Rookie Weekend for prospects, Jones and Robertson get early start before camp, Motte signs with Ottawa, Lundkvist waits for trade, Tales of Stan Fischler, Jaromir Jagr


Halfway through September, there are only a few days left of summer. As usually happens, we’ll get a last taste of temperatures in the 80’s over the next week. Then maybe Indian summer.

After what felt like an eternity at least for this blog, hockey is finally back. With players already holding unofficial workouts at the Rangers practice facility in Greenburgh, it’s a hint of what’s around the corner.

Training camps open up soon. That includes the Rangers, who still haven’t announced the date when they’ll officially get underway. Having exchanged emails with well respected NY Post columnist Larry Brooks, it should begin next week. He did some good coverage of the US Open. So, I sent him a note.

In the meantime, rookie camps have begun. In fact, it’s Prospect Weekend. The Rangers rookies are playing the second of two games today against the Flyers prospects. They lost the first game 2-1 last night.

The 23-man roster features Zac Jones, who is the team captain. A young player who’s looking to make the big club out of training camp after spending most of last year with the Wolf Pack, Jones will be one of three defensemen vying for the third pair on the left side next to Braden Schneider.

Jones and Matthew Robertson are both part of the prospect roster. They will compete with Libor Hajek for that opening. On Friday night, it was Robertson who got the lone tally against the Flyers. He enters his second pro season. The same as Jones, who paced all Hartford defensemen in scoring with 35 points (9-26-35) last season. Robertson went 1-10-11 in 65 contests.

The irony is that the Blueshirts took both defensemen in the 2019 NHL Draft. Robertson was selected in the second round at number 49. Jones went in the third round at number 68. It’s actually Jones who’s older. He’ll turn 22 on October 18. Robertson won’t be 22 until next March 9.

With veteran defenseman Justin Braun returning to the Flyers and the Rangers realizing that Patrik Nemeth was a mistake by dumping him to Arizona, it leaves an open competition for the left third pair. Hajek is the only holdover from the failed Ryan McDonagh/J.T. Miller trade. Now 24, time is running out for the former second round pick. He played 17 games last season as basically the eighth defenseman.

Most observers have wondered why Team President and GM Chris Drury kept him. Considering that Jones has 22 NHL games while Robertson has yet to debut, it’s an insurance policy. An affordable one with Hajek making only $800,000 in ’22-23.

While I didn’t necessarily agree with it along with Drury keeping Julien Gauthier ($800,000), my opinion doesn’t matter. Like some of my blogger peers including Rangers author Sean McCaffrey of bluecollarblueshirts.com, who is set to release a great four volume series on the best and worst trades in Rangers history along with A Season To Remember: One Game At A Time , it was my thought process that the money could’ve been better spent on Tyler Motte. Instead, Motte recently signed with Ottawa for a year at an affordable $1.3 million.

At the end of the day, it is what it is. In the salary cap error era, good teams often lose key pieces. The ’21-22 Rangers lost Andrew Copp (Detroit), Ryan Strome (Anaheim), Frank Vatrano (Anaheim), Braun (Philadelphia) and Motte (Ottawa) due to their cap situation. Only Motte could’ve been re-signed. Instead, they signed veteran Ryan Carpenter to the league minimum and Jimmy Vesey is on a pro tryout. Vesey could make the roster as a fourth line/penalty killing forward.

The Blueshirts will get Sammy Blais back. He’ll need to have a good season. How he recovers from the ACL tear suffered last year in a game against the Devils (P.K. Subban), will help determine what the bottom six forwards could look like. Blais is set to make $1.525 million in a contract year. His future is at stake.

It’ll be interesting to see what Gerard Gallant decides to do with his lines. While we know the top two D pairings and five of the six defensemen before camp, we don’t know who will emerge as the top right wing on both the top line and second line. Alexis Lafreniere could find himself on the right side next to Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider if things go well. Kaapo Kakko and Vitaly Kravtsov will compete to play on a new second line with free agent pickup Vincent Trocheck slotted in to center Artemi Panarin.

There are also two younger prospects to keep an eye on. Both Will Cuylle and Brennan Othmann had success in helping Canada win the U20 World Junior Championships last month. They’re both on the rookie camp roster along with Canadian goalie Dylan Garand. Garand will likely begin his pro career with Hartford. Cuylle will try to impress Rangers brass this preseason. He can be optioned to Hartford. But Othmann can’t be. It’s either the promising 19-year old scoring forward does enough to get a minimum of nine games with the Rangers, or he must go back to the Flint Firebirds of the OHL.

The full Rangers roster for Rookie Camp includes 2022 draft picks Adam Sykora, Maxim Barbashev and Bryce McConnell-Barker. Here’s the breakdown:

FORWARDS (13)

38 LW Adam Sykora

47 C Bryce McConnell-Barker

48 LW Bobby Trivigno

49 RW Lauri Pajuniemi

50 LW Will Cuylle

59 C Karl Henriksson

73 C Matt Rempe

78 LW Brennan Othmann

82 C Patrick Khodorenko

83 C Ryder Korczak

84 LW Adam Edstrom

89 LW Maxim Barbashev

96 C Jayden Grubbe

DEFENSEMAN (7)

39 D Ty Emberson

54 D Louka Henault

6 D Zac Jones

90 D Luke Martin

44 D Matthew Robertson

58 D Brandon Scanlin

53 D Hunter Skinner

GOALTENDERS (3)

56 G Talyn Boyko

98 G Dylan Garand

60 G Olof Lindbom

The second game is taking place now in Allentown, Pennsylvania. No. Billy Joel isn’t performing. He has too many dates at MSG. I like Billy. But don’t understand the fascination with The Garden. Let’s just say some of the stuff they air is puzzling. MSG Network can’t be bothered to provide a stream to its own prospect games or barely any postgame interviews.

For the loyal diehards who want to watch, I’m sure you can find a link on the Flyers site or official Twitter. For me, it’s only two games. And one wasn’t even available unless you followed someone. Oh well.

There’s plenty of college football on. I’ll just track what happened in the second game. To be honest, it isn’t what it used to be. Ever since Traverse City which they actually used to air on NHL Network, these games are hard to find. For the aforementioned players who’ll be looking to make the team, it’s meaningless. Kudos to Jones for wearing the ‘C.’

As for Nils Lundkvist, he remains home waiting for Drury to trade him. Whatever. This guy was over promoted and overhyped by the organization. That’s always been how they operate. It dates back to the Ferraro Brothers and Christian Dube. At least Manny Malhotra had a good NHL career. Jamie Lundmark never quite panned out. Pavel Brendl. Hot dog? Lias Andersson. Enough said.

My take on Lundkvist is this. He had the hype and they handed him a spot last year. Does he have the skating? Yes. Did he provide the offense with ridiculous expectations. No. He was on the third pair and hardly used on the second power play due to Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba.

Once Schneider came up and passed him by, it was time to trade him. I wonder if anyone was interested last trade deadline. Ironically, Lundkvist’s former Swedish WJC teammate Rasmus Sandin is in a similar situation with Toronto. He’s blocked. Maybe he’ll get moved.

I don’t agree with camp holdouts from unproven players. Lundkvist has 25 NHL games under his belt. He produced one goal and three assists. Once considered a replacement for exiled Tony DeAngelo (now a hated Flyer after a good year in Carolina), Lundkvist was the first round pick in 2018 the Rangers used as part of the McDonagh deal.

At least the Rick Nash trade continues to net positive results with Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller. To think they also turned Ryan Spooner into Strome. Arguably the best deal Jeff Gorton ever made. Although you could certainly argue stealing Zibanejad from Ottawa for Derick Brassard. Speaking of Big Game Brass, he’s on a PTO with the Senators looking for a second stint. They could be a playoff team.

Of all the pieces they got back for McDonagh/Miller, Brett Howden has turned himself into a solid NHL player. He is part of the fourth line in Vegas. He needed a change.

The Rangers not only lost Strome, Vatrano, Motte and the good Copp. But Kevin Rooney, who signed with Calgary. Good luck to him in Alberta. He was a solid citizen for the Blueshirts playing in that checking line, penalty kill role. The Flames should be interesting after not only acquiring and signing Jonathan Huberdeau to an extension, but landing Avalanche Stanley Cup hero Nazem Kadri. They should be interesting to follow.

Speaking of prospects, the Devils are playing the Canadiens this weekend. They took the first game last night. Alex Holtz tallied twice in the win. That included this overtime winner on the power play that second pick Simon Nemec set up:

As much silly stuff as they post on their social media account, at least the Devils are providing coverage of the kids. Matt Loughlin is doing the games. A guy I have always respected since my stint working the production truck 21 years ago back when Stan Fischler was still doing his shtick. Wow. I feel old.

Speaking of Fischler, he’s still at it providing valuable hockey columns in The Hockey News. His stories such as what happened to the New York Americans- New York’s first ever hockey team- are treasured for history buffs like myself and Sean M. The Maven recently released a new book called, Tales of Brooklyn.

Stan’s latest Bluelines details the ugly side of Canada’s memorable Summit Series victory over Russia. Being that it’s the 50-Year Anniversary since Paul Henderson played the hero, it’s been mentioned a lot lately. It sure looks like a fascinating read.

What I’ve always admired about Fischler is his willingness to tackle anything good or bad. He has a unique style. He has given Sean McCaffrey a voice in those feature columns. Sean has a keen sense of humor and deserves the recognition. But as we once discussed, Stan doesn’t have to do it. That’s his kind nature. He has given so much back to the game. Isn’t it about time they do the right thing? Please while he’s still around. At 90 years young, nobody has more enthusiasm and passion for the sport than Fischler.

QOTD: As I posed to our NYR Twitter group, why hasn’t Jaromir Jagr been inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame yet? He’s been playing for his hometown team in Kladno, Czech Republic since exiting the NHL after a brilliant three decade career.

Jagr is 50 and still plays to help support his father’s team. Of our group, I was one of the few who recalled that both Lemieux and Gretzky went in right away without the waiting period. Why do you think that is?

It’s always nice to have an open discussion on such relevant topics. To be blunt, Jagr deserved induction after he left the Rangers to honor his commitment to return to the KHL and play for Omsk Avangard in ’08-09. Number 68 spent three seasons back in Russia which means he lost out on four-plus years including the cancelation of the 2004-05 season.

Jagr ranks second on the NHL all-time scoring list with 1,921 points. Gretzky put up a ridiculous 2,857 including a league record 1,963 assists. In ’21-22, Alex Ovechkin passed him for third all-time in goals. He enters this season needing 22 goals to pass hockey legend Gordie Howe for second. Jagr wound up scoring 766 goals in 1,733 games. His 1,155 assists place fifth. Nobody has more game-winning goals (135). Ovechkin is tied for second with Howe at 121. He should catch Jagr and eventually pass him.

The living legend won two Cups teaming with Super Mario to go back-to-back with the Penguins in ’90-91 and ’91-92. They probably should’ve three-peated. But were upset by the Islanders in the second round of the ’92-93 playoffs. Had they prevailed, it’s hard to believe the Canadiens beat them. Even with Patrick Roy. Guess we’ll never know.

It’s one of those what if’s. But also, what if the ’91-92 Rangers didn’t blow it in the Patrick Division Final to those Pens? What if they won the arbitration case for Eric Lindros? History would be a lot different. Hindsight is 20/20. At least there’s the one Cup in ’93-94. Unfortunately, it has “lasted a lifetime.” Who knew Sam Rosen’s memorable call would be prophetic.

Isn’t it about time the Rangers made some more history? There will be a lot more pressure on the team this season. Expectations are sky high. It won’t be easy. They’ll get everyone’s best shot. No sneaking up on anyone.

As much as it hinges on Igor Shestyorkin (Игорь Шестеркин), along with Broadway stars Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox and new captain Jacob Trouba, much will depend on kids Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and Vitaly Kravtsov. Ditto for K’Andre Miller and either Zac Jones or Matthew Robertson.

This is the first post of the new season. I will finally have more to come as my favorite season of autumn approaches. Happy hockey!

Derek

kovy274hart@yahoo.com

BattleOfHudson

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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