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Traverse City Wrap Up: Young Blueshirts Look to Build off Experience

by Matthew Calamia / New York Rangers

Competitive by nature, athletes always want to leave the rink, court or field with a W. While that was certainly the case this week in Traverse City, despite the Rangers going 1-3 in the annual prospect tournament, there is certainly more to take away than that record.

After a tough opening game against Minnesota, the young Blueshirts played very well over the final three games, losing a close battle with St. Louis, 2-0, Saturday before beating the eventual tournament champion Columbus Blue Jackets Monday afternoon, 4-0. Despite Tuesday's loss, the Rangers controlled play throughout large portions of the game outside of allowing four goals in a span of about 10 minutes.

On the scoresheet, many of the Rangers' big hitters, including forwards Adam Tambellini, Ryan Gropp, Keegan Iverson and defensemen Calle Andersson and Petr Zamorsky all picked up points over the four-game tournament, starting the 2015-16 season off on the right foot.

At the end of the day, though, all gained first-hand experience against top-flight talent from around the NHL.

"For me, it's a big step up [in competition]," said Gropp, whom the Rangers took in the second round of this year's draft. "Guys are a lot faster, a lot stronger.

"I think for us, the tournament went pretty positively," Gropp continued. "Not so much in the win-loss column, but I thought we really grew as a group and kept going as the games went on."

For a group that was predominantly comprised of junior players — the only member of the team with any professional experience was captain Brady Skjei — the common theme of the week was a need to adjust to the size and speed. After the opening contest, the Rangers appeared to do that.

"There's a lot of bigger guys here. Men, I'd say," Iverson said after Saturday's game. "There's a lot of 16 and 17-year-olds int he junior leagues right now. There's a lot of men here, strong bodies."

While the players can look around the tournament for an idea of where they have to get to to reach the next level, Rangers 2014 draft pick Ryan Mantha has opted to look internally.

"Brady Skjei is here. It was nice to play with him," Mantha told BlueshirtsUnited. "He played in Hartford at the end of the year, so you see what things he can do and was he can escape with the puck, so you just watch and learn."

For Andersson, it wasn't only his first opportunity playing in a Rangers' jersey, but playing in North America entirely. The 21-year-old Swede has spent last season playing in Switzerland, and got his first taste of the American-style he'll see this season.

"The speed is really good. It's better than Switzerland," Andersson said. "Switzerland is fast, too, but it's faster here. It's good hockey. It's fun to play."

Andersson tied for the team lead in points with Tambellini with three, though only played in three of the four games. He had a goal and an assist, with one assist coming ont he power play.

"I think it's really good experience for me," he said. "I've never been here before. It's my first games here in the U.S. It's great experience and I can't wait to play more games."

Even if a player returns to their junior team, this experience goes a long way in their development as they work towards a career in the NHL. For Gropp, he now has a better idea of what lies ahead for him.

"Keep [the experience] in the back of my mind that this is where I need to get to," he said. "The steps I need to take and where I need my game to grow, so the biggest thing is keep improving every game and get here as fast as I can."

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