With potential reinforcements on the way from a multitude of levels the Whale could look quite stacked come regular season’s end and entering the playoffs. The potential for the Whale to win their second Calder Cup is realistic with a bit of luck. Why? Look at the possible line up.
Amid fresh rumours of Sean Avery having another chance at the NHL level the fact remains he’s still a Whale player and according to Glen Sather that won’t change soon. Sean Avery is still an NHL player in terms of ability so over the course of his stay with the Whale it’s fair to expect results.
With his fresh ‘demotion’, one has to assume Erik Christensen can make a solid impact in his conditioning assignment with the Whale and that should help them really strengthen themselves during the regular season. Like Avery, Christensen is an NHL player playing a level below, again one would expect solid results at the AHL level.
Then you have the numbers game that is playing out on the New York defense. While the demoted player may not make it down because of waivers, there is a good chance that the Whale will get one of Stu Bickel, Steve Eminger or Jeff Woywitka to use at some point this season. If (when) Mike Sauer gets healthy the Rangers won’t leave multiple defensemen wasting away in the press box and conditioning stints or demotions become a real possibility. Right now, any of these three – who have all made solid contributions at the NHL level this year – would improve the Whale.
There’s more to come. Looking at the Rangers prospects playing in junior there remains a chance the Whale get reinforcements through this route too. Christian Thomas has improved as the year has progressed (37 points in 29 games) but his Oshawa Generals are outside the playoffs right now and stuck in neutral. A much anticipated prospect, Thomas may find himself with the Whale earlier than he may have hoped this season.
Another junior candidate that could help the Whale and taste pro hockey this year is Shane McColgan whose Kelowna team are close to the playoff cut off line. While they are ‘in’ right now, other teams have games in hand and with a losing record, there’s no guarantee the Rockets can string together enough good performances to stay in the playoff spots.
Perhaps a positive sign for the way Rangers prospect development is trending in recent times is how so many players are currently playing on strong clubs. Mike St Croix, Dylan McIlrath, JT Miller and the Peterborough Petes’ Andrew Yogan and Peter Ceresnak are all battling for top spots in their respective leagues’ conferences. These players, like Chris Kreider with Boston College are unlikely to see time in the AHL because it’s likely some, if not all, could have deep playoff runs at their respective levels.
Meanwhile, the Whale may soon get a player back who is both a former Ranger as well as Ranger hopeful. Chad Kolarik is slowly working his way back to full health and could be a factor this season. Last year, through strong play in Connecticut Kolarik forced his way in to four games for the Rangers (one assist). Should the Whale be able to call on him and the aforementioned list of talented young players, they would have a very deep and talented squad to ice. There’s even still a slight chance of Wojtek Wolski making his way to the Whale at some point too. Not often an AHL club gets to ice a former 60 point NHL player.
It’s early to tell what the Whale will look like come playoff time and with the NHL trade deadline still approaching there’s certainly a lot of moving parts to consider but with a team consisting of established AHL’ers such as Kris Newbury, Mats Zuccarello, Pavel Valentenko and fast developing Jonathan Audy-Marchessault not to mention players such as Brendan Bell, Tim Erixon, Wade Redden and Chad Johnson, adding any combination of the aforementioned prospects and NHL pros makes this a promising campaign the tier below New York. Two Cups in one year? Why not.