TRAVERSE CITY, MI - The Rangers begin play at their 11th Traverse City Prospect Tournament tonight against Chicago, and this year's squad features many of the organization's top young talent.
This year's roster features 10 draft picks with an additional eight players added to the prospect pool via free agency.
Lias Andersson leads the way up front for the Blueshirts, who selected the centerman seventh overall in June's NHL Entry Draft. Despite it being just the first week of September, the 18-year-old has been on skates playing competitive hockey for the past month, starting with a strong showing at the World Junior Summer Showcase for Sweden and for Frolunda at the Champions Hockey League.
Andersson must quickly re-adjust to the smaller ice surface in North America - a size he said he enjoys - and get acclimated with his new teammates for the four-game tournament.
"Just to get all the guys going and getting the group together," he said when asked about his expectations at the event. "Hopefully get to know all the guys, play some good hockey and win the tournament."
Andersson skated between Ty Ronning and Ryan Gropp at the team's practice on Thursday. Ronning, the team's seventh-round pick in 2016, had a strong campaign a season ago with Vancouver (WHL) when he posted 25 goals and 53 points in 68 games before a brief stint with Hartford (AHL) to close out the year with. He scored two goals and three assists in 12 games with the Wolf Pack.
Gropp, meanwhile, is going into his third Traverse City tournament after the Blueshirts selected him in the second-round of the 2015 draft. The soon-to-be-21-year-old said his experience at the tournament should benefit him, and he's hoping to show Rangers' brass how much he's improved since last year in Seattle (WHL).
"Just to show them how much I've progressed, especially defensively without the puck and working hard without the puck," Gropp said on Thursday. "Just playing my game. I'm looking forward to it. I feel good and had a good summer, so I'm ready to get going."
Hartford forwards Robin Kovacs and Malte Stromwall return for their second tournament, while junior players Gabriel Fontaine (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL) and Tim Gettinger (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) are also returning from last year's team.
Free agent signees Vinni Lettieri and Dawson Leedahl are also on the roster. Lettieri finished his career at the University of Minnesota last year, while Leedahl was signed as a free agent out of Regina (WHL).
Filip Chytil, the team's second first-round pick from June's draft, will miss the tournament with a groin strain.
Several prominent draftees and free agent signees fill out the team's defensive group for the tournament, starting with 2016 third-round pick Sean Day. The 19-year-old is coming off a Memorial Cup championship with the Windsor Spitfires and is entering his second training camp with his eye on battling for a roster spot.
The Rangers were busy this summer adding depth to its defensive ranks via free agency, beginning with college free agents Neal Pionk and Vince Pedrie, who practiced as a pair Thursday.
Pedrie, who finished his career at Penn State last spring, said he's hoping to catch some eyes from Rangers' brass starting Friday night.
"I just want to go in and play as hard as I can and hopefully make a good impression on management staff," Pedrie said. "Hopefully we can win four games. I think it'll be a good spot to kind of base camp off of. You get into game shape and come to camp feeling great."
Russian Alexei Bereglazov, who signed with the Rangers in April, brings pro experience to the blueline after spending parts of four seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League. Last year, the 23-year-old had a goal and 18 assists in 60 games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
Draft picks Sergey Zborovskiy (Regina, WHL) and Brandon Crawley (London, OHL) round out the team's defensive unit.
The team's goaltending tandem will be making its Traverse City debut, as both Chris Nell (Bowling Green, NCAA) and Alexandar Georgiev (TPS, Liiga) signed with the organization as free agents.
Nell, 23, went 17-14-2 with Bowling Green last season before picking one win in four games with the Wolf Pack. Georgiev, 21, was a prospect camp invitee who went 13-8-4 with TPS last year.
New Hartford Wolf Pack Head Coach Keith McCambridge will man the bench for the first time at the Traverse City Tournament. He said the event is a good way to judge the Rangers' prospect pool against other NHL clubs.
"It's an opportunity for us to get a look at our draft picks, the free agent signings, against the other NHL teams' prospects, ' he said. "It's a real good gauge to see exactly what we have depth wise coming up the pipe, and also an opportunity for these young players to showcase themselves against some of the best young prospects in the world."
Rangers vs Chicago 9/8 at 7 pm
Rangers vs Carolina 9/9 at 3:30 pm
Rangers vs. Detroit 9/11 at 7 pm
Placement game 9/12 vs TBD at TBD