The Rangers, as they approach the 2010 offseason, will have a few difficult choices to make. One of those choices includes the curious case of Dale Weise, Brandon Prust, and Dane Byers. Each player brings a similar game to the table, but only one has seen significant NHL time to prove he belongs. With third/fourth line players Brian Boyle, Aaron Voros, and Donald Brashear already under contract for next season, and Chris Drury very quickly becoming a role player, the Rangers are looking at a few extra forwards. Unfortunately, none of these forwards belong on a team’s top-six. It appears there are only two spots available on these two lines. Those two spots are going to go to two of Weise, Prust and Byers. (For arguments sake, let’s assume that if Brashear isn’t back, that Jody Shelley will be, leaving the same number of open spots.)
Starting with Dale Weise, the only player of the trio under contract for next season, has never played an NHL game in his career. Still on his entry level contract at a $700k cap hit, Weise was called up briefly at the end of last season, only to sit in the press box watching the Rangers miss the playoffs. The 2008 fourth round pick put up 50 points (28-22) in 73 games with Hartford this past season, adding 114 PIMs to his point total. He is a prototypical power forward in the AHL. Those who watch him on a daily basis say that the winger is ready for the NHL. He may not put up 28 goals, but he would be able to skate with the pros and hold his own as a grinder. Weise, to the Rangers, represents a cheap, somewhat versatile bottom-six forward who may or may not succeed at the NHL level. What Weise has working for him is the fact that he is signed, a RW (which the Rangers severely lack), and that coach John Tortorella is on the record saying he wishes he could have found a spot for him to play. What he does not have going for him is that he does not have to pass through waivers, and he is unproven at the NHL level.
Next on this list is Brandon Prust, the only player of the trio to find success at the NHL level. Prust, an RFA who was a cap hit of $500k last season, was acquired by the Rangers in the Olli Jokinen trade. In the 26 games he played with the Rangers, Prust was a pleasant surprise, netting 4 goals, 5 assists, and 65 PIMs after the trade. What Prust represents to the Rangers is a young, gritty winger who is not afraid to drop the gloves with anyone in the NHL. Prust serves a purpose on any teams 4th line, as he has proven he can skate and chip in a few goals here and there. Prust is also a very cheap option for the Rangers to put on a bottom-six forward line. However, Prust is due a raise from his $500k salary. With the Rangers in dire salary cap straits, Prust may find himself being a cap casualty, even at a minimal raise. As long as Prust does not ask for more than Weise, he should find himself in Ranger blue next season.
The last on this list is the curious case of Dane Byers. Byers, an RFA this season who was a cap hit of $500k last season, was drafted by the Rangers in the 2nd round of the 2004 draft. Prust has played just 6 NHL games, netting 1 goal and 31 PIMs (all 31 coming from his 5 games this season). Although he was drafted in the 2nd round, Byers has failed to crack the NHL roster in each of the past three seasons. This past season in Hartford, Byers put together a respectable line of 26-26-51, with 100 PIMs in 76 games. The 24 year old winger may actually find himself at the bottom of the depth chart amongst this trio. Byers would also come cheap, and would probably be the cheapest of the trio, which works to his advantage. Much like Weise, Byers is still unproven at the NHL level, but represents a bottom-six forward with size and some goal scoring ability. Unfortunately for Byers, Weise may have passed him on the depth chart this past season.
All signs point to Dale Weise being put in the position of having a roster spot for him to lose come training camp. He has the coach on his side, and has the distinct advantage of actually being signed heading into next season. Prust, being the only player of the trio with successful NHL experience, has history on his side (a strong finish to last season doesn’t hurt either). If he comes relatively cheap, it is a fair assumption that he will be back in blue next season. If you had to create a depth chart from these three guys, it would generally be Weise-Prust-Byers, or Prust-Weise-Byers. The common theme here is that, unfortunately, Dane Byers could find himself as the odd man out. With the glut of bottom-six forwards signed, the Rangers are going to have to make a tough decision when it comes to these three forwards. It is possible that all three are re-signed, but chances are slim that all three will find themselves as a member of the Rangers come opening night in October.