GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The door is open. Prospects Evgeny Grachev, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh have a chance to step in. Scrimmages start today for 28 youngsters at the Rangers annual prospects camp and coach John Tortorella insists that adding more fresh faces to a core of youngsters is a priority. Those three, who skated in conditioning drills yesterday, as well as Dale Weise, a rugged forward who played in Hartford last season, will get long looks before October.
To be sure, the Rangers, who missed the playoffs last season for the first time since the lockout, will acquire a veteran to back up goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who appeared in 73 games plus the Olympics last season, but otherwise, Tortorella prefers rookies over graybeards.
“We need some help right up the middle on our backline and center ice,” said Tortorella. “It doesn’t have to be a 35-year-old veteran, it could be a kid, but you have to live with the bumps. I’m anxious to see Stepan (a center) play and see what he does, and McDonagh (a defenseman). As far as where our philosophy’s going….we want to add with our youth and not a veteran guy at the end of his career.” That doesn’t seem to bode well for Vinny Prospal, 34, an unrestricted free agent, who scored 20 goals and 58 points last season.
During the draft in Los Angeles and the week leading in, Tortorella said, “a lot of teams were asking about our kids. There were deals to be made there, they wanted our kids; we stayed steady, we need to continue doing that. It’s not like we want to be in last place, but when you have kids in lineup---and I think we need to have more----there’s gonna be some bumps in the road.”
After being the last cut in training camp last fall, Grachev, a 6-4, 220-pound forward, struggled to adjust in Hartford in his first year as a pro. But the 20-year-old will have a shot. “We’re very high on him, but potential is one thing,” said Tortorella. “He needs to show it and he’ll certainly get the opportunity if he shows it. He’s a young kid that we want part of our team. We’re hoping that he makes that jump.” Grachev has been working out in Russia, and will return there in August.
Insiders say the front office also would love to see Stepan, 20, who has agreed to a three-year entry level deal after scoring 12 goals and 54 points in his second year at the University of Wisconsin, make the team. Stepan led all scorers in the World Junior Championshps and captained the gold-medalist U.S. team.
McDonagh, a former-first round pick acquired in the Scott Gomez trade to Montreal last summer, seems NHL-ready physically, but has not yet decided whether to forego his senior year with the Badgers. “It’d be my team and I could lead by example,” McDonagh said. “And at Wisconsin, there’s always the chance to get back to the next championship game.” This week, he said, would play a big part in his decision. Both McDonagh and punishing defenseman Dylan McIlrath, last weekend’s first-round selection who will skate tomorrow, presumably would fill another need that Tortorella identified.
“It’s not about the fighting,” he said. “Just more of our presence around the blue (the crease), to protect our goalies a little bit better, and really at that position, just to have a little more jam.”