was Sloboda, a two way defenseman who looked poised and perhaps ready to play in the AHL. The highly touted Fedor Tjutin, by contrast, appeared uncomfortable in the drills and needs some work if he is expected to make his NHL debut this year as some have suggested, including GM and coach Glen Sather.
Overall the sessions were moderately positive with the afternoon session perhaps providing a little more jump and hitting than the earlier morning sessions. The Rangers will do well to keep up the momentum and Sather the work ethic, if they hope to break out of their six season slump.