• 2010-11 Connecticut Whale Game-by-Game
• Your View: Will Weise Make Opening-Night Roster?
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
Dale Weise, a right wing who has spent the past three years as a regular in the American Hockey League and saw 10 games with the Rangers last season, just might be the hungriest player at the Blueshirts’ main training camp in September.
The 2008 fourth-round draft pick will be just one month past his 23rd birthday when the camp opens. While he is still young for a professional hockey player -- particularly one with so much experience – the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder from Winnipeg said he will come into camp convinced that the 2011-12 season is his time to shine and take permanent residence at the game's highest level.
"I have been in the American League for three years, and I think in my last two years I've been a key guy down there," he said of his time with the Connecticut Whale, who changed their name from the Hartford Wolf Pack last season. "I have been one of our top scorers each year and one of our top power-play guys. For me, I think this is make or break. I'm going into training camp, and I need to make the team."
Weise has reason to feel confident about his NHL readiness. He has scored 57 goals and 111 points over the past three AHL seasons, including 46 goals and 88 points in his last 120 games. Plagued by injuries in 2010-11, he still managed 18 goals and 20 assists in only 47 games. The season also featured call-ups to the Rangers first in mid-December and then again before the New Year for a four-week run on the Blueshirts' fourth line.
One of the highlights of Weise’s first NHL action as a call-up was his debut on Dec. 18 at Philadelphia. That afternoon he narrowly missed scoring two goals and also fought Flyers agitator Dan Carcillo.
Fresh off a flight from Hartford, Weise beat Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher with a second-period shot that trickled through Boucher's pads and just wide of the net. At 5:35 of the third period, he scored an apparent goal -- only to have it disallowed because officials ruled Weise had directed the puck into the net with a distinct kicking motion.
|Dale Weise got a taste of life as a Ranger on game night at The Garden in four of the 10 NHL games he played last season. Weise is now determined to make MSG a permanent hockey home next season. |
"I wanted to come in and make an impression right from the start and show everybody what I could do, but I couldn't have imagined coming in and having a goal disallowed and then almost scoring another one and getting in a scrap," said Weise. "I guess that's a little bit of a sign of what I can do, and hopefully I can bring more of that."
The disallowed goal was as close as anyone could come to scoring in his first NHL game. Weise remembers the play vividly, including the moment when Sean Avery
's shot banked in off his skate.
"Originally, I thought for sure it was going to be a goal. Because in my mind, I didn't kick it," he said. "The puck came at me too fast. There's no way. If you watch the play, I kind of popped out from behind the net and Aves just ripped it there and off my foot. I thought for sure it was a goal, but you watch the replay and it kind of looks like I did kick it. So who knows? I was just excited and happy to be playing in my first game. I'm not really the type of person who dwells on things like that. Obviously, I hope I can get a nicer one for my first NHL goal."
Another reason Weise's debut was so unforgettable had nothing to do with his on-ice performance. During a break in the action -- right after the goal was disallowed -- Weise aggressively squeezed a Gatorade bottle for some refreshment and instead ended up popping the cap and dousing himself with the drink. It appeared he might have fallen victim to a prankster.
"To be honest, it looks to me like I was squeezing the bottle pretty hard," said Weise. "I think it just broke off, to be honest with you. If you watch it close enough. I watched it a couple of times and to me it just looks like it broke off, but who knows? Maybe someone twisted it."
Normally, a Gatorade blooper wouldn't be seen by anyone other than those on the bench, but the Flyers broadcast camera happened to be right on Weise when the unexpected incident took place. The resulting video went viral in the hockey world, and "Dale Weise Gatorade" is still one of the more popular hockey-related search terms on Google.
"I think it's funny," Weise said of his online fame. "All my buddies kind of give it to me for it, and a couple of people have come up to me here in Winnipeg that I know and told me 'Hey, I saw your video' and everything. I think it's funny, and I'm happy with it."
|Dale Weise had a very memorable NHL debut on Dec. 18, 2010, at Philadelphia. That afternoon, he had a goal disallowed, just missed another, and held his own in a fight with the Flyers' Dan Carcillo. |
While he certainly made his mark during the 10-game NHL stint, it was in the AHL with Connecticut that Weise did the most damage to opposing teams' defensive schemes. Ten of his 47 games were multi-point performances, and he was the game's No. 1 star four times.
Weise also had a knack for scoring important goals, as his tallies included the team’s first goal of the season, a goal 10 seconds into a Feb. 11 win at Hamilton, and a crucial tying goal on March 23 that sent the Whale to a 3-2 win over Springfield.
"He skates so well and shoots so well that he's a very good one-on-one player and can create some offense on his own from a one-on-one standpoint," said Connecticut head coach Ken Gernander. "He's also a very courageous player. He's actually a player whose game is heightened by (a physical) game. Sometimes you go into an opposing building and they come out with a little bit of snarl, and some guys will disappear. Dale's game seems to excel in those types of situations. When he's engaged physically and there's a little bit of grit in the game, he seems to pick his game up. That's a pretty admirable trait."
Weise also had a six-game scoring streak in late January and early February, and hehad back-to-back three-point games in road wins at Worcester and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the first week of March. In the postseason, he picked up two goals and an assist over five games.
What made Weise's AHL season so impressive was that he managed to produce despite a series of injuries that caused him to miss more than 20 games in addition to the month he spent playing in the NHL. Had he been healthy all year, he would have easily surpassed his career-highs of 28 goals, 22 assists, and 50 points, because his points-per-game average jumped from 0.68 in 2009-10 to 0.81 last season.
Weise, however, refuses to speculate on what his season might have been without injuries.
"I'm the type of person who tries not to look too much into things like that. You could drive yourself crazy all day thinking that I could have been called up here or there," he said. "Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, so hopefully I got it all out of my system. I learned a lot of things about myself, and I'm better off for it now."
|Dale Weise began his 2010-11 AHL season wearing the red, white and blue of the former Hartford Wolf Pack and ended it in the green, white and blue of the Connecticut Whale. More than one in five of his AHL games turned into a multi-point performance. |
Connecticut coach Gernander witnessed all the bumps in Weise’s road last year.
"It was a really tough year for him in terms of developing some kind of consistency," Gernander said of Weise. "I think that will be a big part of Dale's game -- if he can develop that consistency. Because I think he does have the tools and the capabilities. He's a courageous kid. He's a take-charge kind of kid that wants to make a difference. But he has to be able to play on a consistent basis, and unfortunately with all the injuries and stuff, that part of his development was maybe set back a little bit this season."
In Weise's view, last season was no setback. He feels an NHL roster spot is there for the taking this fall, and it's just up to him to prove himself in training camp.
"The NHL is a little faster, and guys are in a little better position, so it's not as much skating and running around as the American League, but I think the biggest thing is just getting comfortable there," Weise said. "If you can just kind of settle in and play your game and get comfortable, I think it makes things a lot easier. It's a little faster when you get called up, but everybody can play. That's the biggest thing I learned, obviously, even though I wasn't playing a lot of minutes -- just being ready to play every shift."
Watching the rapid NHL development of his former AHL teammate Michael Sauer
, who played with him in Hartford, proved to Weise that anyone who works hard enough can take the next step. Weise's excitement about the future was magnified "150 percent" by what Sauer, a defenseman, did in 2010-11.
"I was just really happy to see that guy get an opportunity and to play the way he did and to just get better and better," Weise said of Sauer. "It was really motivational for me. This is going to be my fourth pro year, and judging myself on what Michael did, this is kind of the point where I feel I need to make the team. ... I think I have proved that I can dominate games at the American League level, and I feel like I'm ready to play full-time in the NHL."
Weise is eager to make it to the NHL for another reason that hits very close to home. The recent rebirth of the Jets in his native Winnipeg means he’ll have a chance to fulfill a childhood dream of playing an NHL game in his hometown.
"That (playing at Winnipeg) to me would just be the best thing ever," said Weise. "The city's going crazy here. You can go to every restaurant or any place like that at night and everybody's got Jets jerseys on. They're having parades downtown, and they had to shut down streets when they got the team. Obviously, it would just be a dream come true to play in front of my friends and family and everything."
|An outstanding skater and shooter, Dale Weise possesses a rare ability to create offense in one-on-one situations and has the potential to be a significant offensive contributor at the NHL level. |
The original Jets left Winnipeg in 1996, when Weise was only 7 years old, but he remembers attending their games and rooting for former Jets star Keith Tkachuk, a fellow forward who would serve as a great inspiration for Weise in his minor-hockey years.
"I was a huge Jets fan and a big Keith Tkachuk fan. He was the guy for me," Weise recalled.
Tkachuk is an ideal role model for Weise, because he combined scoring ability with toughness and is one of a handful of NHL players to record 50 goals and 200 penalty minutes in the same season. Weise hopes to be able to provide the Rangers with a similar mix of skills, as he showed in that memorable NHL debut vs. Philadelphia and countless AHL games over the past three seasons.
"He's got size and he's gritty enough. He can really shoot a puck and he's a pretty handy guy because he's pretty well-rounded," said Rangers Assistant General Manager Jeff Gorton. "We've seen him fight and handle himself well."
Weise has a clear picture of the player he would like to be at the NHL level.
"I'm perfectly comfortable playing on the fourth line and being an energy guy, and having to drop the mitts and stand up for teammates whenever I have to," he said. "I'm more than willing to do that. But at the end of the day, I think once I kind of get going and am playing at that level, I think I can probably be a third-line guy, and if I need to step in and help on the second line, I think I can do that. I have proved at every level that once given an opportunity, I kind of work my way up and continue to score. ... I think I'm more than a fourth-line guy, but at the end of the day, I'd be more than happy and comfortable playing on the fourth line and just being an energy guy and grinding it out."
In terms of this willingness to do whatever it takes to help his team, Weise reminds Gernander of Brandon Dubinsky
from a few seasons ago.
"He's got a lot of the same qualities," said Gernander in comparing Weise to Dubinsky. "He doesn't have as thick of a lower body -- where Brandon can hold guys off with his good leg strength -- but he may be just a hair better skater. He does have that same type of swagger. That good confidence. Brandon went through a bit of a process, and I think Dale will have to go through that same process. But once he gets there, he can be a full-time player."
If this is indeed the breakthrough season for Weise, he would have a chance to become a part of the Rangers' rapidly developing "young core". Over the past five years, the Blueshirts youth movement has seen Dan Girardi
, Ryan Callahan
, Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov
and Sauer all reach the NHL after playing at least one full season in the minors.
Weise hopes to be the next player to emerge from that AHL pipeline, and those who have watched him for the past three years say he is as close as ever to making that jump to the NHL this fall.
"It's not that he's counted on just to score goals or just to be a checker. He's also not just counted on to be a scrapper," said Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel. "He really is combination of all those guys, which is why he's in a unique position, because he does all of those things.
"When he's playing consistently and combining those three attributes, then he's a pretty tough player to play against."
Gorton agrees that consistency has been the only major barrier for Weise, and he understands why the fourth-year pro is putting so much pressure on himself to become an NHL player this fall.
"He's at a point in his career where he's had a couple of years down there, and he probably feels like he's ready for the next step. It will be interesting to see where he's at by training camp," said Gorton. "He's a pretty well-rounded guy, and when he's on his game in Hartford, he's pretty hard to stop. Because he has that size and that strength and he's got the determination to go to the net, and he goes to those areas. I think he's got a bright future in the NHL."