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Rangers veterans showing prospects the ropes

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

20-year-old Dane Byers (above) said he sees Brendan Shanahan as an ideal role model for his own development as a player.
Throughout the off-season, Rangers management and coaching staff stressed the importance of bringing in veteran players who would both contribute to the team's success and be a positive influence on the Blueshirts' young prospects.

So far at the team's 2006 Training Camp, these newcomers have joined returning veterans in taking it upon themselves to instruct the youngsters at every available opportunity.

"I think it's just important for young players to know what it means to be a professional both on and off the ice," said Brendan Shanahan, who signed with the Rangers as a free agent in July. "... You recognize as you play a long time that it takes more than talent just to succeed at this level."

Goaltender Kevin Weekes said he not only tries to help young players succeed on the ice but also to learn about their backgrounds and get to know them as people.

"I just try to connect with them on a humanistic level," said Weekes. "Basically, it's a unique experience. For everybody in this position, it's a dream that we've had since childhood so it's a huge opportunity. I just try to connect with them and say hello, see where they played juniors or college, maybe they played minors, and I just try to connect with them that way."

Adam Hall, acquired in an off-season trade with Nashville, made the transition from youthful prospect to respected veteran in recent years and understands what the kids at camp are experiencing.

"I think it's important for the guys who have the experience to get to know the young guys and vice versa," Hall said. "Obviously, young guys have a lot to learn from veteran players who have been in a lot of different situations. I do anything I can to help make them better players, because obviously that will help us become a better team. If I see something that they are doing and I think maybe I can help them a little bit, then I will take them aside. Maybe I'll work on them after practice. Whatever it takes to make them better."

In an informal survey, asked some of the Rangers' young prospects to share their thoughts on working with veterans over the first week of camp. From their responses, it is clear that this environment is fostering many positive relationships:

Marc Staal (defense, age 19)
"I think there are a bunch of really great defenseman on our blueline, so you can take different aspects of any one of their games and it will benefit you. With the puck, Fedor Tyutin is real smooth. He's pretty calm out there, so its nice to watch him play. Aaron Ward is pretty solid back there, so he is really helpful to watch, too."

Brandon Dubinsky (center, age 20)
"I've really been watching the top guys. Obviously, Jaromir Jagr is unbelievable. He's so tough. I went against him today in one-on-one's and he is real quick with the puck and can move it a lot. Nylander is just so good out there spinning around and breaking checks out there. I think (Matt) Cullen is really playing well. He has some good moves and some good speed. We just have so many good veterans."

Nigel Dawes (left wing, age 21)
"I think just everyone helps. They are all pretty out going, and any time you have any questions they think that's good. But having Shanahan in camp is really good, it's always nice to watch him play. He is real open to helping the younger guys out and I think we all really appreciate that. I have been in the organization for a couple years now, so I have met the majority of the guys on a couple of occasions. They are all easy to get along with and are willing to help each other out."

Lauri Korpikoski (left wing, age 20)
"I think I can help my offensive game from guys like Jagr and Shanahan. Those are the certain players I like to watch the most because I love the way they play. Straka and Nylander are two more that I can really learn the most from."

Ryan Callahan (right wing, age 21)
"Obviously, Jagr is amazing to just watch. He is probably the best player in the NHL, and just looking at him out there, and how he handles himself, it's just unreal. There are so many good guys that I have just got to follow their lead and do what they do. They've been here so they know what it takes."

Jakub Petruzalek (left wing, age 21)
"Petr Prucha. He is my idol right now. He proved last year that it's not about the big guys. It's about the little guy and the new rules help us to make it easier for us."

Daniel Girardi (defense, age 22)
"I really like how Aaron Ward plays. He is a real solid D-man. He can play offensive as well, and that's what I try to do as a defenseman, so I really like to watch him out there. The rest of the 'D' here is amazing too. It's just really great to watch them and get to see what I need to do."

Dane Byers (left wing, age 20)
"I think a guy like Shanahan is a big key. If I can play my game like he does, that would be good, but there are lots of other guys that are good role players and that's what I am trying to do here."

Dwight Helminen (center, age 23)
"I would say for me, guys like Matt Cullen and Jason Ward, they are two who are really helpful. When they see something they just tell you to do this or try this."

Rick Kozak (right wing, age 21)
"Watching Shanahan, the little things he is doing out there on the ice, I look up to him. He plays similar to me, getting in there, playing the dirty game, hits the bodies, and grinds it out. But he is also a tremendous goal scorer and point getter. He is really a guy that I have been looking at and thinking, 'wow, look at what he's doing.' They are just simple little plays, like where he just chips the puck and knows where guys are going to be. It's just his hockey sense."

Greg Moore (right wing, age 22)
"Straka and Shanahan are just unbelievable. Their creativity in the neutral zone and ability to move the puck -- it's just fun to watch."
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