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Posts tagged: Tomas Kundratek

Rangers Acquire Bouchard From Caps For Kundratek

After a relatively quiet day in Rangerland, Glen Sather made a splash, sending defense prospect Tomas Kundratek to the Washington Capitals in exchange for RW Francois Bouchard. Kundratek, the Rangers third round pick in the 2008 draft, has two assists in seven games this year, with two PIMs and a -1 rating. In 79 career games with the CT Whale/Hartford Wolfpack, Kundratek had a line of 2-12-14, with 44 PIMs and a -1 rating.

Bouchard was a second round pick by the Caps in 2006, selected 19 spots ahead of Artem Anisimov. Bouchard, like Kundratek, has never made it to the NHL thus far in his short professional career. In nine games with the Hershey Bears, Bouchard has no points, eight PIMs and a -4 rating.

Last year, Kundratek was one of the more highly regarded Rangers prospects, and was even a dark horse to make this year’s club. However, after a lackluster camp, Kundratek’s struggles continued with the CT Whale. In some Twitter exchanges with Mitch Beck, it appears that Kundratek had fallen within the depth chart, and found himself as a healthy scratch in more than a few games with the Whale. Players like Stu Bickel, Tim Erixon, and Jyri Niemi appeared to have passed him on the depth chart.

As for Bouchard, from what is available on the internet, it does not appear that he is an NHL talent. He was Washington’s #17 ranked prospect, and has a good offensive skill set. His biggest flaws seem to be skating quickness, work ethic (although this seems to have resolved itself) and strength. At 6’1/195 lbs, Bouchard isn’t exactly weak, but it appears he is knocked off the puck too often.

This move was likely made to address the unbalanced nature of the Whale roster. Prior to this trade, the Whale had 12 forwards and 9 defensemen. Now, they will have 13 forwards and 8 defenseman.

Tomas Kundratek: The Dark Horse

Although there hasn’t  been much talk about it in the Rangers blog-o-sphere, there is an intense battle heating up for the bottom defense pairing.  Most of the focus has been on Brad Richards, and with good reason, but the bottom defense pairing is shaping up to be a great battle in camp.  Although Tim Erixon and Michael Del Zotto appear to have the inside track, and Pavel Valentenko is getting most of the attention for dark horses, I’m going out on a limb and saying that if Erixon or Del Zotto falter, that Tomas Kundratek is a prime candidate to take a spot.

Kundratek didn’t make it past the first round of cuts last year, but that means nothing heading into this year’s camp (see: Sauer, Mike).  Kundratek’s game is a simple one, he just gets in the opposition’s way.  He has been incredible in his own end with the CT Whale, he is rarely out of position and does the little things right.  The best thing that can be said about a defensive defenseman is that you don’t notice him on the ice.  If you do, he’s making mistakes.  It’s rare that you notice Kundratek.  His numbers aren’t fantastic, but it’s what you expect from someone who isn’t going to be jump starting the offense.  He just does everything in his own end properly, from positioning to defensive assignments.

Most people have been looking at Pavel Valentenko as a potential dark horse, and with good reason.  He has a great shot, is a big body who plays a physical game, and is essentially a second goalie on the ice with the number of shots he blocks.  While those attributes are great, they are marginalized if the opposition can just skate around him, which is Valentenko’s weakest area.  His skating might hold him back, whereas Kundratek is a smooth skater and more positionally sound than Kundratek.

Another aspect that Kundratek has that Valentenko does not: a right-handed shot.  The Rangers are chock-full-o lefties this year with Del Zotto, Erixon, Marc Staal, and Ryan McDonagh.  They might need a right handed shot to balance out that bottom pairing.  It’s not much of an advantage, as Erixon is capable of playing both sides, but it is an advantage nonetheless.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Valentenko, and there is absolutely no hate whatsoever, I just think he needs one more year in the AHL to work on his skating.  His raw talent is nice, but hockey is more than that.  Kundratek appears to be the complete package, and can be a dark horse to make this roster should Del Zotto or Erixon falter.

What If Erixon And Del Zotto Need More Time?

One of the biggest question marks heading into the new season for the Rangers has nothing to do with Brad Richards or Marian Gaborik.  It has to do with the bottom defense pairing. Right now, many assume that at least one of Michael Del Zotto or Tim Erixon will be ready and will make the team and won’t be a liability in any of the three zones.  The best case scenario is that they both succeed and make the team, making Steve Eminger a seventh defenseman.  But there is always the other scenario: that both need to hit the AHL a little before coming to the big club.

If that’s the case, then the only guarantee is that Steve Eminger will be on the bottom pairing.  After Eminger, the Rangers would have more question marks for the final defenseman than the Islanders do with their goaltending.  Pavel Valentenko –due to his great camp last year– and Brendan Bell –because he has already played in the NHL– would be the two favorites to serve as the final (or final two) defensemen.  However, nothing is given.  Remember when everyone guaranteed Ryan McDoangh a spot on opening night, only to be outplayed by his current defense partner?

But the candidate that not many will point to is the one that I am looking at to fill a void if these two aren’t ready: Tomas Kundratek.  He could be the most NHL ready of any of the Rangers AHL defensemen last year, with the exception of Wade Redden.  The 21 year old may not put up stellar numbers, but he has been a steady blue line presence for the Whale, who appears capable of handling NHL duties.

The first issue may be who makes the team, but the second issue is waivers, and it’s a pretty big issue.  Currently, none of the prospects and young players need to pass through waivers, but that will change 33 games into the season, if Del Zotto makes the team.  The minute Del Zotto plays his 33rd game this season, he will need to pass through waivers, which presents a whole other obstacle for the Rangers to overcome.  It also presents a very interesting scenario: If Del Zotto appears to be ready, but could benefit from more AHL time, do the Rangers send him down to avoid the waiver issue?

The question about the bottom pairing is one that may be floating under the radar because of Brad Richards and the hole(s) he fills, but it is a question that needs to be answered before the Rangers open the season in Sweden.  This may, in fact, be the biggest hole in the Rangers team this season.  With questions abound about not only the composition of the bottom pair, but waivers as well, Rangers brass may be forced to make a decision that will anger some fans.  But if John Tortorella’s track record tells us anything, it’s that he will give the kids every opportunity to play their way on to the roster.

The Bottom Defense Pair Competition

Barring any more moves by Glen Sather and company, the Rangers are looking at some intense competition for two of the final roster spots on the blue line come September.  Four spots are a given: Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Mike Sauer, and Ryan McDonagh.  One spot is all but a given (Steve Eminger), so if the Rangers decide to carry seven defensemen, that leaves two spots up for grabs.  We all know the names, but let’s break them down into three categories.

The Favorites

The favorites for those last two spots are relatively clear: Tim Erixon and Michael Del Zotto.  They are the ones that are the most NHL ready –or have prior NHL experience.  Both bring an aspect to the game that the Rangers don’t appear to have on the blue line in their ability to jump start the offense with an outlet pass.  Del Zotto has more offense to his game and may have the higher potential in that regard, but Erixon is likely to be the more rounded of the two in all three zones.  Expect them both to be on the opening night roster, even if they are both left handed shots.

The Dark Horses

This category is also limited to two names really, and they are Pavel Valentenko and Tomas Kundratek.  At first glance of the names, people will flock to Valentenko because he has that booming shot.  However, it was clear last preseason that he was not ready for the NHL.  Improvement in his skating and positioning were a must for Tenk.  Kundratek may not have that shot, but he is a sound defender who plays the game well in his own zone.  I would give Kundratek the upper hand here because he is currently better than Tenk in his own zone, and he is a much needed right handed shot.

The Possible But Unlikely

Only one name goes here: Dylan McIlrath.  McIlrath is just flat out mean, and would give the Rangers much needed toughness on the blue line.  Sauer can only do so much of the punishing on his own.  McIlrath not only needs to impress, but he needs to show he can win the Calder in order to be a serious contender for a roster spot this season.  In essence, he needs to do what Del Zotto did two years ago.  The Rangers won’t make that mistake twice though.  McIlrath is possible, but he won’t make the club this year.

If I had to put a ranking of those likely to make the roster, I would put Del Zotto at the front of the list with Erixon not far behind.  Kundratek would round out the top three, and to be honest, any one of them can win a roster spot over the others with a strong camp.  There is a big gap on my list between Kundratek and Valentenko, and an even bigger gap between Tenk and McIlrath.  Those kids are going to be battling hard for those last two spots.  Anything can happen.

Eminger Was Unnecessary

Steve Eminger performed admirably last season, especially when he stepped up in to a more prominent role due to injury. However, re-signing him this season was a signing for the sake of it, regardless of his minimal cost (disagreeing with The Suit here). Unlike many Rangers fan’s, I struggle to agree with the desperation to have the clichéd ‘veteran depth defenseman’. If the blue line is good enough its old enough and Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are that experienced already that they could impart their experiences on the others.

The only benefit I can see from the Eminger re-hiring is that it likely means a player with limited upside is in the press box instead of a genuine prospect. That said, I’d much rather not have an extra body in the way of Valentenko or Kundratek’s progress through the ranks. If these kids are genuinely NHL calibre and, as so often mooted, close to NHL ready why shove another player in their way? Let the carrot be close enough to bite at. Let these players be close enough to the NHL they can almost touch it. Eminger hinders this.

Another issue; the Rangers should be better next year and could upset some teams if when they make the playoffs (not on the last day of school this time guys…) but as I have stated multiple times they are still at least one season’s worth of development from truly making some noise. If that is the case then bring the kids up and let ‘em learn however if the Rangers are beginning (internally) to think ‘win now’ then Eminger isn’t the right calibre of veteran anyway.

At $800k per year Eminger can’t be a big mistake. He makes a small amount of the cap and is on a minimal term deal but I can’t help feeling that this was a pointless move. Give me the kids instead. I’m betting Kundratek can give me at least the same 6 points Eminger had and V-Tank can give me the physicality Eminger provides.  Unfortunately for Rangers fans it seems they’ll likely be showing off their talents in the AHL next season.

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 Prospect and Whale Low-down (part 2)

Earlier this week we posted the first part of our discussion with Brian Ring and Bob Crawford from the CT Whale. Both men discussed the Connecticut Whale future as well as the prospects that could make their way to the Rangers. Today we have the second part of the discussion with the final part coming in the next few days. Brian and Bob make some really interesting comments throughout the interview and give some attention to some prospects that a lot of readers may not have on their radars for the coming season. Happy reading.

 

Which prospect do you think has the most to prove at training camp next summer?

Bob: I don’t know if you would call him a prospect or an NHLer who experienced a hiccup, but to me Michael Del Zotto is in a position really to help himself at camp.  It’s a new start after sort of a humbling second year of pro, and with what he can contribute on the power play, if he rediscovers a significant bit of his rookie mojo, I think he could easily put himself right back into the mix.

Brian: Evgeny Grachev. I think this is a huge year for him, even though he is still young. It will be important for him to put it all together on a consistent basis, everyone knows that the talent and skill are there. Whether or not he makes the team out of camp, I think it’s important that he puts people on notice and really, I think he will, I think it’s going to be a big production year for him.

With all the new signings and expired contracts, it looks like there is going to be significant roster turnover this summer for the Whale. How does that affect the offseason plans?

Bob: That kind of thing, I find, doesn’t have that much effect on the AHL club.  The affiliate is almost always more affected by who steps up in camp as a surprise to grab a spot, or what kind of injuries or salary cap issues the parent team runs into.  Most AHL veterans, like Jeremy Williams for example, are under one-year contracts, so you naturally expect those guys to come and go as the years go by.

Brian: I don’t think it really changes anything, that kind of turnover is really just a fact of life in this league. Every year we seem to start off with a younger and younger team but they pull together and play winning hockey. Having a young core might mean bringing in a few veterans to complement the presence of Kris Newbury and (likely) Wade Redden, whether that means qualifying John Mitchell or signing another AHL free agent or two. As far as how it affects the front office here directly, it means more tweeting, Facebook posts and press releases, which is always a good thing for public relations exposure and getting the Whale brand out there.

Is there any new signing or acquisition that you are particularly excited to see play for the Whale next season?

Bob: After watching what he was able to help the U.S. National Junior Team achieve, knowing his bloodlines and having seen his older brother play very effectively in the AHL, and knowing his Junior accomplishments, I am eager to see what kind of pro player Ryan Bourque can be, if he ends up with the Whale.

Brian: I’m pretty excited to see Carl Hagelin play a full season as I’m sure many fans of Rangers prospects are. We only got to see him in a couple playoff games last year since he helped take Michigan to the Frozen Four, but he looked good in that limited action. Also excited to see Ryan Bourque and Tim Erixon, should those guys play here next season. I don’t want to omit anybody because I always like seeing prospects come in, but those are just the guys that come to mind first.

 

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!

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?