The Rangers have received contributions from young players throughout the exhibition season, and forward Ryan Gropp joined that list Saturday night in New Jersey.
The 20-year-old picked up an assist in his first preseason game with the Rangers against the Devils in Newark, and is making the most of his recent opportunity to practice with the main groups and suit up for an exhibition game.
"It was pretty cool," the 2015 second-round pick told NYRangers.com Sunday afternoon. "I was pretty nervous going in, but I got the first couple shifts out of the way and started playing my game. It was a pretty cool feeling and a moment I'll probably remember for a while."
Gropp displayed his speed and skill against the Devils Saturday night when he chased down a loose puck in the neutral zone, carried it into New Jersey territory down to the bottom of the circle, spun and fed defenseman John Gilmour with a pass that wound up in the back of the net to tie the game, 2-2.
"I heard Gilmour calling as the late guy, so I just tried to get it to him," Gropp said of the play. "He made a great one-timer and it found the back of the net. It was a pretty cool feeling for sure."
Video: NYR@NJD: Gilmour nets Groop's nifty feed to tie game
The Kamloops, B.C.-native had a sensational season with the Seattle Thunderbirds last year, scoring 34 goals and 36 assists for 70 points in 66 games.
Rangers Assistant General Manager Chris Drury said the biggest positive for Gropp has been his ability to move forward in his development over the last year.
"I think what we've seen and what everyone's seen is just that he's gotten better every step of the way," Drury told NYRangers.com. "Traverse, he got better as the tournament went on. When he came home and he did get slotted into practice with NHL guys ... each day he got a little better, a little more comfortable and a little more confident."
An injury last year held Gropp out of part of the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and all of training camp, so in essence, this is Gropp's first true training camp with the Rangers. After starting camp with the third group, Gropp has earned the opportunity to practice with one of the main groups over the last handful of days, leading to his chance to play Saturday night.
"When you're out there, you're just trying to focus on what you can do to get better, and also you're watching them," Gropp said of practicing with NHLers. "You're seeing what they do every day to get better. They all work hard and they all pay attention to detail so well. They're all just working as hard as they can out there and it's really fun to watch and pretty eye opening for me."
Drury said management always wants to see a young player take the ball and run with it in that type of situation, and the early returns are that Gropp has done that over the last week or so.
"That's what you're hoping to see when you put him in there," Drury said. "It could go both ways, but for him, it's nice that he was able to get on their pace in practice and carry that into Jersey last night."
Gropp said he's been told by the coaching staff to get and remained engaged in the play and to constantly keep his motor running.
"Just to compete," Gropp said when asked what the coaching staff has advised him on. "Just for me, to focus on my compete level and move my feet and not be a guy out there who is going to stand around out there just watching a game. Just be a guy who is going to make a difference out there, and for me, that's the biggest thing. Always making sure I'm moving my feet and competing and being all over the puck."
Gropp has amassed 64 goals over the last two seasons, so goal scoring is not an area Drury knows Gropp needs to work on. Like every young, offensive player, Drury said the it's Gropp's progression away from the puck that is critical.
"I think he just continues to grow on both sides of the puck," Drury stated. "Obviously he knows when he's in the shooting zone, he knows what to do with it. Like a lot of young players who can score and do score in their league, it's about taking that next step as a player away from the puck, and I think he's learning and growing in that area in a good way."