Posts tagged: Pavel Valentenko

The Prospect and Whale Low-down (part 3)

Over the last week we have posted the first two parts of the great Q &A we had between Brian Ring and Bob Crawford from the Connecticut Whale. Check them out here and here. Bob and Brian discussed everything from the best players during their time with the CT organisation to the current crop of promising Rangers prospects. Today is the final part of the series. Enjoy the read, I know I enjoyed it.

Regarding Evgeny Grachev; has his development come on between his first and second years as a pro and how?

Bob: I think Grachev made real good progress last season.  I think he’s a perfect example of that dominant Junior player who found that in the AHL his size, hands and shot would not by themselves let him control games.  He did a much better job this past year of picking up the pace of his game, using his size to protect the puck and disciplining himself to bring a consistent effort every night.  He’ll be a third-year pro next year, and as big as he is, I think he is still in the process of refining his strength from that of a teenager to that of a man.  If he can make some big strides in that area, I think he’ll be a quality NHLer for sure.

Brian: I think he definitely has improved and his scoring totals reflect that, and his plus/minus showed a +34 shift from last year to this year, for whatever that’s really worth. This past year, he definitely adopted a more physical style at times and started to use his frame to drive the net. I think in that regard, he is pretty similar to Anisimov, as once Artie started to use his size his production really started to pick up. Grachev has great size and talent, and once he puts it all together every night he’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.

So many high scoring players in juniors come to the AHL and struggle offensively. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges for forwards making the jump?

Bob: I think, more than anything, it’s the speed of the game and the strength of the players.  Guys find themselves with much less time to make a play, much less room, and up against stronger and smarter players, than they were used to in Junior or college.  Some have another level to take it to, and adjust very quickly, some take a year or two, or several years, to figure out how to change their games and achieve success in the AHL, and some, unfortunately, never can make that adjustment, or never can find the will to do so.

Brian: I think it definitely boils down to size and speed. Not exactly ground-breaking analysis, but when you enter this league after playing against teenagers or guys that may not go pro, it can be tough when you run into grown men that have played several years of professional hockey. You aren’t going to have as much time to make a play, or as much space to operate in. Not to mention you probably aren’t playing with players you know or are comfortable with. So factor in all those things and you can understand why there could be an adjustment period.

What are the immediate Rangers chances of the young defensemen that didn’t make the big club last year?

Bob: Tomas Kundratek, to me, has the look of a young colt who is only just figuring out how good he can be.  His skating, size and effort level have me thinking that he is not far away from pushing the NHL.  Pavel Valentenko, if he makes similar strides to last year, will definitely be ready for a look, and it will be interesting to see if Blake Parlett can continue his upward trajectory.

Brian: I think Valentenko could probably step in right now if they needed him to. Yes, I am pretty high on “Tank”. Blake Parlett is probably not far away, I know he’s drawn some comps to Dan Girardi, which would be great. Tomas Kundratek I think is probably a little farther, but another year of development will be great for him, because he did make big strides this year. It will be interesting to see how Michael Del Zotto fits in this year as well, I guess that depends on what happens with New York’s roster and in camp.

Do you think the nucleus of these prospects that start in CT through 11/12 can provide CT with a playoff appearance – and why?

Bob: I definitely think the Whale can be a playoff team again, based on the organization’s overall skill level up front and a young group of D-men having another year of experience.  Hopefully one of the goaltenders will take charge as a 50-60-game dependable backstop…if that happens, I really like how the team could look for the ’11-’12 season.

Brian: Definitely. It’s a skilled bunch and GM Jim Schoenfeld, along with coaches Ken Gernander, J.J. Daigneault and Pat Boller, have done a phenomenal job running this team. I’m very excited to see this years’ team, I think it’s going to be a great crop of prospects and they have as good a chance to make the playoffs and contend as any team does.

Again, a final 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 season (and off season) for regular looks at the CT Whale and how the Rangers prospects are doing ‘down on the farm’! Make sure you follow Brian and the Whale on twitter at @brianring and @CTWhale!

 

The Whale and Rangers Prospect Low-Down (Part One)

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!

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Pavel Valentenko; Another Girardi?

Recently Pavel Valentenko completed his first season with the Connecticut Whale. While it seems his skating ability may hold him back from reaching the NHL (those in the know, doubt he has the skating level required for the big show) his fearless play and willingness to give up his body won’t stop him from getting to the NHL. Recently, the AHL ran a feature on the Russian defenseman who remains a legitimate prospect for the Rangers.

The AHL lauded Valentenko a ‘prime shot blocker’ (hence the perhaps misleading title on this post…) while the Russian defenseman received praise from several team mates for his style. Whale goalie Cam Talbot went pretty far with the compliments when he said the following:

“Pavel blocks shots so well it’s like having three goalies.”

Valentenko has been drawing comparisons to NHL defenseman Anton Volchenkov, so it seems its not just their surnames that are similar. Wade Redden, by all accounts a great mentor down in Connecticut, considers Volchenkov one of the best shot blockers he has seen in his long career so the comparison is certainly high praise for Valentenko – the young Rangers prospect. To go with the title of the post, it seems there are indeed some links to Dan Girardi. Whale coach JJ Daigneault coached Girardi when the Rangers defenseman was in the minors and Girardi has become a fearless, elite NHL shot blocker. Could Valentenko go the same way?

With a cannon of a shot also in his armoury, Valentenko had a pretty successful season this year. With 5 goals, 17 points and an excellent +21 on his stat sheet for the regular season, Valentenko seems to have a little bit of everything in his game. Despite his physical style he only had 38 penalty minutes while he also had 123 shots. Maybe Valentenko should be finding Brian Boyle’s cell number. Boyle’s skating was also the one major concern in his game and he used Barbara Underhill to help him turn the weakness around and all Rangers fans will gladly discuss the strong season Boyle just had as he established himself as a good NHL player. Maybe with some help, Valentenko can do the same.

Rangers Prospects Stepping Up For the Whale

A season of promise at every level for the Rangers organisation seems to be continuing for the prospects. Recently signed to short term contracts following their junior seasons, 2010 top pick Dylan McIlrath and fellow draftee Andrew Yogan have already made their presence felt in the AHL.

In their first pro game they couldn’t have made more of an impression. Injured for most of the year, Yogan made a spectacular impact scoring twice even though the Whale lost to Bridgeport on Saturday night, 4-3. Not to be outdone however was McIlrath. The big defenseman got into a fight, which he won, and was a laying numerous hits throughout the game to play a very physical game in his pro debut. Both young players showed remarkable confidence and ability in their pro debuts. Indeed, Mitch Beck of Howlings noted that he was very impressed with McIlrath’s play.

While the Whale lost their regular season finale to the Admirals on Sunday, Yogan once more found a way to get involved offensively. The big center notched an assist to cap his minor league cameo off in impressive style. Overall the Rangers pick grabbed 3 points in 2 games and went +1. In the Admiral game, McIlrath had a shot and was -1 for the night. Other prospects also pitched in during the game. Pavel Valentenko (not to be forgotten amid all the rookie defensemen hysteria in New York) had 1+1 to finish the year with 17 points and an excellent +21 for the year. Some opinions suggest he may get a long look in training camp for the Rangers. At 6’2 and 220lbs, with a cannon of a shot and a physical game, Valentenko would be a welcome addition if he could make the grade next year.

Quietly having a solid second year is Evgeny Grachev. He may not have dominated at the AHL level or even managed to keep up with the (unfair?) level of expectancy but Grachev notched an assist against Norfolk to finish the year with 38 points, a +21 (compared to a – 13 the year before) and more shots in less games over the year so there has been decent progress made this season. With the few games of NHL experience he managed to grab, Grachev should be well stocked to make an impact next year, perhaps at both levels. 2 years of pro seasoning, further acclimatising to the language and being carefully monitored by Rangers staff should really allow for a decent camp for the big Russian. There could be a spot there for the taking.

Still on the Rangers bubble is Dale Weise. In a season where Weise played in the NHL and AHL as well as suffering through injury he managed to finish with 38 points in 47 games to make sure everyone remembers the big body has an offensive side to his game. Weise should have a chance at a bottom 6 roster spot next camp but he will need to be wary of the prospects fast developing in the organisation also looking for spots.

Playoff Time

The Whale will begin their playoff schedule against Portland in the first round. Game 1 will be on Thursday 14th while the first two games are held in Portland. It will be an upset if the Whale can win (similar to the Rangers series vs. Washington) as Portland finished top of both teams’ division with an impressive 47 win, 103 point season. Portland will likely be led by Luke Adam and NHL veteran Mark Parrish as two of the team’s better offensive players are up with the Sabres in the NHL playoffs. It should be an interesting series to see how the Rangers prospects step up against quality opposition.

Keeping Sauer

Sauer made a huge gaffe last night that cost the Rangers a goal but the young defensive defenceman improved throughout the game which culminated with his first NHL goal, a game winner. Sauer has established himself this year as a player that consistently plays, in part through his solid, low key style which rarely leads to mistakes. He is a calm, rarely flustered type that is an ideal complement to the top four. The Rangers should be wise enough to look to lock up Sauer for another year or two.

Sauer, primarily due to injury, has taken a long time to get to NY on a full time basis but now he is there he is proving to be a nice addition, a cheap one and a low maintenance one. If Sauer can add some level of consistent offense to his game then he will be a very nice core piece going forward. Sauer leads the Rangers in +/- with a very nice +8 rating. He has played physical and has good size. With Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko both progressing slowly but solidly (emphasis on the slowly) in the AHL the point here is that they shouldn’t be rushed. Would it be a disaster if they played another year in the AHL while Sauer kept his spot in NY? Absolutely not.

Sauer does have some offensive ability. In 08/09 he had 23 points in 67 games for Hartford and this season in NY he’s on course for 15 points as a rookie which is more than Marc Staal had in year one. Keeping Sauer makes sense. Last night he showed his ability to bounce back from mistakes. Keeping Sauer shouldn’t cost the Rangers much at the end of the season and that financial aspect could be crucial when it comes to pursuing your Brad Richards types. Sauer on the Rangers makes sense right now and moving forward. No need to rush the kids when one of them is already doing the business.

Despite Rookie Growing Pains, No Need for Panic

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?

The Whalepack is Stacked

The Rangers had some very stiff competition for the NHL club this year. With stiff competition comes some very difficult cuts, which leads to a very strong AHL club. This year, the Rangers AHL affiliate Hartford Wolfpack Connecticut Whale are the beneficiaries of some of that Ranger depth. Currently, the Rangers have 16 forwards on the club, with two (Chris Drury, Vinny Prospal) on IR. Once Drury and Prospal return, the Whalepack will benefit even more, as two more players will need to be demoted.

At the forward position, the Whale have two of the highest touted Ranger prospects that didn’t make the team this year in Evgeny Grachev and Mats Zuccarello-Aasen. Although Grachev struggled last season, he is prime for a bounce-back year, much like Artem Anisimov did in his second year in Hartford. MZA led the Swedish elite league in scoring, and the pint sized winger showed he can skate with the big boys. He is in the AHL to get some much needed adjustment time, but there’s no reason why he and Grachev can’t benefit from each other’s company on the top line. The Whale are also going to have the physical wing combination of Dale Weise and Dane Byers back this season. The two wingers played very well together last season, especially with Kris Newbury as their center. The same production is going to be expected of this combo, if not more.

On defense, you have to start with touted prospects Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko, the last two cuts from Rangers camp. The two may have been cut due to waiver issues, but that is no reason to think they won’t perform in the AHL. Both are physical, crease clearing guys, and will spend a lot of time making sure goaltender Chad Johnson has a clear view of every shot. However, Valentenko has a booming shot, and it is very likely he will see powerplay time, ripping howitzers at opponents net-minders. You can’t ignore the veteran presence of Wade Redden, who reported to Hartford in a professional manner. Redden was a bit of a mentor for Michael Del Zotto last season with the Rangers, and many are hoping he can guide the likes of McDonagh and Valentenko this season.

In net, Chad Johnson will rest easy knowing he’s not going to play train-tag with the Rangers this season. Dos-Nueve was called up more often than a Vegas hooker last season, which may have affected his performance down the stretch. With one of Cameron Talbot or Jordan Parise backing him up, there is enough pressure on him to play well, while having enough comfort that he won’t be needing a monthly train ticket this season.

The Whale may have lost their top scorers in P.A. Parenteau and Corey Locke, but a bounce-back year from Grachev and a good season from MZA can easily replace that production. It’s going to be fun to watch how those two develop over the course of the year. It’s also going to be interesting to watch how McDonagh and Valentenko fair in their first years in the AHL. Those four could all be call ups this year, should the Rangers need it. Those four could also see themselves as permanent fixtures on the Rangers roster come next season. It isn’t often that an AHL club can boast about that. The top-end talent in Hartford could lead to a very successful 2010-2011 season for the Whale.

Ryan McDonagh, Pavel Valentenko Cut

The Rangers have made their first cuts of the day, sending defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko to the Hartford Wolfpack of the AHL. For all intents and purposes, Mike Sauer and Steve Eminger have made the club as the sixth and seventh defensemen, respectively. McDonagh and Valentenko did not have to clear waivers, which may have been a determining factor in the decision. With McDonagh needing consistent playing time, there was no need to keep him as the seventh defensemen, who will likely sit in the press box for the majority of the season.

Dale Weise and Mats Zuccarello-Aasen have also been returned to Hartford.

Update 2:45pm: With Vinny Prospal and Chris Drury starting the season on injured reserve, the Rangers do not need to make anymore cuts at the forward position. There will be at least two cuts when both return from injury.

What We’ve Learnt So Far?

11 days of camp and 3 games into the pre-season and the Rangers have made two series of roster cuts and have 27 players remaining. So what have we learnt about the state of the Rangers?

Let’s start with the negatives.

Looking at camp it was disappointing to see core players such as Artem Anisimov struggle with the conditioning skates. It was perplexing because it’s been reported that the Russian was training throughout the summer – what gives? Other players who didn’t distinguish themselves during the conditioning included Michael Del Zotto who, like some others, was struggling with cramps and leg pain.

Goaltending beyond that at the NHL level continues to be somewhat of concern. Chad Johnson, who has NHL potential has struggled, letting in soft goals during the exhibition season while Scott Stajcer has let his nerves get to him. Stajcer had a poor first scrimmage including conceding goals on his first three shots faced. Jordan Parise and Cam Talbot didn’t turn heads with their play either. Neither seemed legitimate threats to Johnson for starting/playing time in the AHL.

A sign of a successful NHL team is how a team deals with the opposition’s top lines. The Rangers thus far have struggled to contain the key players during each pre-season contest. The Devils top trio of Parise-Kovalchuk-Zajac scored with ease in both games while the Rangers struggled to keep Zetterberg’s line off the board on Sunday (against Detroit), while Brian Rafalski also did what he wanted offensively in Sunday’s tilt. The Rangers struggled to deal with the puck possession and skill level of the Red Wings.  Although the Rangers haven’t iced a full NHL side yet (it is pre-season after all) they will have to deal with opponents top lines much more effectively when the regular season kicks off.

Drury’s injury is a negative. Drury is on this team regardless and additional offense (compared to last year) from the captain would go a long way in helping the Rangers return to the post season. While conditioning shouldn’t be an issue (he can still bike and do cardio) Drury has missed an opportunity to get in on the scrimmages and pre-season games and re-discover his offensive game. A nice run of pre-season success may have helped Drury’s confidence, however thanks to injury he’s already behind the eight-ball.

So what has gone well?

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Valentenko to Attend Prospect Camp

As per Laurie Carr, Rangers prospect Pavel Valentenko will return from Russia for next season. Valentenko also plans on participating in the Rangers Prospect Development Camp in June. Valentenko, who was acquired along with Ryan McDonagh and Christopher Higgins for Scott Gomez in June of 2009, has one year remaining on his entry level deal signed with Montreal. As per Capgeek, the two-way deal is an $850,000 cap hit in the NHL, which includes $585,000 in base salary and an additional $350,000 in bonuses (signing and performance). His AHL salary is $62,500.

Valentenko is not listed highly on HockeysFuture, but he would provide what a healthy Michael Sauer would provide, a tough, physical defenseman who will clear the crease and provide some much needed physicality on the blue line. Valentenko would likely spend one more year in the AHL before coming a restricted free agent.