The New York Rangers let a lot of players at the AHL level with expiring contracts walk, meaning they had plenty of spots to fill. They largely did so yesterday, signing as many as six players who could potentially start the season with the Hartford Wolf Pack. Here is a quick rundown on those players.
Cedrick Desjardins – A 28-year-old with six career NHL games and a whole wealth of experience at the AHL level. Some of his awards in the AHL over the years include, “Best Goals Against Average” and being named to the “Second All-Star Team” in 2010 as well as “Best Save Percentage” in 2012. As things stand right now, he’ll slot in as the Wolf Pack’s starting goaltender and will be the Rangers’ third-string goaltender.
Steve Kampfer – A 25-year-old with seven goals and 15 points in 61 career NHL games with both the Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild. Last season, he had a solid 26 points in 69 games with the Iowa Wild of the AHL. His resumé makes him a theoretical call-up option and perhaps even in the discussion for 7th defensemen on the Rangers’ roster.
Matt Hunwick – A 29-year-old with 67 points in 212 NHL games. Last employed by the Avalanche, he is an offensive-minded defenseman. Last season, he had 10 goals and 31 points in 52 AHL games and also should be in the competition for the 7th defenseman spot.
Mike Kostka – Spoke about him here. Another puck mover who played 19 NHL games with the Lightning last year and put up decent results. He’s probably the favorite to win the Rangers 7th defenseman spot but also could start the season with the Wolf Pack.
Chris Mueller – A 28-year-old center who has two goals and eight points in 46 games for the Predators and Stars. Mueller was an AHL All-Star for the 2011-2012 season and scored 25 goals with 32 assists last season; a season in which he helped the Texas Stars win the AHL’s Calder Cup.
Chris Bourque – The brother of Rangers’ prospect Ryan Bourque (and thus, son of Ray Bourque), Chris played in Switzerland last season. He’s scored 142 goals and totals 433 points in 437 career AHL games; virtually a PPG pace.
A cynical person could say, “who cares?” Obviously the Rangers have some holes to fill at the NHL level, but that’s besides the point here. The Rangers will get to that. These signings are very important for multiple reasons, however. For one, we saw how vulnerable the Rangers were defensively last season. Justin Falk was clearly not what the Rangers were hoping for, and even with him in they were forced to call up Dylan McIlrath and Connor Allen prematurely. Though the Rangers still might not be done yet, for now they have three different guys with recent NHL experience and who could likely step in and do a serviceable job should a temporary call-up be necessary and should neither of McIlrath or Allen be ready. In goal, the Rangers were so thin that they were forced to sign David LeNeveu to an NHL contract hours before a game just so they could have someone sit on the bench while Lundqvist was ill. Now they have someone decent enough under contract.
The biggest impact is at the AHL level, though. Hartford has been pretty mediocre the last two seasons, missing the playoffs in each. Obviously, winning and maybe a deep playoff run can only be beneficial to the prospects, so adding some really good AHL players helps that cause.
On a more individual level, though, it should really help development on a game-by-game basis. The Wolf Pack had poor output from their veterans last season. Aaron Johnson was very underwhelming defensively. Arron Asham was a healthy scratch half the time and totaled only five points in 25 games. Darrol Powe and Micheal Haley had 24 points and 18 points respectively. Goaltender was an absolute disaster after Talbot’s call-up. The improved goaltending means the Wolf Pack won’t be playing with a handicap every game like they were last season. The influx of quality AHL defensemen means that Connor Allen, Mat Bodie, and Dylan McIlrath will both be paired with good players. Offensive studs like Mueller and Bourque won’t be anchors for Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Danny Kristo, and Marek Hrivik (should any of them be in the AHL) but instead will give them experienced, talented linemates to feed off of and learn from. We saw what playing on John Mitchell’s wing in Hartford did for Carl Hagelin’s development in 2011. Even if none of these players have an impact at the NHL level, they’re massive upgrades over what was in Hartford last season and should help improve the games of some of the Rangers’ most important prospects.
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