The Connecticut Whales’ preliminary roster for the upcoming AHL season exposes the lack of blueline depth the Rangers now have beyond the NHL level. The Rangers have benefited in recent times as several prospects have developed into successful, full time NHL’ers in quick succession but the lack of a legitimate NHL candidate at the pro level – beyond the currently injured Dylan McIlrath – suggests the Rangers need to look at the position in the upcoming few draft classes.
While the Rangers also have Brady Skjei and Calle Johansson in the system, there is a lack of depth coming through to follow the Staal’s and Del Zotto’s on to the New York roster. The list of names heading to the Whale camp isn’t confidence inspiring. With all due respect the majority of Sean Collins, Steven Delisle, Jyri Niemi, Blake Parlett, Logan Pyett and Mike Vernace will top out as AHL depth players and it seems – being optimistic – only Jyri Niemi can (realistically?) harbour NHL hopes.
Whoever lines up on the Whale blueline this season will face stern tests on an almost nightly basis when you look at some of the impressive names (think Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Schenn, Henrique etc) sent to respective AHL affiliates. Big league clubs such as Edmonton, New Jersey and Philadelphia have a host of top NHL talent heading to the minors and therefore the unproven, unheralded group of blueliners the Whale will likely put on the ice will know sooner rather than later whether they capable of greater things. Hopefully some of the prospects will surprise.
With the Del Zotto contract stalemate, the Sauer and McIlrath injury scenarios and the hidden threat of Marc Staal potentially wanting to join the Staal family reunion (did you know Marc Staal had brothers?) there is a realistic chance that the Rangers defensive depth could be severely tested in the short to mid term.
While people clamour for a new goalie prospect or another burgeoning power forward perhaps the biggest need in the next few drafts could be another defenseman, something that may have been considered unnecessary just a few short months ago. Whatever happens with the lockout, there is plenty of hockey coming up. The college, junior, numerous European and minor pro campaigns will soon tell us what the state of the Rangers blueline future really looks like.