Rangers Prospects on Display at Development Camp

By: Matthew Blittner
Special Contributor to MSGNetworks

It’s that time of year when hope springs eternal and newly drafted prospects try to make good first impressions.

Most teams hold their annual Prospect Development Camps immediately following the draft and the Rangers are no exception.

“This is a great chance for the guys to get to see what it means to be a Ranger,” said Stanley Cup champion Adam Graves. “This camp is the perfect way for guys to kick-start their summer workouts.”

Roster spots are not won during Development Camp, but a bad showing could cost them one.

With the prospects broken into four groups of eight, it’s easy to select one or two in each that stand out from the pack.

The early standouts in group one were: defenseman Libor Hajek (acquired from Tampa Bay at the 2018 Trade Deadline), defenseman Nils Lundkvist (2018 first-round/28th overall pick) and center Kevin Hancock (a camp invite from the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL).

Of the three, Hajek is probably the most highly regarded; Hancock has the most to gain and Lundkvist has the most room to grow.

The second group of the day was packed with the Blueshirts’ 2018 draft picks, as well as a few holdovers from years past.

[Complete Rangers Draft Coverage]

While the talent level made it more difficult to pick a standout skater, the trio of center Brett Howden (acquired from Tampa Bay at the 2018 Trade Deadline), right-wing Vitali Kravtsov (2018 first-round/ninth-overall) and right-wing Ty Ronning (2016 seventh-round/201st-overall) did their best to make a strong impression on the coaching staff.

Howden was a highly-coveted part of the deal that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay, and his silky sweet skating technique is part of that equation. And his crossover ability is similar to that of the Islanders’ newly minted Calder Trophy winner, Mathew Barzal.

“I’m excited for the rest of camp,” said Howden. “And I look forward to working hard this summer in an effort to make the team. It’s time for me to move on from the minors and what better place to do that than New York City.”

As for Kravtsov, it’s easy to see why the Blueshirts’ brass was so high on him at the draft. His ability to glide along the ice and accelerate through the neutral zone are skills that simply can’t be taught.

Last, but certainly not least, was Ronning. Son of former-NHLer Cliff Ronning, Ty thrust himself into the spotlight last season; tallying a remarkable 61 goals and 84 points in 70 games with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL. Ronning’s sharp shot is his bread and butter, but his skillful skating and acceleration are the knife he uses to prepare the sandwich.

“It’s all about working your butt off and showing what you can do,” said Ronning. “I feel my tenacity and grit will help me stand out. And I know Coach (David) Quinn loves guys who work and play hard. You’ve got to play with passion.”

Unlike the second group, the third consisted mainly of prospects that even most of the reporters had never heard of — with the exceptions of Lias Andersson and Ryan Lindgren.

But it just goes to show you, sometimes, it’s the no-name guys that impress the most.

Andersson (2017 first-round/seventh-overall), defensemen Josh Teves (camp invite), Lindgren (acquired from Boston in Rick Nash deal) and Alex Basso (camp invite) all put together strong showings during their speed drills.

From Andersson skating with Chris Kreider’s blades — unfortunately, his haven’t been rerouted from Europe yet — to Basso gliding along the ice like a gazelle, to Lindgren and Teves showcasing their hairpin turning abilities, the third group was arguably the most fun to watch.

“I’m more relaxed this year,” said Andersson. “I know the coaches and the trainers so it’s definitely a different feel for me this year.”

Then came the fourth group, led by center Filip Chytil (2017 first-round/21st-overall). Along with Chytil, defensemen Nico Gross (2018 fourth-round/101st-overall), Sean Day (2016 third-round/81st-overall) and K’Andre Miller (2018 first-round/22nd-overall) all gave evidence to the bright future that lies ahead of the Blueshirts.

Chytil has the look of a man on a mission. He wants to break camp with the team — he’ll be given every opportunity to do so — and he wants to have a successful rookie campaign.

Gross impressed with his deliberate yet smooth skating technique, while Miller caught everybody’s attention as easily the biggest guy on the ice. And Miller moves well for a big man.

“[Miller] reminds me of Erik Karlsson out there,” said Andersson.

Meanwhile, the wild card in the group was Day, who has seemingly been hyped to the moon and back ever since being drafted; yet he hasn’t made it to the NHL. Perhaps this is finally his year?

If today was any indication, his skating ability is as good as ever.

However, only time will tell if that will be enough to get him over the hump.

After the four groups were done, the goalies took the ice, hoping to show that the hardest position in the game is also populated by the best athletes.

The quartet of Adam Huska (2015 seventh-round/184th-overall), Alexandar Georgiev (free agent signing July 2017), Tyler Wall (2016 sixth-round/174th-overall) and Olof Lindbom (2018 second-round/39th-overall) held an informal goaltender competition during their ice time, with the dual winners being Georgiev and Lindbom.

At this time last year, Georgiev was trying to impress the Rangers enough to convince them to sign him to a contract. And thanks to goalie coach Benoit Allaire, his wish came true.

As for Lindbom, he was as good as his draft position suggests. The Swedish goaltender spent his childhood idolizing Sweden’s favorite son, Henrik Lundqvist. And if the early camp observations are to be believed, the Blueshirts might have just pulled another Swedish rabbit out of their hat.

After the goalies finished their drills, all the players took part in a very intense practice.

PRACTICE QUICK HITS

BEST GOAL: Hybrid defenseman/right-wing, Tyler Nanne wins this with his emphatic backhand shot from above the hash marks. Nanne’s backhander whizzed over Georgiev’s shoulder and into the net, drawing a loud cheer from the other players on the ice — as well as from the watching reporters.

BEST DEFENSEMAN: When the ice is filled with talented defenders, it’s hard to pick just one. But since this category is titled, “Best Defenseman,” I have to go with the Blueshirts’ 2018 third-round (88th-overall) pick, Joey Keane. Keane often found himself matched up against the likes of Howden, Ronning and Kravtsov. He shut each of them down; not allowing them to escape from him thanks to his tenacious style of defense.

BEST FORWARD: As much as I want to give this category to Ronning, I have to give it to Howden. Howden showed exactly why the Rangers were willing to part with McDonagh and Miller in order to acquire him.

“Howden plays so well in his own zone,” said Rangers Director of Player Personnel, Gordie Clark. “He does those drills in his own end really well, and that’s not something a lot of guys do.”

“I look at this as an opportunity to show I belong,” said Howden. “I didn’t really know what to expect out there. I’m just trying to make the team and you can see they’re trying to teach us a lot of stuff.”

BEST LITTLE MAN: Since I couldn’t give Ronning the “Best Forward” nod, I created a category just for him. Measuring in at a slight 5-foot-9 and 172 pounds, Ronning was the smallest guy on the ice. Just don’t tell him that. The slender right-wing is as good as they come.

Ronning’s ability to create plays out of nothing — and finish chances — helped him net 61 goals last season in the WHL. And if it’s up to him he’ll get the chance to replicate that success in the NHL as soon as possible.

“I’m trusting the process,” said Ronning. “They call this a development camp for a reason. It’s all about working hard and trying to impress the coaches. Last season, shooting the puck was always in my head because I was the go-to guy. But I also need to keep up my speed.”

This may be Prospect Development Camp, but the players in attendance are treating it as the first of many steps towards achieving their NHL dreams.

[Get More Blueshirts Coverage on Rangers Night Live Monday at 8 PM on MSG and MSG GO. Download the App for Free]

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.