The “Loose Cannon” strikes again, this time with some notes on the Rangers’ affiliate from Connecticut. Incidentally, Rangers’ fans were the rudest bunch to visit us in our inaugural season, in my opinion.
Last season, the Hartford Wolf Pack won the Northeast Division and finished with the fourth-best point total (21 points more than the Lehigh Valley Phantoms) in the 15-team Eastern Conference. In the playoffs, Hartford knocked out the Hershey Bears in the conference semi-finals but then lost to the eventual Calder Cup champion Manchester Monarchs in the conference finals. The New York Rangers will still have a quality AHL affiliate but, as is the case with the Hershey, it is not certain that the Wolf Pack will be quite as strong as they were last season (particularly on offense).
.Finland national team netminder Antti Raanta, the undrafted 26-year-old who had sparkling numbers (1.84 avg, .936 svpct) in 14 NHL games for the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Black Hawks last season, found himself the odd-man out in the Windy City last spring and has been signed as a free agent by the New York Rangers as the apparent backup for longtime Swedish workhorse Henrik Lundqvist. Should Ranta, who has made 25 appearances (2.62 avg, .915 avg) in the AHL for the Rockford Ice Hogs the past two season, falter in the unforgiving spotlight of New York’s intense media glare, the Rangers do have three proven AHL goaltenders, all with a measure of NHL experience, in the organization, as well. The bottom line, as far as Hartford are concerned, is that the Wolf Pack should be able to count on reliable goaltending no matter which two players are actually rostered..MacKenzie Skapski, the 21-year-old who was the 6th round pick (# 170 overall) of the New York Rangers at the 2013 NHL Draft, came out of nowhere for Hartford as a rookie (28 ga, 2.40 avg, .914 svpct) and ultimately spent almost two full months in the NHL (2 ga, 119 min, 0.50 avg, 1 so, .978 svpct) last spring. Skapski began last season with the Greenville Road Warriors in the ECHL but was promoted to the AHL towards the end of October. Unfortunately for the Wolf Pack, Skapski (6’2″ 192 lbs) suffered a hip injury towards the end of the regular season and would only make two appearances during the playoff run; a hip arthroscopy to replace a labral tear performed in early June was expected to need four to five months for recovery..Cedrick Desjardins, the undrafted 29-year-old who has spent parts of three seasons in the NHL (6 ga, 2.42 avg, .917 svpct) with the Tampa Bay Lightning, has solid career numbers in eight seasons at the AHL level (234 ga, 2.46 avg, .914 svpct) and began last term as first choice for Hartford (15 ga, 2.63 avg, .910 svpct) before being lost for the duration of the 2014/15 campaign following ACL surgery in late December..The real goaltending wild card the Wolf Pack appear to be holding is Magnus Hellberg. The 24-year-old Swede was the 2nd round pick (# 38 overall) of the Nashville Predators at the 2011 NHL Draft but has spent almost all of his three professional seasons at the AHL level with the Milwaukee Admirals (98 ga, 2.36 avg, .917 avg). Hellberg (6’6″ 198 lbs), who covers a lot of the net with his frame and is said to have good positioning as well as anticipation, had a rather productive year last winter (38 ga, 2.33 avg, .913 svpct) and made his appearance at the 2015 AHL All-Star Game.,The New York Rangers can be expected to keep the following seven defensemen — Stall, Girardi, McDonagh, Boyle, Klein, Yandle, Diaz.The Hartford Wolf Pack figure to have as many as three former first round draft choices on defense this season but overall depth and experience on the blue line could be a concern. Chris Summers (6’2″ 210 lbs), the 27-year-old veteran from the University of Michigan who was the 1st round pick (# 29 overall) of the then-Phoenix Coyotes at the 2006 NHL Draft, had a combined 20 NHL games (0 go, 2 pts, 8 pen min, – 8 def rat) for the Arizona Coyotes and New York Rangers last season but will likely not make the cut on Broadway this fall. Dylan McIlrath (6’5″ 230 lbs), the massive 23-year-old who was the 1st round pick (# 10 overall) of the New York Rangers at the 2010 NHL Draft, was a punishing player for Hartford (73 ga, 6 go, 17 pts, 165 pen min, + 5 def rat) last season and should be once again this time around, too..The proverbial hot prospect is Brady Skjei (6’3″ 205 lbs), the 1st round pick (# 28 overall) of the New York Rangers at the 2012 NHL Draft who appeared in 8 AHL games (0 go, 0 pts, 0 pen min, + 2 def rat) for Hartford last spring after finishing his junior year at the University of Minnesota. The 21-year-old also dressed in all 15 playoff games (1 go, 3 pts, 16 pen min, – 3 def rat) for the Wolfpack, as well. Skjei, who can be classified as a good skater and very diligent in his own end, was a member of the United States squad at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championships..The so-called quarterback on the blue line is Mat Bodie (6’0″ 175 lbs), the undrafted 25-year-old who was teammates with Lehigh Valley Phantoms defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere on the national champion Union College side which won the 2014 NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament in Philadelphia; as a rookie pro last season, Bodie had good numbers for Hartford both during the regular season (75 ga, 5 go, 32 pts, 42 pen min, + 11 def rat) and in the Calder Cup (15 ga, 3 go, 7 pts, 6 pen min, + 1 def rat)..Also returning to the Wolf Pack is Tommy Hughes (6’2″ 215 lbs), the undrafted 23-year-old who missed nearly half of his second season with Hartford (42 ga, 1 go, 7 pts, 27 pen min, + 6 def rat) on account of injury; the quintessential stay-at-home type, Hughes has never played below the AHL level in his career and did skate in all 15 playoff games (1 go, 3 pts, 4 pen min, -2 def rat) for Hartford last spring..Particularly considering injuries and/or recalls, much could depend on how this year’s crop of rookies. two of whom are European imports, pan out. Petr Zamorsky (5’11” 190 lbs), the undrafted 23-year-old who was chosen the best defenseman in the Czech elite league for the 2013/14 campaign, was signed by the New York Rangers last summer but spent all of last season out on loan, first with Finnish club Kiekko Espoo and then Swedish club HK Orebro. Zamorsky skated in all ten games (0 go, 3 as) with the Czech Republic at the 2014 IIHF World Championships and has appeared in 33 games (1 go, 5 pts, 28 pen min, + 3 def rat) for the senior Czech national team..Calle Andersson (6’2″ 205 lbs), the 4th round pick (# 119 overall) of the New York Rangers at the 2012 NHL Draft, arrives after spending all of last season in the Swiss elite league skating for both EV Zug and HC Lugano (two-team total : 48 ga, 6 go, 20 pts, 22 pen min, – 6 def rat). The 21-year-old Swede, who best attribute could be his passing, also signed with the New York Rangers last summer and was also sent out on loan. For the record, Andersson’s father Peter skated in 47 NHL games in parts of two seasons for the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers during the mid-1990s..Two first-year professionals who played major junior hockey in Canada last season are also in the hunt for an AHL roster spot this fall. Ryan Graves (6’5″ 215 lbs), the 20-year-old who was the 4th round pick (# 110 overall) of the New York Rangers at the 2013 NHL Draft, is a stay-at-home type but did show improvement offensively last term. Troy Donnay (6’7″ 205 lbs), the undrafted 21-year-old who is tall but thin for his size, is a long shot..Samuel Noreau (6’5″ 227 lbs), the physical 22-year-old who was the 5th round pick (# 136 overall) of the New York Rangers at the 2011 NHL Draft, made the Hartford Wolf Pack opening night roster as a rookie pro last season but was quickly sent down after skating in just four AHL games (0 go, 0 pts, 13 pen min, -1 def rat); Noreau is likely heading for Greenville of the ECHL once again..At this point in time, the New York Rangers have 13 forwards listed on the NHL roster posted at the club’s official website — R. Bourque, Brassard, Etem, Fast, Glass, Hayes, Kreider, Miller, Moore, Nash, Stalberg, Stepan, Stoll, Zuccarello..The Hartford Wolf Pack might have trouble scoring goals in the AHL this season, especially if the New York Rangers decide to keep center Oscar Lindberg, the 23-year-old who was the 2nd round pick (# 57 overall) of the then-Phoenix Coyotes at the 2010 NHL Draft and earned a gold medal for Sweden at the 2013 IIHF World Championships . Last season, his second in North America, Lindberg (6’1″ 190 lbs), was the second leading scorer for the Wolf Pack in terms of both goals and points (75 ga, 28 go, 56 pts, + 7 def rat). Hartford have definitely lost last season’s leading goal-scorer (Chris Bourque – Hershey Bears) as well as the two players (Danny Kristo – Chicago Wolves and Chris Mueller – San Diego Gulls) who finished third and fourth, respectively, on the point-scoring chart..Lindberg is also very responsible defensively, good at face-offs and is known to have a high work rate on the ice — the Wolf Pack would miss him very much should he realize his NHL dream..Another legitimate candidate to carve out a place with the New York Rangers is free agent signing Jayson Megna (6’1″ 195 lbs), the undrafted 25-year-old right wing out of the University of Nebraska – Omaha who skated in 12 NHL games (0 go, 1 as, 14 pen min, -2 def rat) for the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. As a third-year pro, Megna led the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins in goal-scoring last season (63 ga, 26 go, 39 pts, 40 pen min, + 18 def rat). Megna, who has skated in a total of 48 NHL games (5 go, 10 pts, 20 pen min, – 1 def rat) in his brief career, is first line material for the Hartford Wolf Pack if things don’t work out with New York..Ryan Bourque (5’9″ 185 lbs), the 3rd round pick (# 80 overall) of the New York Rangers at the 2009 NHL Draft, is currently listed on the NHL roster but there is no guarantee that the son of the legendary Hall of Fame defenseman (and the brother of Chris) will begin this 2015/16 season with the Broadway Blueshirts. The 24-year-old left wing was called up by the Rangers for the first time in his four-year professional career last season but only ever did skate in one NHL regular game before being sent back to the AHL in short order. After scoring 21 goals and registering a team-leading + 16 plus/minus defensive rating for Hartford during the 2013/14 season, Bourque’s numbers for the Wolf Pack (73 ga, 12 go, 32 pts, – 3 def rat) last term declined somewhat last term … Bourque was recalled by New York again last spring after appearing in just five of Hartford’s Calder Cup playoff games but would not participate in the Stanley Cup playoffs..Brian Gibbons (5’8″ 170 lbs), the undrafted 27-year-old left wing out of Boston College who skated in 25 NHL games (0 go, 5 pts, 8 pen min, – 2 def rat) for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season after appearing in 41 NHL games (5 go, 17 pts, 6 pen min, + 5 def rat) for the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2013/14 campaign, is looking to bounce back this year; Gibbons, who had 30 points (11 goals) in just 28 AHL games for Wilkes-Barre Scranton two years ago, had a difficult time with the Springfield Falcons (26 ga, 3 go, 11 pts, 14 pen min, – 12 def rat) last season..Luke Adam (6’2″ 215 lbs), the 25-year-old center who was the 2nd round pick (# 44 overall) of the Buffalo Sabres at the 2008 NHL Draft, appeared in three NHL games (0 go, 0 pts, 4 pen min, 0 def rat) for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season after being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres organization in a December trade. Adam spent most of his time last term in the AHL with the Rochester Americans as well as the Springfield Falcons but wasn’t terribly effective in his own end with either club (combined stats : 73 ga, 16 go, 42 pts, 62 pen min, – 22 def rat). Adam, who does have 90 NHL games (15 go, 26 pts, 36 pen min, – 11 def rat) worth of experience under his belt, will probably be a second line pivot with the Hartford Wolf Pack..Matt Lindblad (5’11” 193 lbs), the undrafted 25-year-old left wing/center out of Dartmouth College who has appeared in two games for the Boston Bruins in each of the last two seasons, is yet another free agent signing with a measure of NHL experience; Lindblad was slowed by injuries and appeared in just 47 AHL games (9 go, 22 pts, 6 pen min, + 5 def rat) for the Providence Bruins but will challenge for a place among Hartford’s top six forwards..Marek Hrivik (6’2″ 200 lbs) continued to improve as a third-year pro for the Wolf Pack last winter and was rewarded with a new contract by the New York Rangers organization this summer. The undrafted 23-year-old left wing/center who skated in six games (0 go, 0 as) for Slovakia at the 2014 IIHF World Championships had a solid regular season (72 ga, 12 go, 33 pts, 12 pen min, + 8 def rat) and an even better Calder Cup playoff run (15 ga, 3 go, 9 pts, 6 pen min, – 1 def rat) for the Wolf Pack last term. Hrivik, who has good size but has never been one to take a whole lot of penalties, undoubtedly also has designs on a spot among Hartford’s top six forwards..Nick Tarnsky (6’2″ 230 lbs), the well-traveled 30-year-old who has already skated in 245 NHL games (13 go, 30 pts, 297 pen min, – 30 def rat) for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers in his career, returns for his second time around with Hartford. Aside from injuries last season, quite often the veteran center (26 ga, 1 go, 5 pts, 36 pen min, 0 def rat) found himself a healthy scratch because the Wolf Pack had too many players with more than 320 games of “professional” experience (i.e., the NHL, AHL and European elite leagues) on their roster. Tarnasky, who spent the 2011/12 season in the Kontinental Hockey League with Russian club Vityaz Chekhov, looks set to fill the role of checking center..Shawn O’Donnell (6’1″ 190 lbs), the undrafted 27-year-old right wing who started last season in the ECHL with the Greenville Road Warriors, skated in 42 AHL games (3 go, 6 pts, 69 pen min, -2 def rat) and also appeared in a dozen Calder Cup playoff games (13 ga, 0 go, 2 pts, 12 pen min, for Hartford; O’Donnell is the quintessential lunch pail player who brings toughness to the table and will try to perform in a checking line capacity..The one rookie professional forward of note is Adam Tambellini (6’3″ 190 lbs), the 20-year-old center whose father (Steve) skated in more than 550 NHL games and was a member of the Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders in 1980; Adam, the 3rd round pick (# 65 overall) of the New York Rangers at the 2013 NHL Draft, played briefly under incoming Philadelphia Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol at the University of North Dakota before leaving to play major junior in Canada halfway through the 2013/14 campaign. Last term, Tambellini had a good season in the Western Hockey League for the Calgary Hitmen (71 ga, 47 go, 86 pts) and stood out in the playoffs (16 ga, 13 go, 26 pts), as well..Josh Nicholls (6’2″ 190 lbs), the 7th round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 2010 NHL Draft, is one who will be trying to nail down a more permanent place with the Wolf Pack. The 23-year-old right wing skated in five AHL games (0 go, 1 as, 0 pen min, – 1 def rat) for Hartford as a second-year pro last season but mainly turned out in the ECHL for the Road Warriors. Nicholls was the second-leading scorer (53 ga, 21 go, 43 pts, 20 pen min, – 8 def rat) for Greenville last term and is hoping that can translate into a promotion..Michael St. Croix (5’11” 180 lbs), the 4th round pick (# 106 overall) of the New York Rangers at the 2011 NHL Draft, skated in a baker’s dozen AHL games (0 go, 0 pts, 2 pen min, – 5 def rat) as a rookie pro for Hartford last season; the 22-year-old center was also the third-leading scorer (59 ga, 15 go, 41 pts, 44 pen min, – 10 def rat) for the Road Warriors and could find himself back in the ECHL once again this fall.Michael Kantor (6’1″ 195 lbs), the undrafted 23-year-old right wing who appeared in 27 AHL games (0 go, 0 pts, 113 pen min, – 8 def rat) as a rookie professional for the Wolf Pack two seasons ago, began the 2014/15 season with Hartford but was quickly dispatched to the ECHL after skating in just one AHL game (0 go, 0 pts, 14 pen min, 0 def rat); the rather undisciplined Kantor, who also struggled with injury two seasons ago, got hurt again after just two games in the ECHL for Greenville last fall and was lost for the duration..Chris McCarthy (6’1″ 190 lbs), the undrafted 24-year-old from the greater Philadelphia area (Collegeville) who played his college hockey in the vaunted Hockey East conference for the University of Vermont, also started out with the Wolf Pack (5 ga, 1 go, 0 as, 0 pen min, – 3 def rat) last fall and was also assigned to the ECHL in relatively short order; McCarthy finished as the fourth-leading scorer (63 ga, 15 go, 39 pts, 12 pen min, + 6 def rat) for Greenville last season..Even though it is getting rather late in the summer, it does appear as if the Hartford Wolf Pack could still use another AHL-caliber forward (or two)..