The Rangers open up their 10th Traverse City Prospects Tournament later today against Carolina in Traverse City, Michigan. This year's squad features a mix of draft picks, free agent signees and invitees who are hoping to use the tournament as a springboard to a strong training camp that begins next week in New York
The Blueshirts' forwards are a strong mix of familiar and new faces, featuring highly-touted forwards Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey, as well as youngsters Robin Kovacs and Ryan Gropp.
Buchnevich - taken in the third-round in 2013 - signed with the Rangers last spring after several seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League. Buchnevich split last season with Severstal and SKA St. Petersburg, where he notched 18 goals and 19 assists for 37 points in 58 games.
The Cherepovets, Russia-native has spent most of the summer in the New York area, living with an American family to help him get acclimated to life on and off the ice in America.
"I think just initially he made a big commitment to live here," Rangers Assistant General Manager Chris Drury said. "I just think culturally, to come over and live with a family that you've never met before who don't speak a word of Russian … is a big part of the process for him. He just seems more and more comfortable whenever I see him."
Vesey, 23, is the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner as the top hockey player in the NCAA. Signed in August, Vesey, a left wing, stands 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds. He scored 24 goals and 22 assists for 46 points in 33 games last season with Harvard, a year after registering 32 goals and 58 points in just 37 games.
"I think it'll be good," Vesey said Thursday. "[I will] get to know some of the guys and play four games against good competition. I think it'll get us ready to go to main camp. I'm excited for the weekend."
Video: Vesey speaks before the Traverse City Tournament
Vesey said he felt strong physically after a summer of weight training and skating, and said he felt he really committed himself for the upcoming season, which he's hoping begins in New York in October.
Kovacs, a third-round pick in 2015, signed his entry-level contract with the Rangers this summer and is expected to come overseas from his native Sweden for the 2016-17 campaign. The right-winger posted 21 goals and 34 points in 44 contests last season for AIK in the Swedish junior league, good enough to be named the winner of Guldgallret, which is awarded annually to the best junior player under 20 years old, for the second year running.
"You can tell when he got to development camp he was on a mission to show he was ready to come over here full time," Drury said. "I expect to see a lot of good things out of him."
Gropp, the team's 2015 second-round choice, is coming off a strong season with Seattle of the Western Hockey League, where he scored a career-high 34 goals and 70 points in 66 regular season games. The 6-foot-2, 189-pound winger could turn pro this upcoming season.
Other notables up front are Cristoval 'Boo' Nieves, who turned pro last season and scored two goals and five points in eight games with Hartford; Steven Fogarty, who also turned pro last season after four years at Notre Dame; free agent forward Adam Chapie, who had 35 points in 39 games with UMass-Lowell; Malte Stromwall, who posted 25 goals in 49 games with AIK in Sweden last year; Brad Morrison, a 2015 pick who had 28 goals for Prince George; as well as 2016 draft picks Tim Gettinger and Ty Ronning.
The Rangers' blueline features four defensemen under the Rangers' property, including 2016 third-round pick Sean Day, who will represent the Rangers in the tournament for the first time.
The 18-year-old Day, who was given exceptional status to join the Ontario Hockey League as a 15-year-old, was the first player the Rangers selected at June's draft. The 6-foot-2, 231-pounder is a smooth skater who contributed six goals and 22 points in 57 games a year ago for the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL.
Sergey Zborovskiy and Calle Andersson are the two defensemen from last year's tournament to return this time around. Zborovskiy, taken in the third-round of the 2015 draft, is coming off a strong season with Regina of the WHL, when he scored a career-best eight goals and 17 assists for 25 points in 64 games. He signed his entry-level deal this summer.
Andersson, 22, completed his first season in North America last season with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League. The 2012 fourth-round pick posted five goals and four assists in 43 games last season for the Wolf Pack.
The fourth is John Gilmour, a free agent signee out of Providence College. The 23-year-old described himself as a two-way, puck-moving defenseman who had nine goals and 14 assists in 34 games last season. He was fifth in the NCAA in power play goals by a defenseman with 12.
"We were thrilled to get him," Drury said. "He had a great career at Providence. I think the biggest thing is that he can really make that first pass out of the zone."
Brandon Halverson is expected to carry the load in net. A year ago he missed the tournament due to injury but will have the opportunity to be the No. 1 goalie in the tournament, which is held in Halverson's hometown.
"Knowing him this last year, he's a super-competitive kid," Drury said of Halverson. "He had a good year in the Soo and we're excited to have him" back at the tournament.
Halverson, a 2014 second-round pick, went 20-17-4 with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds last season, but was strong down the stretch and into the playoffs, which included a first-round upset over the Sarnia Sting.
The Rangers will have eight invitees on the roster, including Center Reid Duke, who had 33 goals with Brandon last season; defenseman Colton Bobyk, who had 20 goals with Red Deer; and goaltender Joseph Raaymakers, who served as Halverson's backup in Sault Ste. Marie last season.