• 2009-10 Hartford Wolf Pack Watch
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
One of the most interesting aspects of a Rangers training camp is watching to see which player from last year’s Hartford Wolf Pack squad will leave the AHL for good by stepping up and earning a full-time NHL job.
In 2009-10, that player was Artem Anisimov
, and two years earlier it was Brandon Dubinsky
making the big splash. With strong seasons at Hartford in the previous year before they joined the Rangers as NHL regulars, both players had shown there was nothing left for them to achieve at the AHL level.
This fall brings another Hartford forward poised to follow in Anisimov and Dubinsky's footsteps. Right wing Dale Weise, who turns 22 later this summer, is coming off a tremendous showing in his second pro hockey season at Hartford and is ready to take his shot at the NHL. His biggest obstacle to making the team might only be the level of competition he’ll face in his pursuit of a roster spot at training camp.
Weise almost got a chance to play in for the Rangers last season. On April 4, with only four games remaining in the Blueshirts’ quest for a playoff spot, Weise was recalled from Hartford. He practiced with the Rangers every day for the next week and was on the roster when the season ended, but he did not appear in any games. It was his first taste of the NHL, and it left him hungry for more.
"At first I was just excited to be called up to the NHL for the first time. It was big, and obviously it was a disappointment not to play," said Weise. "But given the situation the Rangers were in, I totally understood what (Head Coach John Tortorella) was doing. When you're fighting for a playoff spot over the last four games, it's kind of hard to throw a guy in for his first game. So I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to play, but I was just happy to be a part of it."
|Right wing Dale Weise had a breakout season with the Hartford Wolf Pack in 2009-10, scoring 28 goals to finish second on the team as a 21-year-old. |
The 6-foot-2, 202-pound winger's progress since being drafted is truly remarkable. In 2009-10, Weise blew past his previous season's numbers, jumping from 11 goals in 2008-09 to 28 last season and from 12 assists to 22. He more than doubled his total scoring output from his AHL rookie year, going from 23 points to 50 to finish third overall in the Wolf Pack's scoring race behind Corey Locke and Dane Byers.
"In my mind, I think I'm ready (for the NHL)," said Weise. "Physically, I think I'm ready to play. And mentally, I think just getting the call-up at the end of the year was really big for me. I was kind of iffy on whether I thought I could play there, but once I got the call, and I had the year that I did in Hartford, I think mentally and physically I knew I was ready to play there."
What makes Weise such a promising NHL prospect is not just his size and scoring. Much like Ryan Callahan
before him, he is a tremendous energy player who comes through in all situations – the kind of young player that Rangers fans really tends to embrace. Two stats exemplify this quality. He led Hartford with five shorthanded goals last season, tying three other players for the overall AHL lead. He also led his team in game-winning goals with seven, tying for fourth overall in the league.
A native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Weise was passed over in two draft years before the Rangers were able to grab him in his final year of eligibility. As the Blueshirts' fourth-round pick, No. 111 overall, he is part of a stellar group of 2008 draftees that includes Michael Del Zotto
, Derek Stepan
, Evgeny Grachev and Tomas Kundratek.
When Weise entered the WHL with the Swift Current Broncos in 2005, he was not a big scorer and hadn't grown into his frame. He was also older than most WHL rookies at age 17. Playing without much attention from scouts, he did not reach his full potential until his third year of major-junior, when he broke out for 29 goals and 22 assists in 53 games. That prompted the Rangers to take him, even though he was two years older than most other draft prospects and therefore might have been an afterthought for other teams.
The great benefit of Weise's advanced age was his ability to step right into the AHL and continue his development with playing against professionals. He led Wolf Pack rookies win 11 goals and finished second in points in 2008-09, but he really cranked it up a level last season.
|At his first Rangers training camps after being drafted in 2008, Dale Weise made a big impression on scouts with his performance at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and in the NHL preseason. |
"I would’ve liked to have seen a little more scoring from him in his first AHL year, because I had seen him score goals in junior," said Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel. "He's very underrated as a goal-scorer, so I would have expected close to 20 in his first year, and I'm not at all surprised he got this many (28) in his second year."
At the time Weise was called up to the Rangers for the stretch drive, he was the Wolf Pack's hottest scorer -- riding a seven-game point streak that included goals in six of the seven games and 10 total points over the stretch. His late-season heroics nearly got the Wolf Pack into the Calder Cup playoffs.
"Obviously, we were disappointed about not making the playoffs," said Weise. "It's never good when you don't make the playoffs, but I thought we had a good team down in Hartford. We ran into some injuries there, and that really cost us."
While Hartford struggled with its injuries and resulting inconsistency for much of the season, 2009-10 was a banner year for Weise, who ranked among the game's Three Star selections 12 times and had 11 multi-point performances.
"Personally, I thought I had a great year," he said. "I kind of came into my own this year. I was asked to play a bigger role, and Coach (Ken) Gernander gave me a lot of time on the power play and penalty kill. I think that was huge just having him show some confidence in me and relay it through me. I felt confident myself, and things just kind of went well."
When Weise was hot, Hartford was hot. He enjoyed four two-goal performances last season, and the Pack were 4-0 in those games, outscoring opponents by a combined 20-5 margin. Between Jan. 6 and Jan. 10, Weise scored goals in four consecutive games to earn his first AHL Player of the Week award. That remarkable four-game run included a bit of everything, as Weise scored goals at even-strength, on the powerplay and short-handed.
The most dramatic of Weise's 28 goals came at 1:15 of OT in a 2-1 win over visiting Bridgeport on Dec. 12. He also showed a real knack for scoring or setting up late tying goals. On Jan. 2 vs. Bridgeport, Weise scored at 10:55 of the third period for a 2-2 tie en route to a 3-2 win. On March 6 at Hamilton, he tied another game 2-2 with one minute left in the second period, and in a 3-2 shootout win over Adirondack on March 26, Weise set up Byers at 9:37 of the third to force overtime.
"I think in the second half of the season I really thought if someone on the Rangers went down with an injury I was going to get an opportunity, although obviously I was probably second in line behind P.A. Parenteau," Weise said. "But when P.A. was already up and other guys were going down, I thought maybe I was close. It just motivated me to keep playing and keep putting numbers on the board, and I thought I did that."
In 2009-10, Weise had four scoring streaks of at least four games, and his 28 goals were second on the Pack behind All-Star Locke's 31. Despite this rash of offense, Weise still maintained his role as a hard-working, defensively responsible grinder and had one of the Pack's best plus-minus ratings at plus-8.
"Obviously, in the American League, I put up some good numbers. I was close to 30 goals this year, and I could probably score more down there," Weise said. "At the NHL level, I see myself as probably a third-line guy that crashes and bangs and stands up for his teammates. I do have some skill, too. I'm not a guy that just fights and mucks. I think I can score, and eventually someday, I can probably score 20 goals in the NHL."
Weise said he is working hard in his off-ice training this summer to ensure that he won't have to return to the AHL.
"I think this is a big off-season for him in getting himself prepared to take a run at a position on the Rangers," said Clark. "He had a great year for us in Hartford."
From a personal standpoint, there might be nothing left for Weise to achieve in the AHL. His development has been everything the Rangers could have hoped for when they plucked him out of the relative obscurity of being a 19-year-old draft prospect.
"My main focus is to make the team. I think I am ready to play there, and I think if I go in and have a good camp and do what I do, I'll have a pretty good chance to make the team," said Weise. "You never know what happens with free agents and who's coming and who's going, but I'm just looking to come in and show them what I can bring, and hopefully I can make the team."