Following up on the story last week that Mats Zuccarello is indeed headed for the KHL, the diminutive winger tweeted today that he is indeed done with the organization:
Nyr fans!! its been amazing playing in front of u guys! Thanks! . Im gonna miss u! Ur the best! Thanks rangers 4 2 good years.
This is the end of what had to be a rough road for Zuccarello, who was never really able to crack the Rangers roster full time. In 52 total games with the organization, Zuccarello finished with a line of 8-18-26, good for a pace of 41 points per year. Some of his goals are memorable, such as his overtime winner against Carolina, but in the end he was a fringe player for this organization.
The topic of Zuccarello is a hot one for Ranger fans, as many believed he could provide some much needed scoring to the lineup. The problem was that he is the type of player that needs top six minutes to produce effectively, and he was not going to get that within the organization. He was not a fit for the bottom six, as his defensive zone work needed a lot of help. He was just a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.
Via Szymon Szemberg, winger Mats Zuccarello has signed a two-year deal with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL. The 24-year-old would have been a restricted free agent this summer. Zuccarello ends his brief Rangers career with an 8-18-26 line in 52 games while posting a 25-40-65 line in 73 AHL games. A broken wrist sidelined him for the end of the regular season and postseason, which was unfortunate because the blueshirts really could have used his speed and offensive skill in all three rounds.
***Update: This is now being denied by MZA’s agent.
Before people go crazy with this rumor, people have to realize that MZA is a restricted free agent, therefore Glen can’t work something out with him until after the draft. It would be a pretty dumb move on MZA’s part to defect to the KHL without waiting for an offer from the Rangers. You can’t have the KHL and the Rangers negotiate against each other if one party isn’t even allowed to negotiate yet.
Today marks the beginning of the 2012 World Junior Championship Tournament, taking place in Edmonton. The Rangers have a big history in this tournament, as current players/prospects Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Ryan Bourque, and many others have participated in this tournament. The Stepan-Kreider-Bourque led squad won gold in 2010.
This year, the Rangers only have two prospects playing in the tournament: JT Miller (1st round – 2011) on Team USA, Peter Ceresnak (6th round – 2011) on Slovakia, . It is assumed that Jesper Fasth would have played in this year’s tournament for Sweden if not for his current injury.
For those in the US, the NHL Network will be covering the tournament this year. In Canada, TSN will be covering the tournament. You can check out the full schedule here.
What can the Rangers fans expect from recently acquired Oscar Lindberg this coming season? Immediately the young Swedish pivot is going to have to show the Rangers a glimpse into his talent as a lot of Rangers fans were excited about Ethan Werek and subsequently disappointed when he was moved out for the Swede. Clearly, Werek didn’t impress the Rangers management and a trade with frequent trading partner the Phoenix Coyotes resulted in Lindberg becoming Rangers property.
A long summer since the trade has perhaps pushed Lindberg to the back of the minds of many a fan but given that he will almost certainly be playing another season of pro hockey in the SEL, Lindberg’s season begins sooner than the Rangers’. The SEL is due to kick off again in under a month and Lindberg will be hoping to make an impact as he looks to make a future in the NHL. Lindberg is under pressure and not just to show he was worth moving Werek for but because the Rangers are now stacked at center and Lindberg will have to show quite a lot to make an NHL roster spot a legitimate goal in the short term.
Drafted 57th overall in 2010, Lindberg can play both left wing and center so it’s not all panic for the Swede should he not see an immediate future at center in the Rangers system. Indeed, given the expiring contracts in New York next season it may play into Lindberg’s hands if he plays a lot of left wing this year with his club, Skellefteå. There’s a chance that the young Swede may share a line with another talented youngster, Oscar Moller. The LA Kings property has returned to Sweden after failing to crack a deep Kings line up full time and potentially the two young forwards could help each other this season.
Known more as a defensive, two-way forward Lindberg may benefit offensively if he has line mates such as Moller. A productive season offensively with Skellefteå will certainly push Lindberg into focus even though he is based in Europe. With the SEL season starting September 13th, we’ll be keeping tabs on how the Rangers prospect does over the season.
Looks like the Gordie Clark and company knew what they were doing when they drafted J.T. Miller 15th overall this past June. Miller made the
US Junior Team Eval Camp after a few days of tryouts. He will likely be playing with tryout linemate Rocco Grimaldi, as they showed terrific chemistry throughout the tryouts, scrimmages, and exhibitions. The other player on that line, 5th round draft pick Shane McColgan, was cut from the team. McColgan, like Miller and Grimaldi, had a strong tryout, but it was not enough to crack the very talented US roster.
The US forwards include first round picks Miller (2011), Austin Watson (2010), Emerson Etem (2010), Charlie Coyle (2010), and Nick Bjugstad (2010).
The KHL keeps signing NHL players and not just Russian players that fail to make the grade in North America. Over the past week – and indeed over this offseason – we have seen plenty of players make the switch to the KHL. The latest players to make the move were former cup winning defenseman Brent Sopel and Russian Ex-Ranger Alexei Kovalev. While it is clear that these two players were no longer in the prime of their careers, both players could have found NHL employment for this coming season. Despite a bad year, Kovalev still came close to 20 goals and no doubt could have helped a talent-less team.
As the KHL tries to retain their own talented players such as Alex Radulov (as well as recruit several NHL based players), it cannot be doubted that the overall talent level and depth has improved tremendously since the KHL formed in 2008. The league benefits from players that could still perform in the NHL. From Radulov – a legitimate star in either league – to record KHL playoff scorer Josef Vasicek, Pavol Demitra, Aleksey Morozov, Viktor Kozlov and others such as Denis Grebeshkov, Maxim Afinigenov or even Alexei Yashin. There are plenty of quality players in the KHL that could still play in the NHL. This isn’t including players such as Sergei Zubov or Sergei Fedorov – quality hockey players who had been winding down their careers in Europe. (Zubov is inactive)
The KHL is still a long way behind the NHL in both quality and quantity, but given it’s inception was only 3 years ago, the quality has come on very quickly. Where will it be in 5 years from now? The biggest thing that seems to threaten to hold the KHL back as a legitimate threat to the NHL is league stability. Given that the league could not stop (or didn’t want to stop?) traditional powerhouses such as Dynamo from having to merge with lesser clubs to exist, the league doesn’t benefit from a stable foundation. Some clubs cannot pay the players on time while other oil rich clubs seem to benefit from cash rich owners. There truly is no level playing field in the KHL.
We have seen plenty of players go to the KHL to resurrect their NHL careers (or find a way back) in recent times, such as Ray Emery or even Jaromir Jagr. This may be one angle that the KHL uses to recruit and improve their own quality in the short to medium term. Former Rangers like recent KHL recruits Nik Zherdev, Nigel Dawes or Petr Prucha may hope a solid year or two in the KHL will mean an offer or two from NHL clubs looking for depth. Zherdev in particular is blessed with elite skill regardless of which league he is in.
While he was an unheralded player in the NHL, when Antti Miettinen moved to Kazan this summer it may have been the start of legitimate NHL players making the move to Russia despite having a solid NHL career that was still in progress. Miettinen (only 31) was a consistent two way player, 30-40 point forward in the NHL who regularly flirted with 20 goal seasons on defensive clubs. Given the paucity of quality free agents this summer it may have been a surprise that the Finn chose Russia ahead of NHL teams.
Is a player like Miettinen the start of a trend and is the KHL’s improving quality reason for concern? If there’s an NHL hold out on the horizon you can bet the KHL will be looking to take advantage. Despite the (apparent) improving relationship between the NHL and the KHL, evidenced by the recent signed memorandum of understanding, the KHL would certainly look to entice any out of work NHL stars to Russia if there is indeed a lock out. This time around, there may not be short-term KHL deals with NHL out-clauses if the KHL continues to improve. Which is another thing for the NHL to consider when they discuss the next CBA.
It seems the Rangers are trying to play a bigger European tour than any major rock band. Today it was announced by the league that the Rangers would play on October 2nd in Slovakia, against Bratislava based side HC Slovan.
It’s fair to say that the Rangers will be busy during their trip over to Europe. They play the following pre season games:
- Sept. 29 – HC Sparta Prague at TESLA Arena in Prague, Czech Republic
- Sept. 30 – Frolunda Indians at the Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden
- Oct. 2 – HC Slovan at SLOVNAFT Arena in Bratislava
- Oct. 3 – EV Zug at Bossard Arena in Zug, Switzerland
After cramming in four games in four different countries, the Blueshirts head to Stockholm, Sweden to take on the LA Kings and the Anaheim Ducks in their regular season openers on October 7th and 8th. Yours truly will be there (good times assured!).
How many Swedes will make the Rangers starting roster for the regular season openers? Only one is guaranteed thanks to Swedish national hero Henrik Lundqvist but Tim Erixon and Carl Hagelin both have legitimate chances while it’s too early to rule out a prospect such as Oscar Lindberg. In addition to the Swedish contingent is the potential return of former SEL star Mats Zuccarello. If 4 of these guys make the roster there’s no doubting which team will garner the most support in Stockholm.
From an outsider’s perspective (aka non-hockey fan), one might assume that this sport is made up of Russian players whose names no one can pronounce with accents no one can understand. While this thought might be easy to assume since names like Ovechkin, Malkin, and Kovalchuk dominant the airwaves, a simple look at team rosters over the last 10 years and you’ll learn that a different trend is taking place.
Simply put, over the last decade there are less and less Russians playing in the NHL every year. For instance, during the 2000-01 season, there were a total of 87 Russian players in the NHL. In 2005-06, that number was down to 40. In 2010, only 23 full-time Russian players suited up for an NHL team.
Some believe that the difference in style of play has kept many young Russians from making the move, arguing that bigger rinks and more finesse systems played in Europe are just too different from the North American emphasis on defense and physicality.
While I agree that these differences, along with the language barrier, may slow a player’s initial development, I don’t believe they’re contributing to this overall decline – such dissimilarities have existed for decades.
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In the aftermath of the Ethan Werek trade and with the NHL playoffs still going on, there is still some newsworthy game action concerning some Rangers players at the World Championships in Slovakia.
Despite a disappointing tournament as host nation Slovakia beat Denmark 4-1 in the early Monday game, their last game of the tournament. Too good for the relegation rounds and not good enough to get to the quarter finals, it was indeed a tournament to forget for a Slovakia team with many NHL stars, including Marian Gaborik. Indeed, Gaborik’s tournament was much like his season for the Rangers. Some success, but not what was perhaps expected. Gaborik collected a primary power play assist on a Marian Hossa goal today, took 5 shots and played a shade under 15 minutes.For the tournament overall, Gaborik had 2 goals and an assist in 6 games (underwhelming?), took 32 shots overall and averaged over 18 minutes per game. He finished -2 for the tournament. One can only hope Gaborik has a good off season and comes back fresh and ready to bounce back from a poor year personally.
The Rangers were also well represented by team USA today, who played against Switzerland in their last ‘qualification’ game before the quarter finals. Derek Stepan (having a great tournament), Ryan McDonagh and Chris Kreider have all played their part in this tournament for the young American team. Unfortunately, the US was upset 5-3 by a hungrier Swiss team who were playing only for pride. Derek Stepan got a secondary assist on the last US goal to continue his highly productive tournament. Stepan grabbed his 7th point in his 6th game with his assist. Ryan McDonagh and Chris Kreider were held off the scoreboard in the game as Kreider remains with 3 points in 6 games thus far and McDonagh has a single assist in the tournament. The US team will play the Czech Republic next, either on Wednesday or Thursday. The Czechs have been arguably the best team in the tournament thus far so it’s not an easy game for the US.
In old news, John Tortorella will be back as coach of the Rangers for at least another three years, according to Larry Brooks. Tortorella definitely earned his extension, as he led an injury-plagued Rangers team that lacked any significant talent (save for Marian Gaborik) to the playoffs. The team exceeded all expectations this year, and although they were bounced from the playoffs in the first round, the Rangers showed fans that the best is yet to come. It’s been a while since Ranger fans have been able to say the future is bright. The players with the bright future have all bought into Tortorella’s system and coaching style, so keeping him around was a no-brainer.
The beat writers have been doing a great job at updating us on the break-up day notes, including who will be attending the World Championships, and who has been talkative abouut their contract status. First, regarding the Worlds, Vinny Prospal (Czech Republic) and Brandon Dubinsky (USA) are definitely out. Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh (USA) are likely in. Artem Anisimov (Russia) is in. Marian Gaborik (Slovakia) is also in. Henrik Lundqvist (Sweden) is still deciding.
As for contracts, the only player that has been relatively candid about his status is Brian Boyle who “expects to re-sign quickly”. Prospal wants to be back, but health will dictate if he will. The other pending RFAs and UFAs have been relatively mum on the subject.