Crawford's Corner: Ranger Draftees Eligible to Join PackJul 21, 2015
The most obvious one is Brady Skjei (pictured), whom Wolf Pack fans got an eyeful of at the end of this past regular season and in the playoffs. Skjei, the Rangers’ first-round pick in 2012, came out of the University of Minnesota and fit in seamlessly with the Pack, even working his way on to what amounted to the team’s top defensive pairing (with vet Michael Kostka) by the start of the postseason. There is more than a slight chance, though, that the steady Skjei might latch on to a spot with the big club, especially if salary cap concerns force the Rangers to deal a defenseman. Dylan McIlrath is subject to waivers this season, so the parent club might elect to keep him, if they need an extra D-man, over Skjei, who doesn’t have to be waived, just so they don’t risk losing McIlrath for nothing.
Another blueliner who is age-eligible to graduate to the AHL this year, and whom I’m hearing some good things about, is 2013 fourth-round pick Ryan Graves. Similar in size to McIlrath at 6-4 and 220 pounds, Graves played only 50 games in 2014-15 with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL but scored 15 goals, third-best among league defensemen. He also added 24 assists for 39 points, and helped lead the Remparts to the Memorial Cup, where he earned tournament All-Star honors. At the Rangers’ recent prospects camp, Graves told Jim Cerny of BlueshirtsUnited.com, that he still considers himself “A defense-first kind of defenseman,” but that work on his shot with his Remparts head coach, Philippe Boucher, who was an NHL defenseman that could really bring it from the blue line, helped him take his offensive production to a new level.
The Wolf Pack defense is looking extremely young at this point, with Kostka and Conor Allen having left the organization, and Chris Summers probably in the running for a seventh-defenseman spot with the Rangers. So I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the organization was still shopping for a veteran backliner in the same mold as Kostka, to help solidify the defense in Hartford and act as an insurance policy for the Rangers.
Up front, Wolf Pack fans may get a look at Adam Tambellini in a 2015-16 Pack jersey. Tambellini, who has great bloodlines as the son of former long-time NHLer Steve Tambellini and the younger brother of Jeff Tambellini, a veteran of 242 NHL games and a very successful player in the AHL and in Europe, was a third-round selection by the Rangers in 2013. He started the next season at the University of North Dakota, playing 16 games for the Fighting Sioux before leaving for the WHL and the Calgary Hitmen. Tambellini is tall, 6-2 and 195 pounds, and had excellent offensive totals with Calgary, rolling up 64 career goals and 125 points in only 102 WHL games and finishing fourth in the league in goals this past season, with 47 in 71 games.
Another WHL-produced forward who may find his way on to the Wolf Pack roster this season is 2014 Ranger draftee Richard Nejezchleb. A native of the Czech Republic, Nejezchleb was picked as a 20-year-old in the fifth round last summer, after a 32-goal, 57-point year in the Western League with the Brandon Wheat Kings. He came to training camp with the Wolf Pack last season, but an injury prevented him from showing what he could do on the ice and when he was ready to play in late October, the organization returned him to Brandon, which traded him to Tri-City. The 6-2, 203-pound Nejezchleb continued to struggle to stay healthy, but still managed better than a point per game with the Americans, logging 19-30-49 in 47 games. One other pick from the 2014 draft who is old enough to play in the AHL, defenseman Daniel Walcott (fifth round), who played one game for the Wolf Pack this spring after his QMJHL season was over, was traded to Tampa Bay June 1.
The other Ranger-drafted defenseman who sounds like he might be in the mix for a spot with the Pack is Swedish import Calle Andersson, a fourth-round selection by the Blueshirts in 2012. The Rangers signed Andersson to an NHL deal last June and then loaned him to Zug of the Swiss League. He was later transferred to another Swiss club, Lugano, and had a fine run with them, chalking up five goals and 12 assists for 17 points in 30 games. He doesn’t have much in the way of penalty minutes, so you wouldn’t think he is an overly physical player, but he’s a good-sized guy at 6-2 and 211 pounds. His father is former Ranger defenseman Peter Andersson, and his brother Rasmus was a second-round pick by the Calgary Flames this June.