By Tony Lynch (@tonylynchsaid)
The Rangers' preseason officially kicks off tonight when the Rags take the ice against the Devils in Newark. Before they take the ice, here's a recap of how the Rangers prospects fared in the annual Traverse City Prospect Tournament. Though the team did not fare well in the standings at the tournament, finishing 1-2-1, a number of players still managed to stand out. This recap will focus on a few of the players who played well, and some that I had hoped would that didn't.
Oscar Lindberg -
With already high expectations coming into this season, Oscar Lindberg did not disappointed on North American ice. Originally a 2nd round draft pick by the Coyotes in 2010, Lindberg was acquired by the Rangers in May 2011 in a trade for their 2009 2nd-rounder, Ethan Werek. Lindberg has long been praised for his two-way play and work in the faceoff circle, an area the Rangers have struggled to solidify, but significantly raised the level of his offensive game in the Swedish Elitserien this past season. Lindberg finished 8th in the top Swedish league in scoring, posting 17 goals and 25 assists in 55 games.
At Traverse City, Lindberg was placed on the top unit alongside Danny Kristo (see below) and Jesper Fast for the majority of the tournament. In four games, Lindberg scored five goals and two assists on 12 shots and was a +3. He was able to find space for himself around the net, often creeping in backdoor to create scoring chances, and finished plays with his precise shot. He and Kristo showed good chemistry as the duo made their way onto the scoresheet early and often. This very polished prospect could find himself in the NHL as soon as this season.
Danny Kristo -
Much to the delight of Ranger fans, the team pulled off another trade with the Montreal Canadiens this summer, swapping 2010 2nd-rounder Christian Thomas for the Habs' 2008 2nd-rounder Danny Kristo. While Thomas did post 19 goals in his first full AHL season, the undersized forward struggled in his limited appearances at the NHL level. He didn't seem able to create the space for himself to regularly make use of his greatest asset, his shot. Kristo, meanwhile, wrapped up a four year college career at North Dakota with 26 goals and 26 assists in 40 games. He played in only nine AHL games for Hamilton before the trade posting three assists. Kristo relies on his vision and excellent offensive instincts to create offense, and the Rangers hope that his more well-rounded skill set will help him find his way up to the big club.
At Traverse City, Kristo showed the playmaking skills that made the Rangers trade for him. In three games he tied Lindberg for the team lead in scoring with two goals and five assists on 14 shots. Kristo's slick passing has the future looking bright for this new Ranger. He and Lindberg already seemed to be at a different level than most prospects in the tournament and will be given a chance to continue their ascent this preseason.
Josh Nicholls -
Nichols signed with the Rangers this year after lighting up the WHL to the tune of 240 points (111 goals) in 198 games over the past three seasons. He finished third in the league in goal-scoring last season with 47 goals and at 6'2" has an enticing combination of size and finishing ability. Nicholls suffered a serious knee injury that ended his '11-'12 season, but was able to return to form for his final junior season. Originally a 7th round draft pick of the Leafs in 2010, he was never signed and his rights expired allowing the Rangers to sign him as a free agent.
At Traverse City, Nicholls wound up tied for third on the team in goal scoring with two tallies in four games. Nicholls' first goal was batted out of mid-air in front of the net, and his second was on a nice outside-in move on a defenseman before beating the goalie short-side. Nicholls was moved onto a line with Lindberg and Fast for the final game, and chipped in an assist on a Fast goal. Obviously it's a small sample size, but it will be interesting to see whether Nicholls finds himself playing in the ECHL or the AHL this season. His combination of skill and size can see him rapidly climb the Rangers prospect ranks if he is able to continue his hot start.
Michael St. Croix -
St. Croix shredded the WHL over the past three seasons, scoring 272 points (109 goals, 163 assists) in 212 games, but he struggled to find his offense at Traverse City. I hoped that St. Croix, playing in his second Traverse City Tournament, would take a step forward offensively, but that was not the case. St. Croix managed just two assists in the four game tournament, one on a Yogan goal against Carolina and the second on a pretty give-and-go with Josh Graves to force overtime in the Buffalo game, but he didn't seem able to possess the puck in the scoring areas consistently enough. He needs to protect the puck better, especially as the competition he faces continues to get better heading into his first professional season. He's still only 20-years-old and his future is bright, but it appears he will need a couple more years of experience before the Rangers really know what he can contribute.
Andrew Yogan -
At Traverse City, Yogan, much like St. Croix, missed an opportunity to climb the Ranger prospect ranks. Despite two goals (one assisted by Kristo and the other an empty netter) in the Rangers final game against the Wild, Yogan struggled to show that he has upside beyond that of an AHL 2nd/3rd-liner. He doesn't possess the puck well, and while his size, 6'3" and 205lbs, is an asset he doesn't appear to move well enough to play in the NHL. Yogan finished the tournament with three goals in four games, but he remains a borderline long-shot, mid-level prospect.