Things I've Learned, So Far


Written on 9/18/2010 by Jim Cerny

It's been only two days---and keep in mind that not one puck has even been tossed onto the ice yet as the team has focused on conditioning tests instead of actual hockey---but here are a few random observations from the start of Rangers training camp:

Torts is Intrigued with Derek Stepan:
The 20 year-old center was "the best player I saw" at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament last week, according to Rangers coach John Tortorella. And the former University of Wisconsin star has done nothing but impress, so far, in his first NHL training camp, excelling during the conditioning tests and striking an extremely confident---yet not cocky nor arrogant---demeanor. Now Torts has tabbed Stepan to center star wings Marian Gaborik and Alexander Frolov during the camp's first scrimmage on Sunday. Clearly a case of "Let's see what the kid's got". It will make for some interesting decision making for the Rangers if Stepan shows over the next two weeks that he is capable of skipping the minors and heading straight to Broadway. "I only focus on what I can control, play my game. It's great to hear those things (from Tortorella), but in the end you have to still compete to the best of your abilities every day," Stepan told me. His maturity is way ahead of his years. Keep an eye on this kid.

Boyle and Gilroy Got the Message
Center Brian Boyle and defenseman Matt Gilroy had to know that Tortorella was less than thrilled with their play by the conclusion of the 2009-10 season. Boyle, an effective penalty killer, had become of less and less use to the head coach as his four-goal, six-point season was not where Tortorella envisioned his numbers to be. But at least Boyle remained in the lineup as the fourth-line center, except when sidelined by a late-season back injury. Gilroy, the rookie former Hobey Baker Award winner, lost his coach's trust and was a healthy scratch the final eight games of a season in which he tallied 4 goals and 15 points, and struggled in his own end. "I learned that I never want to be in that position again, sitting and watching," said Gilroy. It's obvious that both Boyle and Gilroy worked extremely hard this summer to improve their lot and standing with Tortorella. Boyle has worked extensively with Barbara Underhill, the noted power-skating coach and former Canadian Olympian, and the difference in his skating---and confidence---is quite evident. He looked terrific during the testing, and really stood out in the informal scrimmages the players put together prior to the start of camp. Gilroy also is in terrific shape and his skating---the strength of his game---has been noticeably better than most in camp. These two clearly understand that their jobs are on the line. And, so far, they have answered the bell. Now let's see how they stack up when the scrimmages and pre-season games start up.

Redden's Clean Slate
Tortorella sent the players a letter this summer stating that everyone has a "clean slate" entering this season, no matter their prior track record. If any player needs to wipe the slate clean with Torts it's veteran defenseman Wade Redden. With his sub-par play and salary cap-killing contract, it has been widely speculated that Redden may be sent to Hartford so that his salary comes off the cap. To his credit, Redden---an extremely decent and respectful person caught in an unenviable situation---was a regular at the pre-camp workouts and his conditioning looks solid. Now will he really receive a fair shake during camp? "That's another challenge trying to leave (his posisble demotion) to the side," explained Redden on Friday. "There's nothing that can be done about that. It doesn't help to dwell on those things. They're going to make the best decision they feel is right for the team, and I want it to be with me in the first lineup of the year."

Biron Is Still Talking
No matter when you read this entry, there's a good chance that Marty Biron is still talking. To someone. Anyone. Somewhere. Anywhere. One of the most personable players in the entire NHL, Biron just loves to talk, and laugh, and tell stories. "He almost couldn't breathe he was so out of breath, but yet he was still talking, telling us stories," laughed Chad Johnson, the Rangers No. 3 goalie on the depth chart behind Henrik Lundqvist and Biron, recounting how Marty chatted up his fellow goalies after their brutal 3-lap sprint test Friday afternoon. "He is such a great guy." His locker will be a destination for me all season long, no question about that. Andrew Gross of The Bergen Record said the other day that the annual Good Guy Award should be handed to Biron already. There's no reason to seek out other candidates throughout the season. Amen!

Dylan McIlrath is a Man-Child
The Rangers top pick in the 2010 draft did not look like such a great skater during the club's mini camp for prospects back in July. Gordie Clark, the Rangers Director of Player Personnel, explained that McIlrath had been off skates for weeks, so cut him some slack. Gordie was right. McIlrath has shown a much more fluid skating style so far in this training camp, and he is clearly in outstanding physical condition. He crushed Saturday's sprint tests. As others around him gasped for breath or dropped to their knees from fatigue, it appeared that McIlrath's chest was barely heaving. "Piece of cake," said McIlrath. Ahhh, to be 18 years old! Now let's see how he looks with Gaborik skating full speed at him!! As an aside, prospects Ethan Werek and Tomas Kundratek also absolutely crushed the conditioning tests. Werek was a beast with his intense approach. "I don't know how to pace myself," explained Werek. Sounds like Torts' kind of guy.

Time now for drills, practices, scrimmages, and pre-season games. And some big-time decisions for the coaching staff.

"Now it's time to do what we came here for," said defenseman Marc Staal (photo above).

Follow Me on Twitter at: @jimcerny and @thenyrangers

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