Over the last week we have posted the first two parts of the great Q &A we had between Brian Ring and Bob Crawford from the Connecticut Whale. Check them out here and here. Bob and Brian discussed everything from the best players during their time with the CT organisation to the current crop of promising Rangers prospects. Today is the final part of the series. Enjoy the read, I know I enjoyed it.
Regarding Evgeny Grachev; has his development come on between his first and second years as a pro and how?
Bob: I think Grachev made real good progress last season. I think he’s a perfect example of that dominant Junior player who found that in the AHL his size, hands and shot would not by themselves let him control games. He did a much better job this past year of picking up the pace of his game, using his size to protect the puck and disciplining himself to bring a consistent effort every night. He’ll be a third-year pro next year, and as big as he is, I think he is still in the process of refining his strength from that of a teenager to that of a man. If he can make some big strides in that area, I think he’ll be a quality NHLer for sure.
Brian: I think he definitely has improved and his scoring totals reflect that, and his plus/minus showed a +34 shift from last year to this year, for whatever that’s really worth. This past year, he definitely adopted a more physical style at times and started to use his frame to drive the net. I think in that regard, he is pretty similar to Anisimov, as once Artie started to use his size his production really started to pick up. Grachev has great size and talent, and once he puts it all together every night he’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.
So many high scoring players in juniors come to the AHL and struggle offensively. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges for forwards making the jump?
Bob: I think, more than anything, it’s the speed of the game and the strength of the players. Guys find themselves with much less time to make a play, much less room, and up against stronger and smarter players, than they were used to in Junior or college. Some have another level to take it to, and adjust very quickly, some take a year or two, or several years, to figure out how to change their games and achieve success in the AHL, and some, unfortunately, never can make that adjustment, or never can find the will to do so.
Brian: I think it definitely boils down to size and speed. Not exactly ground-breaking analysis, but when you enter this league after playing against teenagers or guys that may not go pro, it can be tough when you run into grown men that have played several years of professional hockey. You aren’t going to have as much time to make a play, or as much space to operate in. Not to mention you probably aren’t playing with players you know or are comfortable with. So factor in all those things and you can understand why there could be an adjustment period.
What are the immediate Rangers chances of the young defensemen that didn’t make the big club last year?
Bob: Tomas Kundratek, to me, has the look of a young colt who is only just figuring out how good he can be. His skating, size and effort level have me thinking that he is not far away from pushing the NHL. Pavel Valentenko, if he makes similar strides to last year, will definitely be ready for a look, and it will be interesting to see if Blake Parlett can continue his upward trajectory.
Brian: I think Valentenko could probably step in right now if they needed him to. Yes, I am pretty high on “Tank”. Blake Parlett is probably not far away, I know he’s drawn some comps to Dan Girardi, which would be great. Tomas Kundratek I think is probably a little farther, but another year of development will be great for him, because he did make big strides this year. It will be interesting to see how Michael Del Zotto fits in this year as well, I guess that depends on what happens with New York’s roster and in camp.
Do you think the nucleus of these prospects that start in CT through 11/12 can provide CT with a playoff appearance – and why?
Bob: I definitely think the Whale can be a playoff team again, based on the organization’s overall skill level up front and a young group of D-men having another year of experience. Hopefully one of the goaltenders will take charge as a 50-60-game dependable backstop…if that happens, I really like how the team could look for the ’11-’12 season.
Brian: Definitely. It’s a skilled bunch and GM Jim Schoenfeld, along with coaches Ken Gernander, J.J. Daigneault and Pat Boller, have done a phenomenal job running this team. I’m very excited to see this years’ team, I think it’s going to be a great crop of prospects and they have as good a chance to make the playoffs and contend as any team does.
Again, a final thanks to Bob Crawford and Brian Ring of the Connecticut Whale for taking their time to provide their unique insight into the Whale and the Rangers prospects. Check back throughout season (and off season) for regular looks at the CT Whale and how the Rangers prospects are doing ‘down on the farm’! Make sure you follow Brian and the Whale on twitter at @brianring and @CTWhale!