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Prospect camp setting tone for September

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Tortorella's Remarks to Media on Monday Watch

Prospects Development Camp Roster

By Jim Cerny,

John Tortorella was not on the ice when the Rangers opened up their five-day camp for prospects on Monday at the MSG Training Center, but his presence was clearly felt by the young players who were put through intense conditioning workouts and tests by Hartford Wolf Pack head coach Ken Gernander and his assistants J.J. Daigneault and Pat Boller.

Tortorella -- who was seated alongside Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather and the club’s Assistant G.M. Jim Schoenfeld in a special area overlooking the rink -- designed the prospects camp to mirror the first few days of what his initial training camp with the team will look like in September. A grueling battery of on-ice and off-ice conditioning tests began on Monday and will continue throughout the week, with a sprinkling of on-ice hockey drills mixed in.

Rangers head coach John Tortorella did not mince words on Monday when he spoke about how much he will expect from all of his players in the upcoming training camp and the 2009-10 season.
“These are young men that have played in all different programs, have been pretty good players in those programs or they wouldn’t be at this camp, and this is a good situation to let them know what is expected,” said Tortorella. “It’s going to be tough, but at least they’ll know if they get invited to the big camp what is expected of them. And they might have a leg up on the other guys.”

Five of the players selected by the Rangers this past weekend in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft -- including top pick Chris Kreider -- are taking part in this week’s camp. In addition, two of the organization’s top prospects from the 2008 draft -- defenseman Michael Del Zotto and winger Evgeny Grachev -- are also participating, along with recently-signed defenseman Matt Gilroy, who won the 2009 Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s top player, and Finnish import Ilkka Heikkinen.

In all, 26 players were on ice on Monday, though only a handful will take part in the Rangers training camp come September.

“I’ll be honest, there are guys here we will not see for another three or four years,” said Tortorella. “But there are also guys here that are knocking on the door. And if you are a player coming into Rangers camp this year and you’re knocking on the door, it’s a pretty good thing because I think we need to change the look of our club. It’s wide open. And that’s a good thing for a young player.”

At the draft in Montreal on Saturday, Sather mentioned five young defenseman from within the organization who will be in the mix to battle for legitimate shots at making the NHL roster. Two of those defensemen -- Del Zotto and Gilroy -- are at this camp, while Bobby Sanguinetti, Mike Sauer, and Corey Potter played full seasons in the AHL at Hartford in 2008-09 and have moved beyond the realm of this particular, introductory camp.

In addition, the 19-year-old Grachev -- perhaps the most explosive offensive talent within the organization coming off a 40-goal season with Brampton in the OHL -- is getting a very close look this week, and will be a threat to capture a slot with the Rangers in the fall, as well.

“I’m not afraid of youth as far as jumping in there and adding something in key situations and key positions,” Tortorella noted. “It’s going to be done on merit. So for young guys, I think it’s a great situation for them.”

The Rangers head coach went on to explain that no one on the roster is guaranteed a certain status or playing time except Henrik Lundqvist, whom Tortorella clearly stated is the team’s No. 1 goaltender. Each and every player will be forced to earn his way right from the first day of training camp in September, and Tortorella believes that good, young, hungry players pushing for roster spots is a great way to achieve the desired goal.

With a full summer to learn more about the prospects in the system, and a chance to conduct his own training camp, Tortorella expects much to change from last season. Tortorella joined the club more than halfway through the 2008-09 campaign, and it was all he could manage just to try and steer his club into the playoffs.

Now Tortorella will have the chance to lay out his blueprint, make the changes he wants to make, and create the type of team he believes will have success both in the present and in the future.

“I think we are soft thinkers,” Tortorella said of his Rangers. “That’s where it all starts. I think we need to grow in what we feel we have to do in preparation, our practice habits, and that leads us to the games as far as being a tougher team to play against. That isn’t being soft physically, that’s being soft thinkers. That’s a huge part of winning, your mental toughness. And that’s something we’re going to try and improve on.”

Tortorella added that the players are treated so well by the Rangers organization, that now it is time for some payback.

“Instead of asking for more and putting your hand out, take it away and start getting things done,” said Tortorella emphatically.

That message was delivered to the players after the Rangers were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the Washington Capitals, and it is being shared with the prospects this week.

The other main message shared in the spring and being emphasized to the youngsters at the prospects camp is that all players within the organization must be at an elite level physically in order to compete the way Tortorella demands. And certainly that point was made loud and clear on Monday as one-by-one the young players expressed some wide-eyed surprise at how hard they were being pushed and how much of an emphasis was being placed on their conditioning.

“It’s definitely the first time I’ve ever gone through something like this, but it’s a new philosophy they’ve got going here and they want to see how hard we work so it’s going to be a good test,” said Del Zotto. “Looking ahead to training camp, obviously it’s going to be tough. This will make us work that much harder in the off-season to try and get ready for that.”
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