It has been several weeks since our last check-in on the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, and back then it looked like the Wolf Pack were set to miss out on the AHL playoffs yet again. In the weeks since, the word “duality” describes the Wolf Pack playoff push, putting together both a four-game win streak and a four-game losing streak.
Wolf Pack playoff push stumbled, but they are still in it
Despite this continued inconsistency, the Pack only sit a point out of a playoff spot after earning a win over the Bridgeport Islanders in the Battle of Connecticut. The Islanders are the direct competition in the Wolf Pack playoff push. Both teams have 11 games remaining in the season, and they are slated to play each other twice more. Those two games will be playoff-like for the Pack, as surely the winner of the two-game series will be the team that punches their ticket to the playoffs.
Will Cuylle continues to lead the team in scoring, albeit not by points per game, with 37 points in 58 games. Cuylle’s 21 goals lead the team by four, and he has regularly posted three shots per game. Captain Jonny Brodzinski is clearly the most important player to the Wolf Pack playoff push though. Brodzinski had been forced to split some of his time between the NHL and AHL due to the Rangers’ pursuit of Kane. The Wolf Pack playoff push gets a boost with him back, having won 7 of their last 10 games with him in the lineup. He has contributed points in all but one of those wins (13 points in 7 games).
Lauri Pajuniemi is another whose production has picked up in the second half of the season. The sharp-shooting Finn was struggling to replicate his production from last season, but 10 points in his last 11 games helped him surpass last season’s production, and he is currently pacing for 20 goals.
Will Lockwood throws a puck on net and it goes off Joseph Woll's blocker/glove, off his back, and then into the net. An unlucky goal against.#Marlies down 1-0 to Hartford in the second period. pic.twitter.com/UsyLL4hWzq
— Nick Barden (@nickbarden) March 11, 2023
Finally, trade acquisition Will Lockwood has fit in nicely and has helped the Wolf Pack playoff push, posting 4 points in 6 games since joining the team. His lone goal was a pretty lucky shot from the side boards that should have been saved, but his three-assist performance against Bridgeport in a 7-5 win could help the Wolf Pack playoff push, propelling them past the Islanders when the season comes to an end.
The Kravtsov saga comes to an end
Vitali Kravtsov’s days with the Rangers are over, bringing in Lockwood as the return. Let’s be fair, the return for a top 10 pick stinks, there is no way to get around that. Kravtsov hasn’t exactly lit it up in this new setting either – he has actually played less for the Canucks than he did for the Rangers, and he only has one point in nine games. The B-word probably does apply to Kravstov if he can’t cut it in Vancouver, and next time the Rangers rebuild they need to do a legitimate evaluation of their scouting, high-pick draft strategy, and development processes for those picks.
— Lachlan Irvine (@LachInTheCrease) November 16, 2022
Lockwood, however, does have some potential to make an impact on the Rangers next year or in the near future as a fourth-liner. Lockwood does not have the skill or playmaking ability to be a scoring threat, but if you want a north-south forward that will punish opponents on the forecheck, Lockwood is your guy. Is he a guaranteed NHLer? No, but it is not hard to see how he could get there and play a valuable fourth-line role.
Brett Berard Signs
Late Edit: The Wolfpack will add some firepower to their attack with the signing of 2020 5th-round pick Brett Berard. The signing brings an end to a successful college career at Providence College for Berard, who finished second on the team in scoring behind Parker Ford. Berard is still only 20 years old and will turn 21 in his D+4 season next September. He will likely need a year or two in Hartford before moving up to the NHL, but he is a promising prospect with 3rd line upside.
2023 Draft Prospect of the Week
Oliver Moore, LHC, USNTDP U-18s (USHL)
Oliver Moore is almost universally regarded as the prospect with enormous upside that might end up going in the teens in the first round. He is the NTDP’s number-two center behind Will Smith and has been playing on a line with fellow Gophers commit and U17 call-up Cole Eiserman, who will be a top 3 pick in the 2024 draft which stars Macklin Celebrini, and James Hagens, another U17 call-up who might be the NTDP’s best prospect since Jack Hughes.
— Ryan Sikes (@ryan_sikes10) March 4, 2023
It is a relatively popular take that Moore would be ranked ahead of Smith if he played with Perreault and Leonard – all of Smith, Perreault, & Leonard will attend BC next season and will be 1st round picks. I am not sure that I am there, which is not a slight against Moore, but Smith is just such a projectable player due to his diverse skill set that I think he has clearly earned that status ahead of Moore. But Moore has a weapon in his toolkit that no other skater in this draft can match, and that is his skating ability.
— Douglas Larson (@DL_Scouting) November 10, 2022
Moore is not just fast though, he can regularly stick handle through the triangle and he knows how to use his edges and body to create space and beat defenders. He will be a player to watch at the upcoming U18 WJC, where Team USA will be the overwhelming favorite to win with a loaded top six. Moore was ranked 11th in McKenzie’s most recent rankings, so it would not be shocking to see him enter the top 10 in his final ranking.