Right around now is when teams start signing prospects whom they own the rights of to professional contracts. The New York Rangers kicked off the signing season by giving prospects Ryan Bourque and Dylan McIlrath professional contracts. Both of them are still in-season for their CHL clubs, but will both likely join the Connecticut Whale on playoff try-out contracts once their junior seasons are over. How soon can we expect both of these guys to make in impact at the professional level?
Ryan Bourque- McIlrath is the superior prospect clearly, but I’m listing Bourque first because his signing is truly more relevant right now. Bourque plays for the Quebec Ramparts, who will be partaking in the QMJHL playoffs, so Bourque might not even join the Connecticut Whale at all this season. However, the son of Ray Bourque will likely be a core player for the Whale next season. Bourque was a 3rd round selection by the Rangers in the 2009 draft, and has the typical dilemma of having talent but not size. We’ve seen that kill careers of guys like Petr Prucha and P.A Parenteau while not affect other guys like Darren Helm and Joe Pavelski. If Bourque makes it to the NHL, his “low potential” comparison is a player such as Freddie Sjostrom and the “high potential” one being Ryan Callahan. Bourque has very good speed, a knack for putting the puck in the net, and is a VERY strong defensive player. The questions about Ryan are if the scoring he’s produced in the QMJHL, an offensive league, will translate to professional hockey. The 57 points in 47 games he’s produced this are wonderful, but that’s against weak competition. There are serious questions as to if he’ll be able to, as a 5’9 forward, be able to contribute even somewhat like that against faster and especially stronger NHL defensemen. Even at the junior level, Bourque’s size has been a problem for him. He’s had repetitive injuries, including a concussion from a hit. If Bourque isn’t going to be able to take hits without getting hurt then there’s no future for him in the NHL. On the positive, side, though, is the fact that he only just turned 20, so there’s still room for him to bulk up and mature physically. Bourque truly is a great defensive forward, so even if his offensive is limited there likely still will be a spot on NHL rosters for him. His first season with Connecticut will be very telling of what kind of future he has in professional hockey. While I understand that there are legitimate concerns about Bourque, I also think he’s unfairly dismissed too quickly. Bourque will have to overcome the odds, but the same was said for Ryan Callahan, Brandon Prust, and many other quality NHL players.
Dylan McIlrath- The fact that the Rangers signed him to a contract is a good sign. It means that the Rangers scouting staff believes he’ll be ready for professional hockey either next season or the year after. Just because he’s signed to a contract doesn’t mean he definitely will be play with the Whale next year, and in fact will likely stay in the WHL for one more year. Still, signing the contract keeps the Rangers’ options open. He’ll likely get a real opportunity to impress at Connecticut training camp next fall. If he blows the coaches away then perhaps they’ll give him a shot with the Whale, but he’ll likely be a Vancouver Giant for one more year. The Giants have been pretty pathetic this year and thus will not be in the WHL playoffs. You can expect McIlrath to get some games in with the Whale on a PTO once the WHL regular season formally ends.
Those are the two official signings right so far, but Larry Brooks insists that the Rangers will be signing Michigan captain Carl Hagelin to a contract any day now. It will also be interesting to see if the Rangers decide to offer contracts to Max Campbell, Dan Maggio and Scott Stajcer. All three prospects have their rights expire at the end of the season, so the Rangers will have to sign them if they want to keep them as part of the organization.