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Top prospect Grachev could make debut for Rangers

by Mike G. Morreale
There were two players for the New York Rangers who stood out among all others for the club during last month's Traverse City Prospects Tournament -- defenseman Michael Del Zotto and forward Evgeny Grachev.

Del Zotto has been a first-year blessing along the blue line for Rangers coach John Tortorella. He's currently in a three-way tie for the NHL lead among defensemen with 2 goals through three games, and he's proven to be a key cog on the team's power-play.

Now it's Grachev's turn to shine after he was recalled from the Rangers' American Hockey League affiliate in Hartford on Thursday afternoon. He could make his NHL debut Thursday (7 p.m. ET) against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center.

The big Russian forward (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) had 3 goals, a team-leading 15 shots and had a plus-5 rating in four games in the prospects tournament. He also exhibited some muscle and flair in the offensive zone and away from the puck.

"I think Grachev has shown quite a bit of improvement over last year, and obviously you can see the raw physical attributes with his size, skating ability and hands," Hartford Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander told "He has a better understanding of the game."

Grachev, 19, made his AHL debut with the Wolf Pack on Saturday in Binghamton -- a 5-3 loss that saw him take two shots and finish minus-1.

Last season, he was the Ontario Hockey League Rookie of the Year with the Brampton Battalion and led all OHL rookies in goals (40) and points (80). He also ranked fourth in the league with a plus-48 rating and tied for ninth with six game-winning goals. During the 2009 OHL playoffs, Grachev finished seventh in the league in points (25), tied for fifth in goals (11) and was eighth in assists (14).

Rangers Assistant General Manger Jim Schoenfeld considered Grachev the most improved player within the organization prior to training camp.

"I'm confident," Grachev told in Traverse City. "My game changed in confidence a lot because last year, at first, I didn't really know what to do and I think I was going too hard at times. Sometimes I might not have been going hard enough and then there are times when I needed to stay calmer."

Grachev was a third-round pick of the Rangers in the 2008 Entry Draft. With his size, it's no surprise he enjoys the physical side of the game.

"I'm probably not the greatest skater, but when I have a chance to hit a guy, I'm trying to hit him," Grachev said.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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