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Sather's eye on future in Traverse City

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
2010 Rangers Training Camp Roster

Complete Traverse City Coverage

Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather is in Traverse City, Mich., watching many of the organization's youngest players compete in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament. We sat down with him during the tournament's off-day on Monday to discuss his impressions of the event, his view of the current Rangers prospects, and a few other issues related to the team as it heads for training camp on Friday.

Here is a complete transcript of this exclusive interview with Sather:

QUESTION: This is the fifth year that the Rangers have brought a team to the Traverse City Prospects Tournament. When you watch the prospects at this tournament, do you get an immediate sense of which ones are going to make it as NHL regulars at some point in their careers?

Rangers President and GM Glen Sather
SATHER: We have only watched them in a couple of games, but there are always a number of kids that come out of these tournaments. It's not necessarily the first-round draft picks or the second-round picks who come out of this tournament that turn out to be the best players. They're generally the ones that play the soonest, but there are other players that come out of these tournaments who you can get in a deal, or you can grade them and get a pretty good understanding of where they are going to be able to play. The development of all of these kids is different. Some of them here are 18 years old, while others are 21 or 22 and have come out of college. That doesn't mean that the older kids are going to play in the NHL, because sometimes they don't develop either. But this gives all the scouts an opportunity to see all the best prospects from all eight teams that are here. It's a real advantage. Not only do our scouts watch the kids at this camp, but we've got scouts that are at other camps. There's one in Penticton, and there's one in London, Ontario. There are several of these kinds of tournaments that are going on now, which is why all of our scouts aren't here with us in Traverse City. They're at a lot of the other tournaments. They do the evaluation on them and give Gordie (Clark) and all of us reports to read. It just gives you a little insight on what's going on around the league.

QUESTION: There are players on the current Rangers roster who played at Traverse City during their earlier years in the organization. Do you feel this tournament helped you identify those players' NHL potential or helped them in their own development?

SATHER: Oh, absolutely. It's a high tempo, and these kids have trained for two months to get here. The ones that haven't trained as hard as they should have ... as soon as they get here they know what they're missing. So they'll go back and start their junior seasons and work harder. It's a real leveling tool for everyone around the league to see where you are. And it's a pretty good tool for all the teams. Not only our team, but for every team that's here.

QUESTION: The roster for the Rangers' main training camp is out, but there is still room for some Traverse City prospects to be added to the list. With so many veteran players already in camp, how hard will it be for any player coming out of here to win a spot on the NHL roster?


Rangers who have played in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament since the Blueshirts first joined the event in 2006:

SATHER: We're going to have a meeting to decide which of these guys we will bring to New York to the big camp. I think there are going to be four or five kids that come back with us. It's also a great barometer for some of these guys who have never been to an NHL camp to see how hard it is and to see how much more they're going to have to do -- what kind of conditioning they will have to get into or what level their game is at and what they can do to increase their speed. When they get to New York, it's another step above this and it's even more difficult. The speed is a lot quicker and the game is a lot more intense. The players are bigger, they're experienced, and they're smarter. But that doesn't mean that somebody that's at this camp can't come in and make our club. You look at a guy like (Evgeny) Grachev, who has been here for a couple of years. He's just 20 years old now, and he looks like a man, but I'm sure that the first year he was here in Traverse City, it was a real eye-opener for him. Now he scored a couple of great goals the other night, and he's going to come back to New York with us and he's going to have a shot. Whether he makes it right away or not is really up to him, but he's only 20 years old and he's got some experience and knows what's expected. I'm sure he feels a little of the pressure right now.

QUESTION: Last year Michael Del Zotto made the Rangers' NHL roster as a 19-year-old after starting out in Traverse City with the prospects. Do you see that happening for any of the players you are watching here?

SATHER: I've said that I wish we'd have 20 (Traverse City) guys that could come into New York and make the club because if we did, we'd have one whale of a good young hockey team. But that's not realistic. There's certainly the possibility that some of these kids can come in and get a job, and in fact, I'm looking forward to what happens when we get back to New York to see how well they play. I'm always reluctant to name names as to who we're going to bring back from here. That's just because I don't want some kid to see his name in a blog or in the newspaper saying that we expect him to have a real good opportunity to make the team in New York. I'd rather have that kid come in and make it on his own instead of us putting any kind of pressure on him.

QUESTION: Given the success that Del Zotto and some of the other former prospects have had in adjusting to the NHL, is there any conscious effort on your part, or perhaps on the part of the coaching staff, to leave a roster spot open for one of these players each year?

SATHER: You always like to have your team younger and more enthusiastic. We had a pretty young team last year, and I expect we're going to be a younger team this year. But it's still up to the player to make the step to the NHL. You can't say to the coaching staff that we have four kids here who are banging on the door, so let these guys play because we think they are going to be players. They have got to prove to the coaches that they can play. And they have to be able to play continually. Del Zotto is a great example. He came to Traverse City last year, and he played right through what he had to play through to get to our training camp. Then he played hard during the training camp and he started the season. He made the team and he stuck. I think there is going to be somebody that comes out of this (Traverse City) camp that will make our team this year, but you can't expect the coaches to make a decision based on a guy's youth. A player has to make it on his talent, his enthusiasm, and his ability to impress these guys. That's a coaching decision, although I do always push them to give the kids a chance and see what they can do.

QUESTION: Three of the players invited to this year's training camp -- Garnet Exelby, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Alexei Semenov -- have a great deal of NHL experience. When you invite such players, are you just giving them a look, or have you already identified them as having a very strong chance to end up on the opening-night roster?

SATHER: They are all veteran hockey players, but they're not that old. Sometimes if a player gets another opportunity, he's going to work a little bit harder and prove to everyone that he wants to stick. Now it's really up to those guys. Semenov made our team last year and ended up going back to Russia, but he's not an old guy as far as defenseman standards are concerned. Exelby is the same. He had a tough year last year in Toronto. Fedotenko is well known. He played with (John) Tortorella when he was in Tampa and they won the Stanley Cup. These guys can all make the hockey club, but they still have to beat somebody out to do it. We're going to give them a chance to make this hockey club as well as anyone else that we think could come in and push somebody. We'll give them an opportunity, too. You want the best hockey club that you can have at the end of the exhibition season, and a lot of things can happen between now and then, so you don't want to be too anxious to cut people.

QUESTION: If Alexei Semenov makes the roster again, is there any concern that he might choose to return to Russia as he did last year?

SATHER: I don't think so. I have talked to his agent all summer, and we have pretty much agreed on a deal if he makes the team. I wouldn't expect that he's going to go anywhere else if he does make it, but it's up to him. I don't blame somebody for trying to do something that helps his family situation. There was two or three times as much money in Russia for him, and it didn't hurt our hockey club when he left. I think he would have been a help to us, but he was doing what he had to do for his family.

QUESTION: Has there been a lot of recent progress in the contract negotiations with Marc Staal?

SATHER: We have made Staal a pretty lucrative offer, and I don't think we're very far apart. I don't have an awful lot to say about it. Training camp is there to make the hockey club and to prove that you're willing to play. We have made him a very lucrative offer, and we'll see where it goes.
NOTE: Staal and the Rangers agreed to terms on a new  contract on Wednesday.

You have spoken in the past about the importance of the Rangers' current young core remaining intact. Do you have a sense that you would like to keep these players together no matter what, or if the opportunity arose where you had to part with one of these players, is it something you would be willing to do?

SATHER: You're always willing to make your hockey club better. If we make the decision that there's an opportunity for us to make our team better and it means trading somebody or getting somebody on the hockey club that is going to improve it, then yes, we'll certainly do that. We're not going to stand pat with anyone. I don't really think that there is anybody that's untouchable on any hockey club, unless he's got a contract that states that. It's really up to the players in the end whether they stay on a club for a long time or whether they stay there for two or three years. You don't necessarily start the season looking to trade somebody. The players that generally get traded are getting traded because they haven't lived up to the expectations that the staff has for them.

QUESTION: During your years in Edmonton, you brought along a core of young players who grew up together and became an NHL dynasty. Is that the vision you have for this group of Rangers players who are growing up together now?

SATHER: I like our core, and I'm not looking to change them. I'm just looking for them all to improve. When you talk about Mark Messier, for example, when he was young, he improved year after year after year. Those are the kind of people that you try to get and try to build your hockey club around. And if we've got a dozen guys like that, we're going to have a great team.
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