Rangers prospects score nice goals, tracking WJC ’21 and some NHL notes

With both the KHL season and U20 World Junior Championship going on, there’s more hockey for fans to gloss over. That means plenty of highlights from games and enough time to track your team’s prospects.

Thus far, the IIHF WJC ’21 is in its fifth day of preliminary action. We’ve seen a few big performances with none better than Senators ’20 third pick Tim Stutzle dominating Slovakia in a big 4-3 overtime win yesterday to give Germany a huge two points in Group A. He looks like the real deal.

For more extensive coverage on the tournament, please refer to my hockey prospects blog. I do game reviews and add details on some of the top prospects playing in the WJC over in Edmonton. Each game takes place at the Oilers home rink Rogers Place. USA defeated Czech Republic 7-0 earlier. They’re now 2-1-0 with the big New Year’s Eve match versus Sweden. In the second game, Canada leads Switzerland 1-0 in the first period. Game Three is later pitting heavy underdog Austria against Russia.

For Team USA 🇺🇸, the Rangers are represented by ’20 fifth round pick Brett Berard. The under sized gritty forward has been good so far. He posted a goal and two assists in an 11-0 blowout of Austria. That included this highlight reel goal below.

An effective player with good speed and a willingness to drive the net and get dirty, you can see why the Rangers like him. He also set a good screen on Russian netminder Yaroslav Askarov on a goal that made USA’s first game against Russia interesting. The distraction allowed John Farinacci to pot a rebound to start a third period comeback. Ultimately, they fell short in a 5-3 defeat on Boxing Day.

Berard has drawn raves for his scrappy play. He’s around the puck a lot and makes things happen. He set up Bobby Brink’s tally today versus Czech Republic.

It’s looking like Berard could be a steal. Of course, it’s very early in his development. He is in his freshman year for Providence College. It’s definitely nice to see him be a factor on a good American team that features future star Trevor Zegras, Alex Turcotte, Cole Caufield, Matthew Boldy and Cam York. He assisted on a Brink goal today.

The Rangers also have Braden Schneider playing for Canada and Dylan Garand backing up for the defending champs. Schneider returned earlier from serving a one game suspension for a high shoulder hit that caught the head of an opposing player in Canada’s first game. He didn’t leave his feet. But anytime you make head contact, intentional or not, you’re going to pay the price. He took responsibility for the tough hit prior to puck drop versus Switzerland.

He’s a big and strong guy. The play was unfortunate. That’s hockey now. They have to protect player safety. Imagine if Scott Stevens played now. Exactly. The game has changed. Schneider had some kind words in a taped interview about the Humboldt Broncos, who are fondly remembered by the hockey community.

In recent KHL action for Traktor Chelyabinsk, Rangers prospect Vitali Kravtsov scored a nice goal the other day in Russia. He’s turned it around recently with goals in three of his last four games. Kravtsov is up to 12 on the season. That leads Traktor.

It’s nice to see him rounding into form. The KHL season has about two months left. It’s possible he could debut with the Rangers after the Traktor Chelyabinsk season concludes. We’ll see. He just turned 21 before Christmas.

Speaking of birthdays, tomorrow Igor Shesterkin will turn 25 on Dec. 30. The Rangers new starting goalie is getting ready for the abbreviated divisional format 56-game season which begins on Jan. 13. The Blueshirts start up versus the Islanders on 1/14.

NHL training camps officially opened up for the teams who didn’t qualify for last year’s expanded playoff format. Moves continue to be made as some organizations prepare to make room in compliance with the $81.5 million salary cap.

We’ve seen the Lightning get the Senators to take the contracts of Cedric Paquette and Braydon Coburn with a 2022 second round pick in exchange for basically retired forward Marian Gaborik and backup goalie Anders Nilsson. The Sens also did the Coyotes a favor by taking the remaining year of veteran center Derek Stepan for a second round pick. It didn’t make a ton of sense, but Stepan can add some leadership to a young rebuilding team that needs it. His remaining cap hit is $6.5 million before turning unrestricted next summer. Does the former Rangers fan favorite have something left at age 30?

We’ve also seen the Blues reach agreement with former Senator and Panthers finisher Mike Hoffman on a pro tryout. With Vladimir Tarasenko out long-term along with Alex Steen, both will be on LTIR which will create room to fit Hoffman in for one year. The cost is expected to be $4 million. He’s betting on himself to reset the market and gets to play for a good team that won the Cup in 2019. It’s a smart move by both parties.

In unfortunate injury news, Blackhawks’ 2019 third pick Kirby Dach suffered a fractured hand on a hit in Canada’s final exhibition game versus Russia. His hand wasn’t in a good spot and caught the brunt of a hit. The timetable for the Hawks second center isn’t good with the team revealing that he couldn’t begin “hockey related” activities until four to five months from now following successful surgery yesterday. What a big blow that is.

Even more worrisome, captain Jonathan Toews announced that he’s taking time away from hockey to address an unspecified injury. I have no idea what that means, but it doesn’t sound good. Sending all the best to one of hockey’s good guys and classy superstars.

I’ll have more news and notes in the coming days. Enjoy the WJC. Happy Holidays!

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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