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Saturday, August 12, 2006

AHL prospects give Rangers options



Yesterday, Fox Sports posted an article about four of the Rangers' top forward prospects at the AHL level (link found through the ever-useful Topix.net). Even though Blueshirt Bulletin already picked apart some of the projections in the article, it's still worthwhile to read a mainstream opinion about some of the players from last years' (and possibly this years') Wolf Pack team.

Finally, the New York Rangers faithful have some legitimate prospect to watch as they hope to make the NHL roster this season. Even with the addition of free agent Brendan Shanahan, there will be battles over spots on the second to fourth lines in New York.

Expect to see the majority of the youth plug holes at the center position, primarily the weakest point on the roster. With Michael Nylander turning 34 at the beginning of the season and newly acquired Matt Cullen filling a third-line checking role in the middle, there is room to advance.

This organization over the past decade had not been very diligent about the development of prospects and used what few it had in trade for a win-now philosophy. And the few first-round picks who weren't traded didn't seem to develop. You can look at first-round flops from 1996 to 1999 such as Jeff Brown, Stefan Cherneski, Manny Malhotra, Jamie Lundmark and Pavel Brendl to see the futility. Of those five players, only Malhotra and Lundmark have played a significant amount of games in the NHL and both are third or fourth line players.

Things certainly did not improve on the top end in the drafts from 2000 to 2002, when they traded the first-round picks in two of those years. When given the opportunity Don Maloney and his scouting staff have done a fine job replenishing the cupboards and evaluating prospects in trades.


Jarkko Immonen, center, 24 (acquired via trade from Toronto)

Immonen is a late-round pick of the Maple Leafs who has shown great offensive ability in the Finnish Elite league at a young age. His skill and talents have translated to AHL level and the North American game, as he led his team in points with 70 points in 74 games before Brad Smyth was traded there. He is an all-round talent without any glaring weaknesses and will just need a little time to complete his development. He could become a solid second-line center if he dedicates himself to the game. He possesses good size at 6-foot and 210 pounds and displays the ability to be responsible in all areas of the game

Projection: Third-line center who could center the second line by the end of the year.


Nigel Dawes, left wing, 21, (fifth round, 149th overall pick in 2003)

Considering nobody gave him a chance to succeed until they saw him play at the WJC, Dawes has impressed many pundits. His first season in the AHL looked like a carbon copy of his junior career offensively as he posted 35 goals and 32 assist in 77 games. He proved he was a sniper with 146 goals in his last three years of junior, is nifty with the puck, and always manages to be at the right place at the right time. His playoff numbers in Hartford made it clear he could translate his performance when times were tough where he had 12 points in 13 games. He plays with tenacity and grit for a 5-foot-8, 185-pound player, so his size should not be a factor in the NHL.

Projection: Third-line left winger who may force Marcel Hossa to the right side if makes an impression in preseason.


Dwight Helminen, center, 23 (acquired via trade from Edmonton)

Helminen is a dangerous speed demon who has shown far more offensive upside in the last year considering his numbers in college. Although he is smaller at 5-foot-10, he is stocky at 190 pounds and plays with an edge and will battle in the tough areas. His previous season in Hartford, where he posted 32 goals and 55 points in 77 games, had shocked a few people. His penalty-killing prowess is intriguing to the Rangers and Helminen's four short-handed goals prove he is a threat. With the emphasis on special teams in the new NHL, he becomes a much more valuable asset than in the past.

Projection: Fourth-line center who has the speed to remind some of Todd Marchant.


Lauri Korpikoski, left wing, 20 (first round, 19th overall pick in 2004)

A quick-skating winger with a knack for scoring in droves at the junior level, Korpikoski has the creativity to be a playmaker, as well. He is still one year away from a roster spot, so that will give him time to work on the other aspects of his game and add a little size. He did play a limited amount of games last year in the AHL and managed three points in five games. In his last two seasons playing pro in Finland, he did not produce many points as he played in a limited capacity. However, it allowed him to adjust to professional hockey. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Korpikoski will still need to add a little more strength, but he certainly as given the impression he can compete.

Projection: First-line left wing in Hartford and will have a chance to crack the Rangers roster next season.


If I were forced to quibble here, I would grade Brandon Dubinsky ahead of Dwight Helminen at center, plus (as it's already been pointed out before elsewhere) calling Stefan Cherneski a bust is sorta unfair considering the injury that ended his career.

(Immonen photo by Heather Sperrazza; Dawes, Helminen, and Korpikoski photos by Chis Rutsch)

1 Comments:

Anonymous mrs. brushback said...

I think it's inappropriate to refer to Stef Cherneski as a flop. You're a flop because you had a career ending injury?

8/14/06, 12:33 PM

 

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