Training camp is always a time for difficult player personnel decisions regarding young players, and this camp has been no different for the
Rangers. While Brandon Dubinsky, Nigel Dawes, and Jarkko Immonen are all fighting for spots on the top four lines, the Rangers most difficult
decision is what to do with their best defense prospect, Marc Staal. Unlike the other three, who can be sent to Hartford for more seasoning and
recalled at any time, the Rangers options are limited with Staal because of the NHL’s long standing agreement with the junior hockey leagues. As
an under age 19 year old, Staal either sticks with the Rangers or goes back to the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League. The AHL's
Wolfpack are not an option this season for Staal.
Several factors should play into the Rangers decision on Staal. The most important variable to consider is Staal’s long term development. The
Rangers view Staal as a future stud defenseman who will be able to lock down the opposition’s top forwards. We can all imagine e Staal jumping
over the boards every time Sidney Crosby hits the ice for the next ten years or so. Will Staal become that player that the team envisions faster
by spending a season in New York practicing with world class players every day, yet perhaps playing only sparingly, or would it be more
beneficial playing 30 minutes a night in all situations against the relatively inferior competition of the OHL?
It’s certainly difficult to predict how a player will develop, but I think that Staal needs to stick with the big club, at least initially.
Although the Rangers have solid depth on defense, there are no superstars who warrant 25 minutes of ice time a night. In 05-06 Renney gave all
three of his defense pairings significant ice time which bodes well for Staal being able to take a semi-regular shift. Another area where Staal
could see some ice time is on the Power play. There really is not a true Quarterback to the Rangers power play. Remember that in 05-06, Martin
Straka, Martin Rucinsky, and Sandis Ozolinsh all saw significant time on the point with the No. 1 unit.. Renney can very easily ease Staal into
the lineup by letting him play the PP in addition to taking the occasional shift at even strength as a way to acclimate him to the NHL game. One
other fact that points to Staal spending the first few weeks of the season with the Rangers is that they can keep him with the NHL club for 10
games before sending him back to Juniors without any negative consequence. Beyond 10 games and his free agency & arbitration rights would be
accelerated one full year. Those 10 games would bring us to late October which is when Michael Roszival can be expected back at full strength.
Let’s take a glimpse into the future, and let Staal play on opening night at the Garden. How cool would it be to have Staal, Prucha,
Lundqvist, Tyutin, Dawes, and Dubinsky all contributing to the big club? There is nothing better than watching home grown talent coming of age.
Some random thoughts about the upcoming season…
Talk to you in two weeks. Enjoy opening night
- I hate to be sentimental, but I’d love to see Brian Leetch back on defense at some point this year for the Rangers
- You have to be impressed with Brandon Dubinsky. He looks like he has the size and the hands to produce in the NHL right
- It’s a little early to be thinking about the trading deadline, but you have to wonder what Al Montoya’s future holds. If
he is as developing as advertised he might be the type of “chip” the Rangers can use at the trade deadline to bring in a big time player to
help down the stretch. I can’t imagine there being room for him and Lundqvist.
- What ever happened to that White Statue of Liberty jersey the Rangers wore for one season? I like the blue one’s better,
but the white one’s were OK too.
- How about the veterans “JD” has brought into St Louis? That “USA” line of Kazak / Weight / and Guerin could be dynamite
if they are all healthy and motivated. He also signed Manny Legace dirt cheap. I’d expect the Blues to be a .500 team this year.
- If you are looking for a “sleeper” pick to win the Stanley Cup (besides the Rangers, of course) how about the Nashville
Predators. Their playoff run was derailed by the injury to Tomas Vokoun last year. They have added JP Dumont and Jason Arnott to an already
formidable offense that will also include 20 yr old Alexander Radulov who scored 152 points junior hockey last year. No NHL team boasts the stable of
young defense prospects that the Preds do (Kevin Klein and Ryan Parent topping the list). Look for Nashville to run away and hide in the Central
division while challenging for No. 1 overall in the league.