GREENBURGH, NY – None of it was especially pretty – not the two fistfights in the first 13 minutes, which sprayed blood all over the ice (twice), or the 6-3 loss to the Flyers in the first game of Rangers’ prospect development camp. But after days of jostling amongst themselves and waiting to prove their mettle, Saturday’s game was a welcome change, and one that provided some tantalizing glimpses of the Rangers’ future.
Mostly, that came in the form of their first line – Lauri Pajuniemi, Morgan Barron, Will Cuylle – who were responsible for two of Rangers goals, and ate up ice time in a game where bodies were at a premium. After going down 3-0 in the first period, Barron’s wrister with 16:49 left in the second got the Rangers on the board, while Pajuniemi’s shot midway through the period tied it before the Flyers rattled off the next three, including an empty-netter at the end of the game.
"I feel like we had a really competitive group," said Barron, who’s one of the few players at this year’s camp with an outside shot at making the roster. "It’s been competitive all week in practice and then the matchup (against) some of the guys, it was fun, and I felt good compared to them. I’m excited to keep rolling tomorrow and then into main camp."
"We were just excited to hit guys that weren’t on our own team so that was a nice treat for us. It’s as close to a game as you’re going to get this time in the summer."
And hit them they did. After what’s already been a chippy camp, these Rangers were eager to direct some of that energy on an enemy opponent. Seconds into the game, Justin Richards and the Flyers’ Cooper Zech dropped the gloves, with Matt Rempe mixing it up with a few Flyers alongside them. Richards left the game with a lower-body injury. Then, Rempe and Wade Allison went after each other – a bloody skirmish that eventually led to a Flyers' man-up goal. Three of the Flyers’ goals were scored on the power play.
"It was a little bit different than I thought," said Pajuniemi, who’s spent the last four seasons in Liiga, Finland’s hockey league. "The first 15 seconds, there were two guys laying on the ground. (A lot) of battling."
In all, it was probably good practice for these players fighting for a spot. Pajuniemi, a right winger, doesn’t have a clear shot at the Rangers roster, but a spot in Hartford seems like a good bet. His shot, which he displayed to good effect Saturday, is his greatest weapon, and though he’ll have to acclimate to the speed of American professional hockey, his ice vision and ability to capitalize on opportunities have made him stand out.
"We played with three lines almost the whole game, so in the end, it was a little bit tough because it’s the first game," he said. "It’s always tough in the first game to get your feet moving, but I thought it was OK."
As for Barron, the 6-4, 220-pound center/left-winger has certainly impressed but a clogged depth chart makes his path a difficult one. Still, he played in five games with the Rangers last year and the experience has clearly given him an advantage.
"There’s a wide range of skillsets out there," he said. "You look at the young guys who have just been drafted who are super skilled and some guys like me who have some games under their belt, a little bit older and stronger. I definitely tried to play into that tonight and I know I’ll continue to do that, even in main camp and hopefully into some exhibition games and into the season. I think it’s a good skill that I have that I can use in my game."