Before Friday’s draft it’s a good idea to take stock of what the Rangers already have in the system. If New York follows suit, then the Blueshirts will pick the best player available regardless of position. However, it’s worth evaluating where the team’s strengths lie, starting with a status update for the organization’s forwards.
J.A.M. burst onto the scene in 2011-2012 with a surprisingly strong showing at the Traverse City Tournament in September and he was only just getting started. Ryan Bourque’s old teammate with the QMJHL’s Quebec Ramparts earned a one-year contract with the Whale and made the most of the opportunity. He battled for the team points lead all season and finished with 64 (24 goals, 40 assists), tied for the team lead and good for third among AHL rookies. Audy-Marchessault still faces an uphill climb to the NHL thanks to his (listed) 5-foot-9, 175-pound frame, but he is much closer to achieving his dream than he was a year ago. The bad news is that J.A.M. may not even be Rangers’ property come July; the 21-year-old is an unrestricted free agent and may prefer to sign with a club that could better use his services. It’s hard to see exactly where Audy-Marchessault fits in the prospect depth chart and he’d likely garner several other offers following his banner year. GM Glen Sather will surely offer J.A.M. a contract, but the rest is up to him.
Bourque was one of the last cuts at training camp but disappeared for the first chunk of the season with Connecticut after suffering a concussion in his third game. He drew little attention the rest of the way because of his irrelevant offensive production (six goals and eight assists in 69 games), but suddenly Bourque was in the spotlight again as the Whale began its playoff run. Bourque was one player that noticeably raised his game in the postseason and even contributed a bit more offensively with two goals and an assist in nine postseason games. It’s tough to imagine Bourque being much of a scorer at the NHL level, but he has a very well-rounded game, is a terrific skater and is a major pest on the forecheck, qualities that could endear him to the Rangers’ coaching staff sooner than some of the organization’s more touted prospects. Bourque’s confidence is surely higher after a strong late season push and since he was one of the last cuts last year, it stands to reason that he could push very hard for a bottom-six role in New York next year.
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The signing parade continues. This time around, Oscar Lindberg has agreed to terms with the Rangers on an entry level contract. Lindberg was acquired by the Rangers in May of last year in exchange for prospect Ethan Werek. Lindberg was originally a 2nd round pick in 2009 by the Coyotes, and was acquired for his ability to add speed and face off prowess to the bottom six forwards.
Lindberg is not a high scorer (24 points in 87 games through two seasons in the SEL), but he is a prototypical defensive forward with speed who will dominate the face off circle. As noted this year, face offs are a big weakness for the Rangers, and Lindberg should help in that regard should he make it to the NHL.
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.
Here is the press release from the Ethan Werek / Oscar Lindberg trade last night:
RANGERS ACQUIRE FORWARD OSCAR LINDBERG FROM PHOENIX IN EXCHANGE FOR ETHAN WEREK
New York, May 8, 2011 – New York Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather announced today that the club has acquired forward Oscar Lindberg from Phoenix in exchange for Ethan Werek.
Lindberg, 19, skated in 41 games with Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League this season, registering five goals and nine assists for 14 points, along with 31 penalty minutes. He also appeared in 18 playoff contests with Skelleftea, tallying three goals and four assists for seven points, ranking sixth on the team in scoring and tying for fifth in goals. The native of Skelleftea, Sweden appeared in six games at the World Junior Championship, collecting two goals and two assists, tying for fifth on the team in scoring. He tallied the game deciding goal, registered five shots and a plus-two rating in a 6-5 shootout victory over Canada on December 31.
The 6-1, 190-pounder has skated in 77 career matches with Skelleftea, registering six goals and 10 assists for 16 points, along with 66 penalty minutes. Lindberg has also appeared in 78 contests with Skelleftea’s junior team, tallying 36 goals and 46 assists for 82 points along with 108 penalty minutes. He recorded the league’s best faceoff percentage in 2008-09 (63.4), 2009-10 (60.4) and 2010-11 (69.6).
Lindberg was drafted by Phoenix as their second round choice, 52nd overall, in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft [DS Note: He was taken #57 overall in 2010].
Werek, 19, skated in 47 games with the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), registering 24 goals and 28 assists for 52 points along with 51 penalty minutes. He was originally drafted by the Rangers as their second choice, 47th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
In a bit of a surprising trade, the Rangers have traded 2009 second round pick Ethan Werek to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for center Oscar Lindberg. Lindberg was Phoenix’s 2010 second round pick, and has been playing in the Swedish Elite League. This year in the SEL, Lindberg picked up 14 points (5-9-14) in 41 games. Lindberg was the #10 prospect in the Coyotes system (per HockeysFuture), and is more of a defensive minded center who excels in the face off circle (a point of weakness for the Rangers).
Werek has more offensive upside, as he put together a fine season with the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL, with a line of 24-28-52 in 51 games. Werek has had several injuries throughout his career in Juniors, and that may have been a reason for concern on the Rangers part. It’s a bit early to give up on Werek, despite his injuries. He has a ton of offensive skill, and while the trade for is of second round picks, it looks like Werek has more skill, but will be more of a project.
Lindberg is much more polished than Werek, and appears ready to make the jump to the AHL next season. From a business perspective, there could be two reasons the Rangers made this trade. First, Werek could have asked for too much, which I doubt. Second, and more likely, is that the Rangers are coming up on the 50 contract maximum for next season, and Werek was due an entry level deal. Lindberg, since he is not playing in Juniors, does not require a contract right away, and the Rangers will still retain his rights.
This is another trade with Phoenix, but the first where we can really say we don’t know if there was a winner or a loser. Considering the track record of trades with the ‘Yotes (Rozisval/Wolski, Korpikoski/Lisin, etc…), that may be a good thing. This is one of those trades that we won’t be able to evaluate for another few years. There are clearly reasons why the Rangers lost faith in Werek, be it injuries or business. Lindberg is supposed to be more of a sure thing to make the NHL, and has been SEL’s best face-off man for a while now. That is an area where the Rangers desperately need help.