Posts tagged: Christian Thomas

How the Rangers future is being affected by the lockout

Jesper Fast is among the league leaders in goals in the SEL.

It’s amazing what kind of effect a labour stoppage can have. With Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan firmly entrenched on the Rangers’ wings, with Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider both not going anywhere any time soon – and on the cusp of being essential Rangers – the pressure grows on all the potential Rangers wingers found at the levels below.

Jesper Fast is having a great start to the season in the SEL with HV71 and is proving that his fast start last season – unfortunately ruined by injury – was no fluke. When Fast is healthy he’s dangerous. What Fast is doing, more than anything else, is putting pressure on other prospects such as Christian Thomas, to be the next guy.

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Rick Nash’s ability to play both wings assuages the Marian Gaborik injury

Although the Rangers are likely to benefit from a lockout –due to the injury to Marian Gaborik– there is still a solid chance that when the season starts, the club will still be without their top scorer from last season. Gaborik, who had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in June, is said to be out five or six months recovering from the surgery.

The acquisition of Rick Nash actually gives the Rangers tremendous flexibility when dealing with this injury. Nash is a rare forward that can play both wings, and play them at a high level. This gives the Rangers the ability to fill the spot opened up by Gaborik’s injury on either the left side or the right side.

The players that are likely to play on the top six –alongside Nash, Brad Richards, and Derek Stepan– are the ones you would expect: Carl Hagelin, Ryan Callahan, and Chris Kreider. All three played on the top two lines in the playoffs, and are either decent offensive threats (Cally), or players with some great offensive potential (Kreider, Hagelin).

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Where the forward prospects stand

Before Friday’s draft it’s a good idea to take stock of what the Rangers already have in the system.  If New York follows suit, then the Blueshirts will pick the best player available regardless of position.  However, it’s worth evaluating where the team’s strengths lie, starting with a status update for the organization’s forwards.

Jonathan Audy-Marchessault

J.A.M. burst onto the scene in 2011-2012 with a surprisingly strong showing at the Traverse City Tournament in September and he was only just getting started.  Ryan Bourque’s old teammate with the QMJHL’s Quebec Ramparts earned a one-year contract with the Whale and made the most of the opportunity.  He battled for the team points lead all season and finished with 64 (24 goals, 40 assists), tied for the team lead and good for third among AHL rookies.  Audy-Marchessault still faces an uphill climb to the NHL thanks to his (listed) 5-foot-9, 175-pound frame, but he is much closer to achieving his dream than he was a year ago.  The bad news is that J.A.M. may not even be Rangers’ property come July; the 21-year-old is an unrestricted free agent and may prefer to sign with a club that could better use his services.  It’s hard to see exactly where Audy-Marchessault fits in the prospect depth chart and he’d likely garner several other offers following his banner year.  GM Glen Sather will surely offer J.A.M. a contract, but the rest is up to him.

Ryan Bourque

Bourque was one of the last cuts at training camp but disappeared for the first chunk of the season with Connecticut after suffering a concussion in his third game.  He drew little attention the rest of the way because of his irrelevant offensive production (six goals and eight assists in 69 games), but suddenly Bourque was in the spotlight again as the Whale began its playoff run.  Bourque was one player that noticeably raised his game in the postseason and even contributed a bit more offensively with two goals and an assist in nine postseason games.  It’s tough to imagine Bourque being much of a scorer at the NHL level, but he has a very well-rounded game, is a terrific skater and is a major pest on the forecheck, qualities that could endear him to the Rangers’ coaching staff sooner than some of the organization’s more touted prospects.  Bourque’s confidence is surely higher after a strong late season push and since he was one of the last cuts last year, it stands to reason that he could push very hard for a bottom-six role in New York next year.

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Thomas and McColgan look to make impact

Amid the hullabaloo of the President’s trophy race and the playoff shake down was the fact two Rangers draft picks played their first pro games this past weekend for the CT Whale. Christian Thomas, fresh from the Oshawa Generals, and Shane McColgan from the Kelowna Rockets both debuted in the 3-0 loss to Wilkes-Barre and will likely play out the AHL season dressed as members of the Whale.

While both players should benefit from the experience it (the end of this season, playoffs inclusive) could become a pivotal period for Christian Thomas. McColgan, drafted in 2011 has more time on his side. Thomas however, will have seen guys like Carl Hagelin establish themselves quickly in New York and won’t have missed the way the Rangers have pursued Chris Kreider for his contract signature.

Thomas who was drafted in 2010, a year earlier than McColgan, needs to make an impact sooner rather than later to avoid possibly being the forgotten prospect. Many believe Thomas was a victim of the rulebook and that his year spent in the OHL last season slowed up his development. Due to league rules Thomas wasn’t able to go to Connecticut as hoped.

Thomas was considered ready for the AHL last year and the momentum he would have carried from his 50 goal junior season back then has surely gone. While he produced a solid year (just gone) for a middling Oshawa side he didn’t nearly have the same kind of success or impact.

Thomas could still be a quality player and a success for the Rangers. His main issue may be those prospects around him making the Rangers before him and reducing his chance to land in New York, making him expendable. It may already have happened. His perhaps tenuous position in the franchise is more likely a result of quality depth among prospects than it is about him personally.

Thomas has been held scoreless and registered one shot in his first two games as a Whale member. McColgan was -1 and hasn’t registered a shot and both players have another three regular season games to try and make an immediate impact for the Whale. It will be interesting to monitor the kids in the minors even when the big club is trying to make playoff noise themselves.

Christian Thomas is headed to Connecticut too

In addition to Shane McColgan, it looks like Christian Thomas will be headed to Hartford to join the Connecticut Whale. Thomas tweeted that he is on his way to Hartford. Like McColgan, Thomas will be headed there on an ATO. Thomas’ Oshawa Generals were eliminted from the OHL playoffs last week, freeing up Thomas to make the trip to Hartford. In 55 games with Oshawa, Thomas put up a line of 34-33-67 with 12 PIMs. In six playoff games, Thomas had a pair of goals and a pair of assists.

Musings: The Deadline Day Edition

Reasons to Trust Mr Sather: Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Mike Del Zotto, Mike Sauer. Thanks to Glen Sather and the Rangers scouting department this club has a wealth of depth on the blue line, with a fair bit in reserve. Note that top 5; all young and all have ability either side of the puck.

You may have noted the direction that first point was going in. Rick Nash. If the rumoured package for Nash does indeed include Dylan McIlrath you don’t let it break down because of his inclusion. I’m sure he’ll be a fine player but thanks to the depth discussed above, he’s a luxury the team can afford to move.

Christian Thomas in a Nash package as well? Also Fine. If Nash became a Ranger – and with Kreider deemed untouchable – not to mention Gaborik, Anisimov, Stepan and Callahan firmly entrenched in the top six (at present), Thomas becomes buried on the depth chart and like McIlrath is a luxury the team can afford to move. All thanks to quality drafting and patience in the organisation folks.

Assuming the Rangers current roster wants to show Sather, his staff and the coaching team no major changes are needed they’re sure going about it the wrong way aren’t they? Three poor games in a row, team wide poor decision making and once again an over reliance on shot blocking and a certain goaltender in net.

Dear Brandon Dubinsky, you must really like the thought of playing out your contract in Ohio. Hey, at least the rock and roll Hall of Fame is a short drive away. When the Rangers are trying to make the playoffs, at this rate you’ll be getting tickets to see Guns N Roses inducted. Buck your ideas up.

The Rangers made Marc-Andre Fleury look good the other night; far too much perimeter play. It’s one thing to get pucks on net but there really is no point if you’re not creating traffic, looking for rebounds and generally making a goalie’s night harder than Fleury’s.

Back to Deadline day thoughts: The Rangers do not need to address the defense. Even if Mike Sauer’s not particularly close to returning, the Rangers block shots, do a good job of allowing Lundqvist to see most shots and are better at moving bodies than most give them credit for. I’d rather use assets to upgrade the offense instead of trying to make a great unit even better.

I really want to know who has the final say on the powerplay. Tortorella? Obviously Allaire is in charge of the league’s best goaltending unit. Does Mike Sullivan assume responsibility? Is it shared amongst the coaching duo or do the ‘special assistants’ (guys like Messier) have a major influence? I know it’s hard to grumble too much given the team’s record but there is plenty of talent on the roster to at least have a top 15 powerplay unit. Maybe changes need to be made elsewhere. Maybe…

Gaborik has 4 goals in his last 20 games. He’s not finishing but he’s still playing well. He’s making plays, creating goals and getting assists. The lack of goal scoring may be because teams are zoning in on him now that goal scoring has begun to dry up elsewhere. Could a Nash-like addition free Gaborik up some more? Absolutely

Question Time

  • Are you vehemently behind keeping Brandon Dubinsky and his 6 goals for 4.2m?
  • Do you start Martin Biron against the Islanders or, given the team’s recent play, do you go ‘all-in’ to make sure you get a win (and go with the King)?
  • Do you think the Rangers make a major addition before the deadline?
  • Which of the top four defensemen on the current roster, not inc. Sauer due to injury, is the most expendable all things considered? (i.e. skill set, age, reliance, upside)
  • Can the Rangers win multiple playoff rounds without adding more scoring?

Food for thought: Despite the roster purge of 2003-04 and given the way the Rangers entire organisation has developed in the past five years, is this potentially the most fundamentally-changing deadline day in the Sather era?

Without question, the Islanders game is huge Friday night for so many reasons. Above all (regardless of deadline day potential) the team needs to avoid any losing streaks getting out of hand. Especially given how the Devils and Pens have been playing.

Final Thought: Antoine Vermette. Steve Downie. Their trades have nothing to do with the Rangers? Wrong. Brandon Dubinsky is better than both players. He also has more upside. Yet Vermette essentially got shipped out for a 2nd plus change while Downie got moved for a package that included a first round pick. When discussions about Nash come to a head Sather can point to these two players’ value in regard to Dubinsky and that could help establish a package for Nash – or any other significant trade. The Vermette and Downie deals have a massive knock on effect to the likes of Dubinsky. Any good GM will have taken note.

Crucial Period Ahead for Christian Thomas

After a season in which he reached 50 goals and played to a level where most considered him a blue chip prospect, it seems odd to suggest Christian Thomas’ next twelve months is almost a cross road for him in regards to his Rangers future. However, Thomas is indeed facing a critical period in his career.

This season has been somewhat of a struggle for Thomas. Playing on a middling Oshawa Generals team, getting a long suspension, struggling with his own form (compared to his previous year); the first half of his season was summed up by his failure to make the Team Canada roster for the WJC – a side that hardly covered itself in glory. Thomas’ season has been anti-climatic.

Thomas is still a good young hockey player. However, he is an undersized scoring winger – the type that usually cannot play in the bottom six. Thomas needs to be on a scoring line to thrive and this is why his future with the Rangers is in doubt. With Marian Gaborik enjoying a bounce back year, Ryan Callahan firmly entrenched as captain (and fan darling) and Brandon Dubinsky very much part of the core, there doesn’t remain much space for players to crack the top six that already reside in New York.

Things get even murkier for Thomas when you consider his competition for the wing spots beyond this season. Chris Kreider is enjoying his best season with Boston College and is widely tipped to be a Ranger next season, so Thomas has at least one elite prospect in front of him.

With JT Miller enjoying a solid WJC for Team USA and having a fine season in Plymouth, Thomas may indeed have two first round talents ahead of him without factoring in anyone else. Tough competition indeed. In fact, because of the apparent prospect depth the Rangers enjoy, Thomas may be a deadline asset the Rangers use if they decide to grab a player for a run this season. The fact Thomas is even in the discussion as potential trade bait speaks volumes about his current status.

Thomas currently has 38 points in 31 games for Oshawa. With 18 goals and 6 power play goals Thomas is still a key offensive contributor for his team, but they are hardly awe inspiring numbers. It may have benefited Thomas to have been traded to a contender at the OHL deadline, but instead Thomas found himself stuck (?) in Oshawa. The smallish winger needs to have a great end to his domestic season. He needs to try and be the reason his Generals team sneak in to the playoffs. He needs to score heavily to remind everyone why he was regarded as a quality Rangers prospect. However, that’s just half the task at hand.

Starting next summer, Thomas needs to have a great camp and make sure he plays a solid role in preseason culminating in either a Rangers spot (absolute best case, but unlikely scenario) or more likely, when he arrives in Connecticut for the 12/13 season. He has to play so well that he forces himself a future in New York. Thomas has a lot of talent, but also a lot of work ahead of him. The path is not nearly as clear as it once appeared. While that is a testament of the depth in the Rangers’ organisation it is clearly a rocky road to New York for Christian Thomas.

Could the Whale and Rangers Both Make Noise?

With potential reinforcements on the way from a multitude of levels the Whale could look quite stacked come regular season’s end and entering the playoffs. The potential for the Whale to win their second Calder Cup is realistic with a bit of luck. Why? Look at the possible line up.

Amid fresh rumours of Sean Avery having another chance at the NHL level the fact remains he’s still a Whale player and according to Glen Sather that won’t change soon. Sean Avery is still an NHL player in terms of ability so over the course of his stay with the Whale it’s fair to expect results.

With his fresh ‘demotion’, one has to assume Erik Christensen can make a solid impact in his conditioning assignment with the Whale and that should help them really strengthen themselves during the regular season. Like Avery, Christensen is an NHL player playing a level below, again one would expect solid results at the AHL level.

Then you have the numbers game that is playing out on the New York defense. While the demoted player may not make it down because of waivers, there is a good chance that the Whale will get one of Stu Bickel, Steve Eminger or Jeff Woywitka to use at some point this season. If (when) Mike Sauer gets healthy the Rangers won’t leave multiple defensemen wasting away in the press box and conditioning stints or demotions become a real possibility. Right now, any of these three – who have all made solid contributions at the NHL level this year – would improve the Whale.

There’s more to come. Looking at the Rangers prospects playing in junior there remains a chance the Whale get reinforcements through this route too. Christian Thomas has improved as the year has progressed (37 points in 29 games) but his Oshawa Generals are outside the playoffs right now and stuck in neutral. A much anticipated prospect, Thomas may find himself with the Whale earlier than he may have hoped this season.

Another junior candidate that could help the Whale and taste pro hockey this year is Shane McColgan whose Kelowna team are close to the playoff cut off line. While they are ‘in’ right now, other teams have games in hand and with a losing record, there’s no guarantee the Rockets can string together enough good performances to stay in the playoff spots.

Perhaps a positive sign for the way Rangers prospect development is trending in recent times is how so many players are currently playing on strong clubs. Mike St Croix, Dylan McIlrath, JT Miller and the Peterborough Petes’ Andrew Yogan and Peter Ceresnak are all battling for top spots in their respective leagues’ conferences. These players, like Chris Kreider with Boston College are unlikely to see time in the AHL because it’s likely some, if not all, could have deep playoff runs at their respective levels.

Meanwhile, the Whale may soon get a player back who is both a former Ranger as well as Ranger hopeful. Chad Kolarik is slowly working his way back to full health and could be a factor this season. Last year, through strong play in Connecticut Kolarik forced his way in to four games for the Rangers (one assist). Should the Whale be able to call on him and the aforementioned list of talented young players, they would have a very deep and talented squad to ice. There’s even still a slight chance of Wojtek Wolski making his way to the Whale at some point too. Not often an AHL club gets to ice a former 60 point NHL player.

It’s early to tell what the Whale will look like come playoff time and with the NHL trade deadline still approaching there’s certainly a lot of moving parts to consider but with a team consisting of established AHL’ers such as Kris Newbury, Mats Zuccarello, Pavel Valentenko and fast developing Jonathan Audy-Marchessault not to mention players such as Brendan Bell, Tim Erixon, Wade Redden and Chad Johnson, adding any combination of the aforementioned prospects and NHL pros makes this a promising campaign the tier below New York. Two Cups in one year? Why not.

Game Day Musings

Welcome to Thursday. That means it’s almost the end of the week, obviously. It’s a game day and the Rangers are entertaining a surprising and in form Senators tonight. It should be an interesting one. Before today’s focus switches to the pre game build up, let’s saunter through a Musings together.

The fact it’s the Senators tonight brings me to mini rant time. No disrespect to the Senators (it could be any team) but it’s made an absolute farce of the All Star game that they have so many starters in the game. Fan involvement should somehow be incorporated but an All Star game should be the best players, most deserving players and true stars of the game not the likes of Daniel Alfredsson who is there mainly on popularity. Erik Karlsson deserves to go to the game but really, he leads all vote getters? Not right. The format needs to be changed to make the game meaningful or at least eagerly anticipated.

I did chuckle when I read Dion Phaneuf was voted the most overrated player in the league. It says a lot about his (lack of) popularity and standing in the game because he’s a lot better than people are giving him credit for. He’s a good defender who has found his game again this year. Somewhere in Connecticut, Sean Avery is smiling.

So, Stefan Matteau is draft eligible this summer. The USNTDP stand out is going to the QMJHL next season. Naturally, masses of Rangers fans will demand he be drafted regardless of whether he’s the right pick, at the time. Just like Beukeboom’s son who has already been traded and is having a mediocre OHL career. It’s not all about the surname – as Marcel Hossa and Fedor Fedorov will attest.

Ilya Kovalchuk is in great form and the Devils are winning games again. I couldn’t be happier for them. Really. They’re well on their way to becoming the Rangers circa 1997-2003. Not good enough for lottery picks (for a true rebuild) but good enough to be, at best, first round fodder. The Devils are in desperate need for another Adam Larsson or two to put around Kovalchuk. Enjoy mediocrity Jersey.

Recently quite a few Rangers players have cooled offensively making Dubinsky’s health (and relative return to form) that much more important. The Rangers can win close games, low scoring games and can live with the higher scoring teams but it’d be nice to see Anisimov, Stepan, Richards and even Gaborik to an extent start up some streaks again. Oh, and some consistent secondary scoring (Boyle etc) would be nice too.

  • Best mid season defensive addition: Bickel, Stralman or Woywitka?

What has happened to Brandon Prust this year? He’s simply not a factor consistently. His hit total is well down, shooting % well down on his career average and as a result he’s not getting the ice time. It’s a vicious circle but if he can get better (closer to last year) this team gets much deeper.

  • Chris Kreider watch: 24 points in 21 games; goals in every kind of scenario – 3 game winners, 4 Power play tallies and a shorthanded goal.
  • Chris Thomas watch: 37 points in 29 games; 18 goals and 19 assists and a minus 3 rating. In his defence he’s on an at-best-average Oshawa team that is clearly gearing to the future. Thomas could really do with a big end to his season and great camp next year in NY. There’s a lot of competition for spots right now.

I wonder if Steve Eminger has played his last game for the Rangers. Don’t forget he’s got another 6 weeks recovery and has to watch Bickel, Stralman and Woywitka fight it out for bottom pair jobs anyway. There’s a chance Sauer is back well before him too. He may get a conditioning assignment like Christensen and never see NY ice as a Ranger again. It’s a tough way to lose your job if it happens.

Question Time:

  • Bigger disappointment: Brian Boyle or Brand Prust?
  • If one had to be cut loose: Woywitka, Bickel or Eminger?
  • Del Zotto season points total: Over or under 40?
  • Race to 20 goals: Hagelin or Dubinsky?

We’ll end this edition of musings with a rare tip of the Broadway hat to Erik Christensen. He’s unlikely to ever play for the Rangers again but credit where it’s due for getting back on the ice with the Whale and looking to get sharp again. He’s an NHL quality player but simply put, can’t help this Rangers team. If he works his tail off in CT he may get a shot elsewhere. The Whale will hopefully benefit from a motivated, talented player.

P.S. Henrik For Vezina. That is all.

Prospect Watch: Thomas Returns

This week saw the return to game action of Christian Thomas, who has been sitting out thanks to the ten game suspension the OHL threw his way. His return was in the Subway Super Series against the Russian national team, as Thomas represented the OHL (Team Russia plays against each CHL league).

Thomas did not disappoint, grabbing an assist on the game winner and adding a goal near the end as the OHL team beat the Russians 6-3  in Sault Ste. Marie after racing to a 6-0 lead. While it was a good return to action for Thomas it’s hard to gauge the level of opponents as the Russian team is never the strongest available.  In this instance it didn’t feature some of the quality prospects expected to be lottery picks, or first rounder’s in 2012. Regardless, Thomas will be happy with his return to the ice and will look to kick off from here and be a difference maker once more for Oshawa.

Dylan McIlrath may have missed a few games earlier this season but is putting together a pretty solid season for Moose Jaw in the WHL. Despite being pointless and on the losing side on Saturday (MJ lost 3-2 to Swift Current), McIlrath got in to a fight and played his typical brand of physical hockey. With 5 points (2 goals) in 11 games so far this year McIlrath is already only 3 goals off his total from last year.

Quick Hits:

  • Chris Kreider and Boston College got whipped, losing 5-0 to Boston University on Sunday. It’s never good to lose to your neighbours. BC was inept on the powerplay, going 0-8 while Kreider finished the game -1 with just one shot to his name. BC will look to move on immediately next week when they travel for a non conference tilt with Notre Dame.
  • JT Miller continues to be both productive and consistent. The first round pick grabbed 6 points and went +5 in 3 games last week for his surging Plymouth side. Miller now has 25 points in 21 games for the season – an impressive introduction to major junior.
  • Scott Stajcer may not be winning games but his play is getting better. The goalie is 2-3-2 in 7 games but sits at .922 % and a 2.54GAA. Considering how inflated those numbers were just a few short weeks ago Stajcer is doing all he can to stay relevant in a tricky situation in Owen Sound.
  • Shane McColgan may have 20 points in 19 games for Kelowna in the WHL but -9 is never a good thing to have on your record.
  • Jesper Fasth has slowed down from his great start to the year as he has 14 points in 18 games with HV71 of the SEL. Fasth is scoreless in multiples games however it has still been a very encouraging season for the young winger already.
  • Andrew Yogan and the Peterborough Petes sit second in the East Division of the OHL and Yogan – and Peter Čerešňák – have played their part. Čerešňák has a solid 7 points in 19 games from the blueline while Yogan has 14 in 18 up front. Perhaps more should be expected from Yogan, an over-ager but there is still a long way to go in the season for Yogan to make his case for the pro-ranks next season.