According to Red Wings Central, the New York Rangers have released their roster for the 2009 Traverse City Prospects Tournament, held every year in Traverse City, Michigan before training camp starts. See the full roster here.
With the success of Ranger prospects in recent years, more and more fans have turned their attention to these young players with this tournament as a way to see how they fare against others at their level. In 2007, the Rangers won the tournament as they went unbeaten in four games en route to the tournament title.
This season, New York will be looking to get back to the top of the heap as they send some of the top prospects in the organization.
Headlining the forwards is Evgeny Grachev, who played for the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) last season. The young Russian scored 40 goals and 40 assists in 60 games and will be looking to move up to the Hartford Wolf Pack this season, if not the New York Rangers. Personally, Grachev should probably spend a little bit of time in Hartford to see where he is but Ranger head coach John Tortorella has made it known he is not afraid of putting youth into the line up. If Grachev wants to make the New York Rangers this season, he will have to start by having a good showing in Traverse City.
The 2009 Draft class for the Rangers will be well represented in the forward corps. Second round pick, Ethan Werek, will be on the squad. The Kingston Frontenac will most likely be returned to his junior team this coming season regardless of his performance at Traverse City, but that is not a bad thing. The young center will be learning from one of the best in the history of the game in Doug Gilmour, who is the head coach of the Kingston junior team. In 66 games, Werek had 32 goals and 32 assists for the Frontenacs who were the worst team in the OHL last year.
The other headline from the 2009 class will be forward Ryan Bourque who was selected in the third round. The young forward had 54 points in 51 games for the US under 18 National Development team. The son of Ray Bourque, Ryan has been somewhat knocked for his small size but he will be out to prove those critics wrong when he goes up against players who are a few years older than he is and physically more mature. Bourque will be playing with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), under the direction of Patrick Roy.
Invited as free agents in the forward corps are Craig Cunningham from the Vancouver Giants, Daniel Bartek from the Everett Silvertips, and Luke Walker from the Portland Winterhawks.
The strength of this team will be on the blue line and it is headlined by Michael Del Zotto. The first round pick in the 2008 draft for the Rangers, Del Zotto impressed many at Ranger camp last season before being sent back to the Oshawa Generals. The young defenseman continued to show his offensive skills by scoring 33 points in 34 games for the Generals before being traded to the London Knights. In 28 regular season games, he put up 30 points while he had 19 points in just 14 playoff games.
However, the aspect of Del Zotto's game that the Rangers were looking for improvement in was his defensive play and, according to scouts, Del Zotto has done that. Unfortunately for the young defenseman, he will need to make the New York Rangers this season or be sent back to the OHL for another junior season, as he is not old enough to play in the AHL. With spots open on the blue line, look for Del Zotto to make a push by having an impressive Traverse City tournament.
Other notables on the blue line include Tomas Kundratek, Mitch Gaulton, and 2009 6th round pick, Daniel Maggio.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, a few of their top prospects play in the NCAA, making them ineligible to play in this tournament. Players such as Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, and Ryan McDonagh are bound by the rules of college athletics to not participate in this tournament. However, the fact the Rangers are able to field a formidable roster without these talented players shows the depth the organization has achieved in its farm system.
In net, the Rangers will be looking to Chad Johnson, whom they acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2009 draft. Backing him up will be Scott Stajcer who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 draft.
The Rangers will be facing some formidable teams. They will play a round robin game against each team in the Eastern Division which includes the Detroit Red Wings, Atlanta Thrashers, and Carolina Hurricanes. The top team from this division will play the top team in the Western Division which includes the Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, and Dallas Stars.
The first game for the Rangers will be on September 6th when they open against the Carolina Hurricanes with the tournament lasting until September 10th, when the last games will be played.