Hartford Wolf Pack Q&A With Ricky Milliner

Ricky Milliner answers our questions about the prospects in Hartford

The Hartford Wolf Pack is going to be a tremendous focus this season. Not only because of the rebuild and that numerous high end prospects are currently playing there, but because new President John Davidson has specifically stated that the Pack is a priority.

We caught up with friend of the blog, Pack writer, and season ticket holder Ricky Milliner, who was kind enough to answer some of our questions. Ricky has answered our questions in the past, and if you’re looking for great coverage, he’s your go to on Twitter.

1. How has John Davidson’s statements that they need to improve the situation in Hartford resonated with fans? Are there any expectations or hopes with the new regime? Playoffs perhaps? Or just cleaning up the mess?

The fans in Hartford enjoyed John Davidson’s commitment to the Wolf Pack. After years of lackluster teams and performances, fans finally had a reason to hope for a promising 2019-2020 campaign. In the prior management (Sather era of around 2010), Hartford felt the firsthand blows to the roster when the Rangers were in a win now mode. Despite stellar performances with the big club, the AHL aspect of the organization often lacked severely. The XL Center at one point was considered a tough place to play in. Fast forward to today; Hartford is considered an easy place to play.

The Rangers putting an emphasis on development is a big relief to Wolf Pack fans. We have not seen much of development in the last 10 years. The new hope began over the summer from the signings and words of JD. The expectation in Hartford is get into the playoffs. Pack fans were often spoiled with playoffs due to dominant teams yearly. Making post-season in the first 12 years of existence is an impressive trait, a job well done by New York. Fast forward to the last 10 years, it’s the complete opposite. To only have post-season action for the last three of ten years raises concern on the original development culture from the Rangers. In the locker room with the new coaching staff, Kris Knoblauch established a new culture as well.

2. It’s early on, but have you seen any noticeable differences in how the Pack approach the game with new head coach Kris Knoblauch?

The first four games of the season is an enjoyable ride. Under Knoblauch, there is a different look for the players. The expectation on ice is to play hard every shift. Do not be afraid to make sacrifices. We have seen that in multiple instances. Ryan Lindgren is blocking shots in multiple games, the Pack is not backing down from opponents, and the management of chemistry has been good thus far.

We have seen Joey Keane become a healthy scratch for a poor performance. Vitali Kravtsov was on the same boat as well. Throughout games, if you do not perform up to expectations, you will get benched. Kravtsov had that happen to him in the first week of the season. Instead, other players got more ice time. Knoblauch does not accept mediocre play regardless of the name. Everyone is going the extra mile. Keith McCambridge tried to implement a solid work ethic as well, but he did not pan out well due to his coaching styles. All the coaching staff in Hartford has impressive resumes, which has benefited the group thus far.

3. Vitali Kravtsov was recently a scratch, and publicly we’ve heard that it was because of effort concerns. Do you foresee any long term concerns here?

I was not expecting a situation like this for Kravtsov. Unfortunately, he did not start well in Hartford. As I explained in my previous question, Knoblauch wants player to perform to their fullest. On Hartford’s opening night, Kravtsov struggled and the effort was not there. Fast forward to last weekend, the forward played in both games. He is definitely struggling. Keep in mind that he is adjusting to language, rink size, and a new surrounding away from home. For a 19 year prospect, that can be overwhelming. You have to also keep in mind that he wants to be in New York. Being demoted to the AHL was not taken well.

Do I have concerns? Partially. I want the forward to work on his struggles within the organization under our supervision. Let the Hartford coaching staff develop him further. If he goes overseas, that will not help his development because he simply needs adjustments. The AHL is a tough league to play in, from back to backs to three games in three nights. Kravtsov has to face hardship before he improves. Let the prospect have time to adjust in North America. I am patient on development for the prospects. Once he blooms, he will be a force to be reckoned with. He must trust the process too. If he is unable to, we may have issues down the road.

4. Who are people more excited for – Kravtsov or Filip Chytil? Maybe Ryan Lindgren or Joey Keane?

I would say fans are more excited for Filip Chytil. After spending a year with the Rangers, he’s back in Hartford. The question is for how long. After watching him play in the four games with the Pack, I have to say I am impressed. He is performing well above expectations. More than I expected from him honestly. He’s a man on a mission in every shift. He is playing as if he wants a call up immediately. I love what he brings to the table nightly. The effort, speed, skill, and everything else propels him to the next live in the AHL. When he was first in Hartford, he was solid, but not at this level of play.

For defensemen, I want to say people are more excited for Joey Keane. This is his first year in the professional levels. As a rookie, fans are curious to see how he handles the game on the AHL level. The prospect is off to a good start so far. He has struggled last weekend, but I expect him to bounce back.

5. The Rangers signed Brandon Crawley right out of his draft year, and now he’s in the ECHL to make room for Nick Ebert. Was Crawley that bad? What does he need to do to improve and get back to at least the AHL?

Brandon Crawley did not impress many fans or the management much in his tenure with Hartford. He had grit, but there was nothing special about his game. He was not doing a whole lot to stand out from the other defenseman. Last season with Hartford, he was a depth defenseman and was not getting looks for top line minutes. His potential ceiling seems rather low after seeing him play for a full two seasons.

As a result, he is low on the totem pole for defenseman in the organization. He reminds me of the former prospect Adam Tambellini. I do not expect Crawley to be re-signed unless he has big changes in his game. Now going back to the AHL is an extremely mountain for the prospect.

His overall game has to be better. He needs to play smarter, be more proactive, and be more than just a fighter essentially. He must standout to get the call up.

He can also get the call up if Hartford needs the extra body. Before he does, he must perform well in the ECHL. Be a part of the offensive opportunities. Be part of the defense, block shots, and give the away teams a hard time.

6. Who is your candidate for:
-Pack rookie of the year? Joey Keane
-Leading scorer? Vinni Lettieri
-Biggest surprise? Adam Huska
-Best defenseman? Vincent LoVerde
-First to get called up? Filip Chytil

These picks are based on the assumption that they will be in Hartford for majority of the year.

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  • The Kravtsov kid will make the adjustment. It reminds me of my first overseas assignment, how I reacted and felt. In a short period of time all was well, and so it will be for Kravs!!!!!!!!!!!! LGR…..

  • Awesome interview. Candid. Pulls no punches! Would love to see another interview with Ricky mid-term.

    Interesting take on Keane and Lindberg. I agree, and can see that with Huska – saw him one game in Hartford and the kid is just getting better and better. Excited for Chytl – they are impressed with him up in Hartford and hopefully we will get him back sooner than later – (and trade another contract in the process?).

    Kravs – not concerned. Waaaaay too much hype around here on him. Just needs adjustment to life, the game – once he puts his big boy pants on, shows effort, stands up for teammates, he’ll show dramatic improvement – he has good mentorship and coaching here, (plus Russia will not improve him – and he knows it).

  • It would help if Kravstov put out a small statement clarifying his intentions at this point. There were some things Igor said this summer, and he clarified them publicly and all has been well since. It would be smart for Kravstov to do the same and quiet all this down.

    I would think having Igor going through the same thing would help. And Chytil! He played a full season in NY and got sent down. It’s not like Kravstov was singled out or anything. He has more than enough teammates going through similar circumstances.

    He should put this whole thing to bed. It’s just going to grow and get worse for him. Unless, of course, he is going to leave…

  • Chrisqct – I am guessing Kraftsov is trying to figure out what he is going to do himself. I am sure he is a little lonely and stressed too. This is where the organization needs to do some hand-holding. To me, this is very much like sending a kid away to college. They want to go, until they get there. Then they hate their roommates, classes are too far, yada yada yada. Growing pains for a 19 y/o in a tough environment, who does not speak the language and had his hopes of playing in the NHL dampened.

  • First off, excellent excellent article. Thanks Dave – and thanks to Ricky.

    Re Kravtsov, I wonder if any thought has been given to him getting days off – at least at first – when the Pack play three games in three days. It is a tough grind for someone not used to anything like it.

    There should be a caveat on Pack rookie of the year – they haven’t seen Rykov yet. Not saying he will be better than Keane, just that we don’t know. Also, let’s hope he is wrong about LoVerde being best defenseman. Likely true now, but we certainly hope one or more prospects pass him during the season.

  • “The XL Center at one point was considered a tough place to play in. Fast forward to today; Hartford is considered an easy place to play.” boy does that feel familiar.

  • chrisqct said “It would help if Kravstov put out a small statement clarifying his intentions at this point. There were some things Igor said this summer, and he clarified them publicly and all has been well since. It would be smart for Kravstov to do the same and quiet all this down.”

    I don’t agree. It is so hard to say just the right thing (unless you insincerely say something written for you) and so easy to put your foot in your mouth.

    The present uncertainty means nothing really. If Kravs becomes the player we hope he will be, he will be revered and these growing pains will be forgotten. If he goes back to Russia for good, there will be animosity. Nothing that happens now will change things.

    He is going through a personal crisis (or optimistically has already gone through one) and we should just stand back and wish him well getting through to the other side. It is hard enough fighting through a crisis without having to worry about updating people about it.

  • Isn’t there a substantial difference in how much money Kravstov makes in the AHL vs. in the NHL? I’ve heard that it’s $70,000 per year vs. $925,000. That might be a big factor in his thinking, especially since he can go back to the KHL for a hefty salary, too.

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