Dylan McIlrath

Previewing Traverse City: Part One

(Centreice.org)

It almost seems insensitive to continue to talk about hockey in light of yesterday’s tragic events in Yaroslavl, but alas we must. I’d briefly like to offer my personal condolences to the families, friends and former team-mates of those lost in the crash, and also to our own Marian Gaborik, Henrik Lundqvist and Artem Anisimov, all of whom had personal ties to either the Lokomotiv club and/or some of their players.

Over the next couple of days I will be previewing the upcoming Traverse City prospects tournament as a host of young Rangers look to make a positive impression in Michigan. I will be looking at some of the familiar faces on the roster, assessing expectations on those Traverse City returnees and spotlighting a few dark horses that may come up big over the course of the next week or so.

The Traverse City prospects tournament provides a great platform for young players to make an impression — In some instances, their first real chance to impress their NHL clubs. 2011 draft selections J.T. Miller, Shane McColgan, Michael St. Croix, Peter Ceresnak and Samuel Noreau will all be aiming to impress in their respective tournament bows.

The flipside to new talent is of course established prospects, players that we as fans expect to see play starring roles in a tournament like this. Christian Thomas, Carl Hagelin, Ryan Bourque, Dylan McIlrath and Tim Erixon are the five names most Ranger fans will spotlight when looking at the Blueshirts tournament roster. We expect them to perform on the basis of an excellent club season, a high draft position or, in some cases, maybe because of their past history in previous Traverse City competitions.

The beautiful thing about Traverse City is that it gives fans, some of whom may not get the opportunity to watch their teams prospects throughout the regular season. a chance to do just that. The Rangers roster has a nice mix of established, ‘seasoned’ talent – at least to the extent that you can call a 23-year old seasoned – and new players making their first stops in Traverse City. There aren’t too many certainties at this point, but there are those that fans and coaches alike will expect to see perform above and beyond others this week.

Today Blue Line Station highlights those five players that will head into Traverse City with such an expectation; Christian Thomas, Carl Hagelin, Ryan Bourque, Dylan McIlrath and Tim Erixon.

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Christian Thomas

Christian Thomas, F, Oshawa Generals, OHL 

Christian Thomas made significant strides in Oshawa last season after representing the Rangers at the 2010 Traverse City tournament. His 54-goal, 99-point regular season campaign decimated his 2009-10 numbers and saw him named a multi-time OHL Player of the Week. He is without question the best pure goalscorer in the Rangers prospect system and thus he will be expected to lead the teams offense in Michigan as he did alongside Derek Stepan and then-Ranger Evgeny Grachev last season. There has been some speculation that Thomas could make the NHL roster out of camp this fall, but I would imagine that to be unlikely based on there being no real fit for a player that needs to be playing top-six minutes. Would the Rangers get the best out of Thomas, a goalscorer, skating on the bottom-six? Very doubtful.

Ryan Bourque, F, Quebec Remparts, QMJHL

Like Hagelin, Ryan Bourque’s chances of cracking the Rangers line-up this fall depends largely on the availability of a bottom-six spot. Or, more specifically, on how many openings there are – if there is just the one, I’ll bet everything I have on Hagelin getting it. That said, as a third-year player in Traverse City there will be leadership expectations on Bourque, perhaps more so than on any other young Ranger. He needs to stay injury-free for a year or two, but there’s no doubting that he has every chance of developing into a solid NHLer at some point.

Carl Hagelin

Carl Hagelin, F, Michigan/CT Whale, CCHA/AHL

In contrast to Thomas, Carl Hagelin’s chances of cracking the NHL roster this season are significantly higher given his superior fit to a potential bottom-six role. After his NCAA career ended with the University of Michigan last season, Hagelin skated in the AHL playoffs with the Connecticut Whale and scored in their final post-season game. Initially drafted in the sixth-round of the 2007 Entry Draft, Hagelin’s progression is testament to his work rate and consecutive PPG seasons with the U of M highlights the significant strides he has made over the past couple of seasons. Like his fellow Swede Tim Erixon, all eyes will be on Hagelin to see if he can continue to push for a spot on the Rangers roster this fall.

Tim Erixon, D, Skelleftea HC, SEL

Acquired in June for a package of two second-round picks and prospect forward Roman Horak, Erixon is believed by many to be a shoe-in for the NHL roster this season. With two full seasons of SEL experience under his belt and a physically dominant frame (6’3, 205lb), he will be expected to star on the blueline alongside McIlrath in Michigan. There seem to be very few reservations about his abilities, hence the Rangers eagerness to acquire him when it became clear that the Flames were unable to reach an agreement for his signature earlier this summer. Understandably, he will be watched closely by the Blueshirts coaching staff over the next week or so.

Dylan McIlrath, D, Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL 

Cam Fowler or Dylan McIlrath? Cam Fowler or Dylan McIlrath? Cam Fowler or Dylan McIlrath? Yeah, I’m tired of it too.

Following a season that saw Dylan McIlrath’s development largely stagnate in Moose Jaw, the Rangers coaching staff will hope that a second trip to Traverse City brings the best out of the 2010 10th overall draft pick. McIlrath will undoubtedly be expected to take on additional leadership responsibilities this year and that could be something that sees the 6’5, 215lb-er thrive in Michigan. Rangers Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark has been quoted recently as saying that McIlrath appears to be much bigger this summer and that he has little concerns about his development path. In Gordie we trust, etc.

Join me again tomorrow for Part Two as we take a look at some potential dark-horse prospects and see what the Rangers opponents have to offer in Traverse City.

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Tags: Carl Hagelin Christian Thomas Dylan Mcilrath J.T. Miller Michael St. Croix New York Rangers Peter Ceresnak Prospects Rangers Ryan Bourque Samuel Noreau Shane Mccolgan Tim Erixon Traverse City Traverse City Prospects Tournament

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