A lot of change is happening in the Rangers organisation. Many prospects are coming up through the organisation and developing; whether it be after their first year as a pro, promotion from the Canadian Junior Circuit (CHL) or leaving college to join the pro ranks. In most cases the prospects will taste the pro level for the first time with the Rangers main affiliate in Connecticut, the CT Whale.
Recently, Brian Ring and Bob Crawford from the CT Whale took time out of their busy schedules to discuss the Rangers prospects, the Whale organisation, and provide a unique insight into the potential next wave of Rangers. Answering numerous questions for the blog, we’ll have their answers in a few posts over the next week or so starting with the first few questions below. A big thanks to Brian and Bob for speaking with us. Happy reading!
If you had to define your job and role in the organization in a few sentences, what would they be?
Bob: I am the play-by-play voice of the Whale, and I also head up all of the team’s public and media relations, servicing all of the in and out of market media’s informational needs, as well as those of the AHL and the parent-club Rangers.
Brian: My job is basically to make sure that the Whale is getting exposure in the media and maintaining relationships with the people that cover the team. I started with the Wolf Pack in 2007 while I was going to college, and have since managed to hang on long enough to see some great hockey and learn a lot of things about the business of pro hockey. I’m responsible for a good deal of writing, some stats, organizing contacts, helping with interviews and things of that nature. This year I should be traveling with the team to all 76 games. I’m also getting more into social media, trying to get the Whale more exposure in that regard because most other teams have a big head start as far as promoting themselves online, due to our rebranding from the Wolf Pack to the Whale midseason. I also help my boss, Bob Crawford, with anything that he needs.
In your opinion, who has been the greatest CT/Hartford player in your time with the organization?
Bob: I would give the nod to current Whale head coach Ken Gernander. He was a consistent presence unlike is ever seen in this era of minor pro sports, the face of the franchise over its entire history, the first eight years as a player. He was truly a rock to build a team around, as solid in all three zones as any player I have ever seen in the AHL.
Brian: Wow, that’s a great question. There have been a lot of great players that have come through the system over the last few years. I would have to say Artem Anisimov is near the top of the list and it was great to watch him develop into a regular in New York. Nigel Dawes might be the purest goal scorer I’ve seen in my time here. For defensemen, Andrew Hutchinson had a great year in 07-08 (64 pts.), but it was also great to see guys like Michael Sauer and Corey Potter play.
Which prospect showed the greatest progress last year and why?
Bob: I would say Pavel Valentenko. He went from trying to keep his place in the lineup early in the season to being a real force by the end of the year, a guy who probably would have been next in line for a callup if the big club had run into another injury. If blocked shots were kept as a stat in the AHL, I would feel safe in saying Valentenko would lead the league by a comfortable margin, and his shot is a bomb. As the season went on, he made great strides in effectively using that shooting power, as well as employing his rock-like physique to exert an important physical presence.
Brian: I’m going to go with Pavel Valentenko. A guy that was probably a real question mark after playing just 19 games in the previous two years, 15 of those in the KHL, and was not the most highly touted piece of that Scott Gomez trade to Montreal. He blocks shots with the best of them and working with Whale assistant coach J.J. Daigneault helped him put his cannon of a shot on net more often. Pavel also tied for the team lead in plus/minus with a +21 mark while dressing in 79 games. I think he’s going to be a big player moving forward.
Which prospects in Connecticut, last year, impressed you the most and why?
Bob: I thought Chad Kolarik and Mats Zuccarello, both before and after his recall, showed tremendous skill, and Zuccarello was also notable for his unwavering effort level after what had to be an upsetting assignment back to the AHL late in the season. On the blueline, Tomas Kundratek stood out to me as a guy with some real upside, and Cam Talbot had some real shining moments in net.
Brian: I think definitely Valentenko showed a lot last year as I mentioned, and Blake Parlett really burst onto the scene and made an impact, as his new NHL deal would seem to indicate. He definitely has a knack for offense. The crazy thing about last year is that we had so many guys going up to New York, it showed that a lot of the players here are capable of playing in the NHL. Guys like Kris Newbury, Chad Kolarik, Jeremy Williams, Mats Zuccarello and John Mitchell are all great offensive players that were here and definitely have impressed me. I think there’s reason to be excited for guys like Carl Hagelin, Andrew Yogan and Tommy Grant next year, each played well in limited action towards the end of the season.
Again, a big thanks to Bob Crawford and Brian Ring of the Connecticut Whale for taking their time to provide their unique insight into the Whale and the Rangers prospects. Check back throughout the week for more great insight about the Rangers biggest prospects and how the guys at the Whale expect the AHL club and their prospects to fare during the coming season! Make sure you follow Brian and the Whale on twitter at @brianring and @CTWhale!