Hartford Wolf Pack Update: Who’s Hot, Potential Playoff Push
With the Rangers’ present mindset it seems only necessary that the club has a strong AHL team to insure the future, so with that said, let’s take a look at the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack.
Given the depth in defensive prospects, and the overall priority for defense in the Rangers organization, it is no surprise that the Wolf Pack are more of a defensive team than offensive. The club allows 2.7 goals per game on average, which for a team that has proved itself to be mediocre this season is not terrible. The Wolf Pack are also the most disciplined team in the league, by a landslide, with 573 penalty minutes. To put that into perspective the team with second least amount is the San Jose Barracudas (San Jose Sharks) with 631 minutes.
One valid critique of the club has been its consistent mediocrity. It seems that the Rangers’ generosity with 1st and 2nd round draft picks in trades has begun to catch up to them. The majority of the team’s best players are defensemen (ala Skjei, Bodie, Graves) and it’s difficult for a team to be a legitimate threat with just a defensive core. If the Rangers are going to be so willing to mortgage their future, as they have proved to be on the past 3 trade deadlines, the team should try to emulate the Chicago Blackhawk’s strategy of finding UFA gems in the KHL and NCAA and signing them.
The Wolf Pack seem to be a pretty good representation of the Rangers’ future players: a few very talented players and a lot of mediocre ones too. With that said, there is no reason why the prospect pool can’t be better, it just takes a bit of scouting.
The Wolf Pack are currently resting in 6th (out of 8th) place in their division and 16th (out of 30th) overall with 60 points in 57 games, giving the team an ever so slightly winning record: 52%.
While the club’s playoff eligibility appears to be rather strenuous, it is not impossible. The top 4 teams of each division qualify for the playoffs, however, if the 5th place team in either of the Eastern divisions finishes with a higher winning percentage than the 4th place team in the Western division that team qualifies. The Wolf Pack are 4 points behind the 4th and 5th place team, The Bridgeport Sound Tigers (whose affiliate is a familiar foe, the New York Islanders). The Bridgeport Sound Tigers are 7 points ahead of the 3rd and 4th place teams in the Western mini- division: the San Diego Bulls (Anaheim Ducks) and San Jose Barracudas (San Jose Sharks), respectively.
A playoff push for the Wolf Pack is possible. Aside from that exceptional case, with 19 games left the Wolf Pack could push for a playoff spot, there is just little room for error. The the teams in places 3-6 are all within a range of 6 points, the Wolf Pack being at the bottom, so realistically they could pull out a natural clinch.
In order for a push for the playoffs, the team has to has to have some strong players: 3 Players to Watch
- 1st in goals and total points with 17 goals and 35 points is center Chad Nehring. While it seems so easy to get excited about the top scorer in the farm, Nehring does not even make the top 40 for the amount of goals in the AHL, he is 29 years old, and for the past 6 seasons has been shuttled to and from the ECHL, CHL, and AHL. With
36 penalty minutes he is no stranger to the penalty box and he has dropped the gloves 10 times in the AHL. Given the Rangers’ current cap situation and his journey-men like history, the odds of Nehring making his NHL debut anytime soon seem pretty slim, but he is definitely someone to look out for as the Wolfpack go for Calder.
- It seems only fitting that when bringing up the Wolf Pack highly touted defensemen, Brady Skjei. Skjei has totaled 3 goals and 19 assists in his first full pro-season. Given the fact that this is his first time with a longer schedule, he is playing 76 games compared to 34, his production seems pretty solid, seems being the operative word. When you compare Skjei’s 22 assists in 55 games to his 19 assists in 109 career games with Minnesota, this kid is clearly having a stellar
season. Skjei is also known to be more of a ‘stay-at-home’ defensemen, so when that is put into perspective his production looks even better. If Skjei does not get called up sooner, he will most definitely be the replacement for Dan Boyle in the 2016- 2017 season as Boyle’s contract is to expire and the chances of the 38 year-old veteran sticking around Broadway seem low.
- Another player to put under the microscope is 21 year-old defensemen Ryan Graves. Graves surprised everyone when he made the AHL All Star Game back in January. Graves is known to be a defensively sound player and a relentless shotblocker. But one aspect of his game fans may not be familiar with is his wicked, hard slap shot. In the All Star Game Skills Competition Graves recorded a 103.4
mph slapshot, which was the 3rd hardest in AHL history. A lot of Graves’ game resembles Shea Weber: defensively sound, physical, and a bullet-like shot. While it may not be for a year or two, Graves will certainly be a solid addition in New York when he is ready.
With how cap-strapped the Rangers are it is completely necessary that the team has at least some talent in the farm to compensate for the exorbitant salaries Gorton will be paying for the coming years.
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