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Youth on stage at Prospects Camp

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Evgeny Grachev, coming off his rookie pro season at Hartford, is one of the young players that Rangers head coach John Tortorella hopes will be able to step up and grab an NHL roster spot soon.

Grachev on the  First Day of Prospects Camp
Tortorella Discusses Draft, Prospects and More

By Jim Cerny,

As the team kicked off its week-long Prospects Development Camp at the MSG Training Center on Monday, Rangers head coach John Tortorella stressed the importance of developing young players so as to add them to the solid foundation of youth that is being built at the NHL level of the organization.

“We have to get younger and keep our young kids,” said Tortorella. “When you have kids in the lineup, and I think we need to have more, there are going to be some bumps in the road, but eventually you will get there and you may win for a while. We need to add to our young core.”

Tortorella pointed to defenseman Michael Del Zotto and center Artem Anisimov as two players that stepped in as rookies last year, developed admirably at the NHL level, and have now joined the Rangers youthful core of Marc Staal, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, and Dan Girardi. Now the coach wants to see others step up and step into the Rangers’ lineup this upcoming season to grow a young core that makes up the present and future foundation of the team.

“The kids will be given a long look at training camp (in September),” said Tortorella.

Part of the nurturing and evaluating process occurs during this week’s Prospects Camp. There are 28 players are in the mini-camp, which concludes on Friday. Five of the six players selected this past weekend in the entry draft are participating-- Swedish forward Jesper Fasth is not attending -- and all seven members of the Rangers’ 2009 draft class are also on hand.

Monday’s activities focused on conditioning drills and tests. Although perhaps not as strenuous as last year’s Prospects Camp, this version still left many of the players gasping for breath following various on-ice sprints.

“I did this twice last year, once in early camp and second time in main camp so I thought I knew what to expect,” said 20 year-old forward Evgeny Grachev. “But they changed it up a little this year to make it different.”

Grachev certainly is one player that Tortorella will be watching very closely this week and come training camp in September. After nearly making the Rangers off a very strong camp last fall, he scored 12 goals and finished with 28 points during his first pro season in Hartford. His expectations, as well as those of Tortorella, are much higher this year.

“(Rangers assistant general manager) Jim Schoenfeld told me that the gap between juniors and the AHL is way bigger than the gap between the AHL and the NHL, so I’ve learned the need to be stronger, faster, and think quicker,” said Grachev, who scored 40 goals in major-junior during the 2008-09 OHL season. “I will take all of this experience with me into camp this year, and I think it will make a difference.”

“He’s 20, he’s still so young,” Tortorella said of Grachev. “He’s a young kid that we want to be a part of our team. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but we’re hoping he makes that jump and becomes part of it. We’re very high on him, but potential is one thing. It is a very dangerous word. He needs to show it, and he’ll certainly get the opportunity.”

Tortorella also mentioned Dale Weise as another Hartford player who could battle for a spot on the Rangers roster when training camp opens in September. And for now he is content to monitor the progress of prospects like Chris Kreider, Ethan Werek, and Ryan Bourque, who will all continue their amateur careers this season, and get to know this year’s crop of drafted players, headed by rugged defenseman Dylan McIlrath, the club’s first round selection.

Boston College winger Chris Kreider, the Rangers' first-round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, takes part in conditioning drills on Monday morning.
The hulking 6-foot-4, 212 pound McIlrath did not take part in the first day of Prospects Camp due to a late-arriving flight. However he will be on the ice with his future teammates on Tuesday, and Tortorella is eager to see what the Rangers have in the aggressive, hard-hitting defenseman.

“This kid, from what I understand and from what people say who have watched him, has improved tremendously as he’s gone through here,” Tortorella said of McIlrath. “Our first pick has good size, is a very willing kid, obviously, and adds a component that we’ve been looking for as an organization for quite a while.”

With the conditioning tests behind them, the Rangers top prospects will take part in on-ice drills conducted by Hartford Wolf Pack head coach Ken Gernander and his coaching staff, along with the aid of Rangers’ legend Adam Graves, from Tuesday through On Friday, the players will be broken up into two teams and will scrimmage on Friday to conclude the five-day mini camp.

The next time Tortorella will see these youngsters, as well as the returning Rangers, and any newcomers acquired this summer by the Blueshirts, will be on Sept. 17, the first day of training camp.

“That’s still a long time away, and it’s already been a long time,” said Tortorella. “We don’t want there to be so much time off again.”
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