Kaapo Kakko
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Following months of talk and speculation, New York Rangers top prospects will hit the ice Friday in Traverse City, Michigan.

Frank Curto

Jeff Gorton and the New York Rangers scouting staff will get to see the fruits of their labor when the most prominent prospects within the organization get to lace up their skates starting Friday, Sept. 6 in Traverse City, Michigan.

Forward Kaapo Kakko, F Vitali Kravtsov, defenseman Adam Fox, D Yegor Rykov and goaltender Igor Shesterkin will be in the lineup as the Rangers 2019-20 pre-camp tournament begins this week.

The Rangers will battle against seven other clubs, the Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The round-robin format will serve as a warm-up prior to the start of the clubs training camp which is set to begin on Sept. 12. It’s a tournament that comes with plenty of anticipation and excitement as these players look to make take their first steps towards their NHL career.

This prospect tournament is more than just an exhibition; it will provide players an opportunity to see the system the coaching staff wants to implement along with some adjustment time for these players to get accustomed to the smaller ice surface in North America.

Each player needs to showcase their abilities. For some, it’s a critical step in making their respective NHL club.

What to Look for in Traverse City

First-round selection, second overall, in this year’s draft, Kaapo Kakko, is primed to make the squad. His comes into the tournament with the ability to play against high-quality players, all who were older than him while playing in Finland last season. The 18-year-old will need to use the Traverse tournament to help adjust his reactions on the ice.

The smaller surface will be a challenge for him; he will need to make smarter decisions on the ice. His hardest challenge will be in the defensive zones where players are faster with the puck. He has great hands and his six will help his aggressiveness, but he has to make sure he doesn’t overcommit to a play or hold on to the puck too long.

On the offensive side, anticipate Kakko to use that same size to protect the puck as he has done some many times with TPS Liiga. He needs to continue to be strong in the corners and create scoring chances.

Vitali Kravtsov, first-round draft pick from the 2018 draft, signed an entry-level contract this past May. He played for Chernoby in the KHL last season where he continued a strong offensive scoring game.

Kravtsov will be watched closely as he needs to improve getting back to his own end without the puck. Backchecking will be a key element, especially for a club in which so many young kids are learning on the fly.

His speed and transition with the puck is something the club wants to continue to see at the NHL level. His ability to take shots and not overpass, as so many players have done over the past few seasons, is what makes him a threat many teams will need to be aware of. Kravtsov knows how to put the puck in the net and the coaching staff at the tournament will be pushing his to use it whenever the opportunity arises.

Kaapo Kakko, RoboKaapo T-Shirt

On the Blueline

The Rangers will have two prominent prospects in Adam Fox and Yegor Rykov. Of the two, Fox has the best chance to make the team out of camp. Head coach David Quinn and Jeff Gorton both hold high expectations for the first-year player.

The Jericho, NY native played for Harvard University last year. The Rangers need him to continue to play with a determination that helped him lead the nation in scoring last year (nine goals, 39 assists in 33 games).

He should get the opportunity to showcase that scoring talent in varying game situations. Currently, the club has him in the top-seven defensemen, a situation that the Gorton hope will continue to prosper with the club looking for players to work the puck low from the blueline.

Yegor Rykov is another player stuck in a log jam of Ranger defenseman and remains a long shot to make the team out of camp. Rykov needs to show the mental toughness he had while playing in the KHL.

At 22 years old, his birthday is in April, and this will mark his first time playing in the states. Rykov will use the tournament and early part of training camp to get a feel of what the organization is looking for out of him.

Rykov should get a better idea of the team’s system once he reports to Hartford by late September.

Igor Shesterkin

Igor Shesterkin is the organization’s future No. 1 goalie. He will use the tourney as a primer for a training camp.

Shesterkin recorded over 20 wins in each of his last three seasons in the KHL. The Russian phenom now wants to show the Blueshirts that he can continue to get wins playing against the best players in the world.

He will need to continue to work on his positioning. The game is going to be faster around his crease and continue to improve upon his stick skills to help move the puck, an asset to the defensemen, up the boards from behind the net.

Shesterkin will most likely be sent to the AHL prior to the start of the regular season, a result of the three goalie situation the team has.

A complete full roster for the tournament:

The round-robin schedule:

Sept. 6 at 3:30 p.m. vs. Columbus
Sept. 7 at 7: p.m. vs. Dallas
Sept. 9 at 2;30 p.m. vs. Minnesota

The games will be lived stream with a link becoming available in the upcoming week.

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A graduate of St. John's University class of '91. I have been a fan of the New York Rangers since the days of Peter Puck. Founder of Ranger Proud, the Facebook page that covers all news, notes, pre /post-game stats, and player quotes. I can be reached at Nyrfc12@gmail.com