They started the year in Hartford for a reason. The Rangers have high hopes for the trio of Tomas Kundratek, Pavel Valentenko and especially Ryan McDonagh for very legitimate reasons. All three young blueliners have skills at their disposal that make them promising prospects. Kundratek is a smart puck mover, Valentenko is a potential blue line bully and McDonagh is the kind of defense-first, intelligent D-man who has leadership potential, however all three are off to poor starts in the AHL this year. This, ladies and gentlemen is why you should really be thankful for the Michal Rozsival ‘revival’ happening right now.
The talented trio have all played in the first 8 Hartford games thus far and they have a combined 1 point (a Valentenko assist), are a combined minus – 3 (propped up by Valentenko’s +3) and in all reality none of the trio have left their mark on the team yet. The defense position is the hardest for a rookie to learn, and all 3 were always going to face adjustment periods. Kundratek and Valentenko are still acclimatising to North American play (despite previous junior/minor league experience) and McDonagh is going from dealing with college to professional athlete’s demands. It will take time.
This is also a time where the Rangers should be thankful for Steve Eminger (gulp). Why? The three youngsters need to be taught and the added ‘depth’ of Eminger will hopefully mean the Rangers resist rushing any prospect up to the NHL. They need to be developed slowly, at a pace they are comfortable with. If any of the three were to see Rangers ice this season then something will have gone very wrong for the Blueshirts (maybe an injury, or a disastrous loss of form). The main concern for the three right now is that none of them stumble badly enough to be sent to the ECHL for some ice time. The Wolf Pack is the Rangers number one affiliate and all three should be making their mistakes and learning from Wade Redden et al on Wolf Pack ice. They are after all, the Rangers development team, patience is required.
The Wolf Pack is off to a comparatively poor start (3-3-1-1) and is struggling offensively (in part due to their blue line struggles) but there is enough talent there that they should rebound and post a solid season. These lows that the three defensive talents are experiencing are part of the learning cycle. When things are going better its important they are there for that particular ride too. The hope here is that all three stay in Hartford for the full year. Spots in New York will be up for grabs sooner rather than later (Eminger and Rozsival contracts within 24 months, Gilroy’s uncertain future etc, etc) so it’s important all three pay their dues in the AHL this season. It’s not a bad thing they play minor league hockey for a full year. Ever heard of Duncan Keith? The current NHL Norris trophy winner played 2 full seasons with Norfolk of the AHL. So if all the trio need to do is play a full year in the AHL they aren’t doing so bad now, are they?