Prospects gear up for Traverse City
Strong major-junior preseason performances setting tone for tournament
The hockey season is about to begin for the 19 Rangers prospects who will report to the MSG Training Center at the end of this week and fly to Traverse City, Mich., for the annual Traverse City Prospects Tournament, which begins on Saturday.
Eight members of this year's tournament team are returning from last year's squad, which rolled through the final three games to finish third overall and was the only team to win its last three straight at the 2009 tournament. The 14 others on the 2010 Traverse City roster -- a group that includes three playters from outside the organization who are coming along as invitees -- will be getting their first experience of this tournament.
As a group, this 23-player team will be looking to bring the Rangers their first Traverse City title since a remarkable run in 2007 with a roster that included Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, and Marc Staal.
|No member of the Rangers' Traverse City tournament roster has seen more 2010 preseason action than Ryan Bourque, who scored 10 points in four games for Quebec over the past few weeks.
• 2010-11 BOURQUE WATCH
Over the past two weeks alone, the Rangers have had prospects play preseason games in all three major-junior leagues -- the QMJHL, OHL and WHL. The busiest of this group was 2009 third-round draft pick Ryan Bourque, who geared up for Traverse City in four games with the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts.
Bourque dominated QMJHL competition, scoring 10 points in the four games. That included three-point nights against Chicoutimi, Lewiston and Rouyn-Noranda. In each of those games, Bourque picked up a goal and two assists. In his last outing against the Huskies, Bourque had a hand in all three of his team's goals.
His outstanding preseason performance was a big statement for Bourque, who has said he wants to contribute much moreoffense and leadership in his second year with the Remparts. However, Bourque had a bit of an advantage in the QMJHL preseason, since he was coming off an intense week at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp, where he appeared in three games again the Swedish and Finnish World Junior Championship hopefuls.
Like Bourque, Rangers 2009 second-rounder Ethan Werek also spent part of his summer facing high-level competition at Canada's World Junior camp. Werek returned to his Kingston Frontenacs team of the OHL and eventually scored a goal in the team's preseason opener -- a 6-6 tie with Ottawa on Saturday. Werek will look to maintain that momentum in his return to Traverse City, where he centered the Rangers' top line for part of last year's tournament.
Another returning Traverse City player who made a mark in his 2010 preseason debut was 2009 fifth-rounder Roman Horak. Also a center, Horak erupted for a goal and two assists in the Chilliwack Bruins' 6-3 win over Kamloops on Saturday. Entering his second season with the WHL's Bruins, Horak was recognized by Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel, as the organization's most improved prospect last year. He had a big impact in Traverse City as well and should be able to provide even more offense this time around.
In goal, the Rangers can point to the 2010 preseason debut of Traverse City returnee Scott Stajcer. The veteran netminder with the OHL's Owen Sound Attack started two games at the tournament last year, and will be heading into it on the heels of a strong 24-save performance against Barrie on Saturday. Stajcer, a 2009 Rangers fifth-rounder who nailed down a 6-3 win over the Colts, will be the younger goalie on the tournament roster -- sharing the duties with Cam Talbot, a former college star at Alabama-Huntsville.
Other Traverse City roster players who have warmed up with preseason action in major-junior are 2010 picks Dylan McIlrath (two games with Moose Jaw of the WHL), third-rounder Andrew Yogan, and seventh-rounder Randy McNaught.
Outside of Bourque, the hottest Rangers prospect in the 2010 preseason has been last June's sixth-round pick, Jesper Fasth of the Swedish Elitserien's HV-71 team. The 18-year-old, who played against Bourque at the USA Hockey event at Lake Placid, N.Y., started the preseason on HV-71's fourth line. He went on to score five goals and nine points in 11 games that represented the toughest competition he had seen to date.
By the end of the preseason, Fasth was HV-71's No. 1 right wing, and he might well be skating on the top line when HV-71 opens the season next Thursday. Unfortunately, Fasth won't be available for the trip to Traverse City, but he will join virtually every member of the upcoming tournament roster as a key important prospect to watch in 2010-11.