GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Who are the main prospects to watch as the Rangers’ youngsters skate in the annual five-day Traverse City tournament in Michigan that opens Friday night with the Blueshirts playing the Chicago Blackhawks?
Swedish center Lias Andersson, the 18-year-old taken seventh overall by the Rangers in the NHL entry draft in June, is certainly near the top of the list. If Andersson plays well, he will come into training camp next week with an opportunity to grab a lower-line roster spot.
“Play some good hockey and win the tournament….I want to make the team. I want to stay here,” said a confident Andersson who arrived on Tuesday and practiced Thursday with his teammates before flying north. “I like the small ice [in North America], it’s a little faster game over here. In Sweden we don’t forecheck so hard all the time.”
On Thursday, Andersson centered Ryan Gropp and Ty Ronning, his projected linemates for the opener.
Gropp, 20, is 6-3 and 205 pounds, and will play in his third Traverse City tourney. “I want to show how much I’ve progressed defensively,” said Gropp, a 30-plus goal scorer for each of the last three seasons with the Seattle Thunderbirds. “I learned how hard you have to play without the puck.”
Ronning is far smaller (5-8), but he is quick and shifty. He was 2-3-5 in 12 games with Hartford last season.
Only six players from the last tournament are returning: Gropp, Ronning, Robin Kovacs, Malte Stromwall, Tim Gettinger and defenseman Sean Day.
Besides Day, there are four players of note who were paired on defense Thursday: College free agents Vince Pedrie (Penn State, five assists in nine games with Hartford) and Neal Pionk (a coveted free agent from Minnesota-Duluth) and Russians Alexei Bereglazov and Sergey Zborovskiy.
Hartford coach Keith McCambridge noted that Pedrie had a chance to get a taste of the AHL and was looking forward to seeing Kovacs and Stromwall’s progress.
The goalies are Alexander Georgiev (21, born in Moscow but played in Finland for TPS) and Chris Nell (22, who posted a .916 save percentage in 34 games for Bowling Green). One of them could end up in Hartford.
Czech Center Filip Chytil (groin), who also was drafted in the first round at No. 21, didn’t travel to Traverse City but skated fairly hard after practice and appears to be a possibility for camp. Chytil just turned 18. He was replaced on the Traverse roster by Nicolas Werbik, who played in the Under-18 program in Zlin with Chytil.
Tournament games are expected to be live streamed by foxsports.com. The Rangers face Carolina at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Detroit at 7 p.m. on Monday and a to-be-determined placement game on Tuesday.