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WJC prospects making scouts proud

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers 2009 first-rounder Chris Kreider has been playing on the No. 1 line and top power-play unit for Team USA in its bid to defend the gold  Kreider and fellow prospect Ryan Bourque won last year.

Highlights: USA's Win Over Switzerland on Friday Watch
Highlights: Sweden's Win Over Canada on Friday Watch
Highlights: USA's 4-0 Win Over Gernany Thursday Watch

Kreider Scores as USA Reaches Semis
Fasth, Sweden Topple Team Canada
The Kreider Watch
The Bourque Watch
The Horak Watch

By Jim Cerny,

Neither of Jeff Gorton’s two sons is playing in the 2011 World Junior Championship tournament, but that hasn’t stopped the Rangers’ Assistant Director, Player Personnel from feeling like a proud parent during this week’s prestigious hockey tournament in Buffalo, N.Y.

That’s because four prospects whom Gorton helped draft into the Rangers organization are taking part in this year’s World Junior Championships.

“Every time they come out on the ice you sit straight and the hair on the back of your neck goes up because it’s like they are your own children,” said Gorton. “You want them to do well.”

As this year’s tournament heads to the playoff round this weekend, Gorton and the rest of the Rangers organization can feel very good about how their four prospects -- 2009 draft picks Chris Kreider, Ryan Bourque, and Roman Horak and 2010 sixth rounder Jesper Fasth -- have fared so far.

“It’s a great stepping stone for their careers,” Gorton said of prospects representing their countries at the World Juniors. “It’s not the be-all, end-all, but playing in the tournament is important. When you get to see them play against the best players in the world within their age group, you are getting to evaluate them at a higher level.”

Kreider and Bourque -- who both helped the United States capture the gold medal in last year’s tourney -- have played vital roles in helping the U.S. squad win each of its first three games this year, heading into Friday night’s contest against Switzerland.

Averaging a point per game with one goal and two assists, Kreider has been playing on the top forward line and No. 1 power-play unit for the United States. He is also among the team leaders with 10 shots on goal through three games.

“I think he’s done well, and I think it’s important that (Team USA) is counting on him to score, play on the top power play unit, that he’s looked on to be a key guy for them,” Gorton said of Kreider, the Rangers’ first round pick, 19th overall, in 2009. “Last year he was asked to use his speed, be a role player, but now he’s a vet, so to speak, and he’s counted on to produce. And I think that’s a good thing.”

Jeff Gorton
Gorton also believes that capturing the gold medal last year, coupled with helping Boston College win the NCAA Championship, is helping Kreider develop a winning pedigree, something that will benefit both the player and the Rangers once he turns pro down the road.

“You look at guys from around the league that are winning (Stanley) Cups, they won when they were younger,” said Gorton. “Sidney Crosby won when he was younger, and he’s winning now. That’s no surprise. When you win when you’re younger it generally keeps going. And when you can develop your skills in a winning environment, like Chris has been able to do, that’s optimal.”

Bourque, the Rangers’ third-round selection in 2009, has earned two assists so far for the United States, while also firing 12 shots on goal and providing jolts of energy with his hard-working style of play.

Perhaps just as important as the numbers he puts up is the fact that Bourque was selected to serve as one of the team’s alternate captains, a nod to his impressive leadership ability.

“For them to give him a letter, that’s a great accomplishment, and it puts him in a different situation, a different role, from last year,” said Gorton. “Now he’s even more of a leader, he’s got the ’A,’ has some experience, and all of that is great. It’s no surprise to us because he carries himself as a leader. He just goes all out all the time.”

Jesper Fasth, a Rangers sixth-round draft pick, has been especially impressive at the 2011 World Junior tournament and will play in the semifinals.
The Rangers are very pleasantly surprised with the tournament that Fasth has had, so far, skating for Sweden. Playing for a legitimate gold-medal contender, Fasth -- who just turned 19 on Dec. 2 -- has earned a spot on Sweden’s top line and first power-play unit despite being one of his team’s youngest players.

Fasth has scored three goals and produced four points in four games, with a two-goal performance vs. the Czech Republic on Thursday being his signature game to-date. The speedy and skilled -- yet small in physical stature -- Fasth has caught the collective eye of many at this year’s World Junior Championship.

“To have him make the team and then be put on that line that really has been one of the best lines in the tournament, that’s above and beyond what we expected at this point,” Gorton said. “We look forward to the rest of the tournament to see if he can keep that up because it’s tough. This is largely a 20-year-old tournament and really (Fasth) is just a kid. But his play bodes well for us in the future, I think.”

Although the Czech Republic has struggled as a group this year, Horak has evolved into a team leader and one of the best players on the squad. Like Kreider and Fasth, he has played on the top line for his country, and has played in every conceivable important game-situation during the World Juniors.

“Roman is very proud of where he’s from and would certainly like for his country to be doing better, but he’s a mature kid and is able to see the big picture,” said Gorton. “The team has been taking its lumps, but he has done well.”

While Horak will not be fortunate enough to experience medal-round play, the three other Rangers prospects at this year’s World Junior Championships will be able to. The gold medal game will be played on Jan. 5 after three days of playoff action.
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