Prospect will take nothing for Grant-ed
Former Alaska-Anchorage star ready for new challenges in pro hockey
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
Tommy Grant wasn't exactly a household name in the world of hockey when he signed with the Rangers in late March of this year, but the undrafted 24-year-old from North Vancouver also wasn't about to waste any time establishing his presence at the professional level.
Just 10 days after completing his senior season at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, Grant found himself in Providence, R.I., making his AHL debut with the Rangers' top minor-league affiliate, the Connecticut Whale, on March 27.
Grant made sure it was a memorable first pro game -- as the winger picked up two assists in the final five minutes of a 4-2 road loss to the Providence Bruins.
"It was just one of those games where I got kind of lucky on the first assist, and (Derek) Couture -- the guy that I was playing with -- had two goals in that game and basically buried both chances that he had right at the end," said Grant."It was definitely a nice feeling for me to kind of get the ball rolling right in my first game like that."
He went on to play six more regular-season and six playoff games with the Whale, notching his first pro goal in Game 3 of Connecticut's first-round playoff series vs. Portland.
"It's always a jump when you're playing with bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter players," said Grant of his transition to the AHL. "It was definitely a bit of an adjustment, but I can't say enough about the coaches in Connecticut and how patient they were with me. ... I definitely think it was a great experience to go and see what pro hockey is all about. I now know how hard I have to work in the summer to get to the next level."
|After three seasons in the BCHL, Tommy Grant opted to enter the University of Alaska at Anchorage at age 20. The decision turned out to be a great one, setting the stage for an eventual pro contract.|
"It's just about adjusting the pace of his game to the pro game, and that's why it was important to get him into Connecticut at the end of the year," said Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director-Player Personnel. "Now he's seen the size and the strength of the players at that level, and he knows what he has to do to over the summer to be ready to come back for his first year of pro."
Indeed, Grant is already determined to make a big impression at the Rangers' upcoming Prospect Development Camp.
"I just have to go there and prove myself and play my game," said Grant, who has been training for the camp in Kelowna, British Columbia. "This is a good chance for me to kind of show what I bring to the table, and I'm definitely going to prepare myself to be ready for it."
Although he only recently signed his first NHL contract, Grant won't feel like a newcomer at the Prospect Development Camp when he arrives at the MSG Training Center later this month. That's because he has been through the experience once -- attending the 2010 camp on a special invitation that eventually helped make him so determined to become a Ranger.
"There were other teams talking to me as a free agent after college, but definitely after that Development Camp last year, it just left a good taste in my mouth," said Grant. "Basically, when the season was over, I told my agent that New York was where I wanted to go, and if he could get a deal done with the Rangers that would be my favorite place to go."
The Rangers scouts were very happy to see Grant at last year's Development Camp after having watched him throughout his sophomore and junior seasons at Alaska-Anchorage. The 6-foot-2, 194-pounder had come onto the radar during the 2008-09 season, when he played on a line with Paul Crowder, who went on to sign with the Rangers in the spring of 2009.
|This appearance at the Rangers' 2010 Prospect Development Camp at the MSG Training Center went a long way toward convincing Tommy Grant that the Rangers were the NHL organization for him.|
"They (the Rangers) were interested in (Crowder) in his junior year, so just with us being linemates, I think they got a chance to look at me, too," recalled Grant. "Maybe they weren't intending on coming to watch me, but they did, and I have known some of their scouts since my sophomore year. It wasn't like (the Rangers) just came along in my senior year. It was kind of a process of them following me, and I felt like they had a good feel for the type of player that I was and that they were going to be getting."
The following season, Rangers scouts saw even more of Grant, while they were back at UAA watching defenseman Lee Baldwin, who went on to sign his first NHL contract in the spring of 2010.
Grant's junior year was a big one. He led the Seawolves with 17 assists and also had six multi-point games in 2009-10 -- a run that included three three-point games. Those impressive numbers helped prompt the invitation to the Prospect Development Camp, where turned even more heads. Clark describes Grant as one of the offensive "standouts" at the 2010 camp.
While at the MSG Training Center a year ago, Grant also became a big fan of the Rangers organization.
"It was a good experience," Grant said of last year's camp. "I had actually gone to Tampa's camp the year before, so I kind of had a general idea of what those camps were all about. But from the moment I got there, I just remember playing with (Evgeny) Grachev and (Derek) Stepan. Right away I could see the talent that these players have and why Steps is where he is. Grachev is a great player, too, and I got to play with him at the end of the year in Hartford. The camp was a great experience for me to play with players like that, and it made me really excited to take the next step with the organization."
Although he briefly considered turning pro last summer, Grant resolved to return to college and finish out his NCAA career on a high note. He did exactly that, leading UAA with career-highs in goals (16), points (32), and shots on goal (114) as a senior. His season featured point streaks of six and eight games, as well as three two-goal games and six multi-point efforts. He capped off the big year by helping UAA upset Minnesota in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs -- picking up an assist in the opener and a goal in the second game of the best-of-3 sweep.
|Playing on the Seawolves' No. 1 line and ending the season as their top scorer, Grant was honored as the Alaska-Anchorage team MVP for 2010-11.|
"We're all excited, going forward, to see him at camp and to see what kind of adjustments he makes after playing in the pro game a little bit," said Jeff Gorton, the Rangers' Assistant Director, Player Personnel. The Connecticut coaches saw the offensive upside, and they saw some speed and some hands. And for an offensive guy, he was good in his own end. He's also very competitive, and they were pretty excited about that."
Grant, a product of the North Vancouver minor-hockey system, where he was a childhood teammate of Colorado's David Jones and Edmonton's Gilbert Brule, was once an unlikely candidate for the pros.
An undersized player throughout his teen years, Grant finally hit a growth spurt at age 18 and did not enter Tier II junior hockey until after he had already gone through his first year of NHL draft eligibility. Being passed up in that 2004 NHL Entry Draft was hardly an issue for Grant, who suspected he wasn't pro material at that point in his life, particularly because no major-junior team had drafted him.
"It was never really in my head that I was going to get drafted into the NHL or anything. That turned out well for me, because I had a chance when I was done with college to get interest from some NHL teams," said Grant. "But in my head throughout the whole season, especially after development camp last year, I wanted to be a Ranger and that kind of was my mindset the whole year. I was excited to see that they were in the mix right away once I was done with school. It was a great opportunity, and I couldn't be more excited to be a part of their organization."
Although he wasn't drafted, the turning point for Grant did come in his draft year. After two years of Midget AAA hockey in North Vancouver, he got a chance to play in the British Columbia Hockey League with the Victoria Salsa, and he took full advantage of it. Over the next three seasons with Victoria and the Westside Warriors, Grant emerged into a powerful scoring force.
"I went to Anchorage and didn't really know too much about the place and didn't know too much about U.S. college hockey either, being from Canada," said Grant. "But I found out pretty quickly that Anchorage plays in one of the top two conferences in college hockey. I got to play against some great teams in some great rinks."
With the Seawolves, Grant emerged as a legitimate pro prospect with a remarkable development curve. He steadily increased his scoring output and shots on goal each year, and took on a leadership role as a team co-captain this past season.
Grant has a great degree of maturity for a newcomer to the pro game and takes this next chapter in his career so seriously that he pushed himself to get right to Hartford once his college season ended.
"In preparation for camp and Traverse City, I wanted to be prepared and get used to playing pro hockey," said Grant of his AHL stint. "There are a bunch of little things that go along with being out of college now that I wanted to get used to. And I definitely think playing there at the end of the year was very important to me and gave me a taste of what's coming up this year."