Crawford's Corner: Ranger Signings Bolster Depth

Jul 4, 2014 Bob Crawford

(Chris Bourque action shot courtesy of csnne.com)

The parent New York Rangers rarely fail to cook an extremely hot stove when the flag goes up on free agency, and this year's kickoff of the signing season was no exception.

And in addition to adding a major veteran NHL cog in defenseman Dan Boyle, the Blueshirts made a huge commitment to organizational depth.  The exclamation mark on that was the announcement Wednesday that Chris Bourque has signed on with the Rangers.

Chris Bourque, of course, is the older brother of Ryan Bourque, a Wolf Pack fixture for the past three seasons, and the elder Bourque has fashioned himself quite an AHL resume.  He was a major cog in the Hershey Bears’ mini-dynasty late in the last decade, which saw the boys from Chocolatetown win three Calder Cups, in 2006, 2009 and 2010, in a span of five years and get to the Finals in a fourth of those five years, 2007.  Bourque was AHL Playoff MVP in 2010 and won the league scoring title in 2011-12, racking up 27-66-93 in 73 games.

Bourque has been nearly a point-a-game player over 437 AHL games in his career, posting 433 points (142 goals and 291 assists), and I know he has always been a favorite of the Wolf Pack coaching staff, who has admired Bourque’s tenacity and effort, which often even overshadow his considerable skills.  That is a trait that his younger brother shares, and I have to believe that the potential for playing with Ryan, whether that be in New York or in Hartford, was a major factor in Chris Bourque’s decision to sign with the Rangers.  Ryan’s entry-level deal with the Rangers is up, making him a restricted free agent, but I would assume that he will re-sign, especially now with his big brother in the fold.

Chris Bourque’s last AHL tour was two seasons ago, when he split the season between Boston and Providence, tallying 10-28-38 in 39 games with the P-Bruins.  He began this past season in Russia’s KHL, with Ak Bars Kazan, but then left November 29 to join Biel of the Swiss National League A.  He had two goals in 11 games with Ak Bars Kazan and 6-7-13 in 21 contests with Biel, where he skated alongside former Wolf Pack defenseman Brendan Bell.

With the addition of Nick Tarnasky, signed away from the Canadiens organization, Thursday, the Rangers have added nine new bodies via free agency, and six of those nine spent much, if not all, of their most recent North American pro seasons in the AHL, and thus could reasonably be considered "depth" signings, guys that very well could end up with the Wolf Pack.  Those would be Bourque, Tarnasky, goaltender Cedrick Desjardins, defensemen Matt Hunwick and Steven Kampfer and forward Chris Mueller.  Another, defenseman Mike Kostka, logged only two AHL games last year, but prior to that had been mostly an AHL guy throughout the balance of his career.

Desjardins_-_Syr._.jpgThe signing of Desjardins (pictured, courtesy of blog.syracuse.com) is significant, in that it gives the organization a veteran goaltender/number three NHL guy/”insurance policy”, the likes of which it has not started the season with since Steve Valiquette partnered with Al Montoya in Montoya’s rookie year of 2005-06.  The Rangers found themselves in a pickle last year when Cam Talbot grabbed the backup job in New York less than a month into the season, and none of Jason Missiaen, Jeff Malcolm or Scott Stajcer was able to step up and grab the reins in Hartford.  Jim Schoenfeld & Co. were able to do some smart shopping, thankfully, and come up with both Dov Grumet-Morris and David LeNeveu as veterans to fill the void, but it seems now that they want to ensure themselves of not being put in that position again.

Desjardins, an eight-year veteran, has tasted of six NHL games in his career and helped lead the Syracuse Crunch to the Calder Cup Finals in 2013.  He also won an ECHL championship in 2008, his second pro year, with the Cincinnati Cyclones and was a Memorial Cup champ with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts (coached by another pretty fair goaltender in Patrick Roy) in 2006.  Desjardins will likely be partnered in Hartford with a youngster, presumably 2013 sixth-round pick MacKenzie Skapski, allowing him to be brought along at his own pace while Desjardins provides injury insurance for the big club.  Solid move all around.

Mueller (pictured below, courtesy of texasstarshockey.com), a 28-year-old veteran of six pro seasons, is fresh off a Calder Cup championship with the Texas Stars, for whom he scored 25 goals in 60 games.  His championship pedigree also includes an NCAA title in 2007 with Michigan State, a team captained by current XL Center general manager Chris Lawrence.

Mueller_Action_Shot_-_Texas_2.jpg

Hunwick and Kampfer are both well known to Wolf Pack head coach Ken Gernander and his staff, as both blueliners broke in with the Providence Bruins before moving on different locales.  Hunwick and Kampfer are definitely legit NHL depth players—Hunwick has logged nearly 300 NHL games in his six pro years—and top-pair candidates in the AHL.  And there is already a void on the Wolf Pack defense, as 2013-14 captain Aaron Johnson has signed with Ottawa.

While Bourque and Mueller bring some heavy-duty offensive numbers to the table, Tarnasky is more of a grit guy, but I remember him from his first two pro seasons in Springfield as having an impressive set of wheels.  And, to his credit, his last two AHL years, two seasons ago with Rochester (16 goals, 26 points) and this past year with Hamilton (13 goals, 22 points), have been just about his two best offensively.  He also has 245 career games-played under his belt.

Bourque, Mueller, Hunwick, Tarnasky and Kostka are all veterans with more than 320 NHL/NHL/European Elite career games-played, so if all five of those guys end up with the Wolf Pack, that would fill all of the team’s 320-plus veteran slots.  It would still, though, leave open the team’s one spot for a veteran of less than 320 games-played.