Friday, September 10, 2010

Will Ye' No Come Back Again?

Ah, the beginning of the OHL regular season. That time of year when each club should be getting a good grip around this year's crop of returning players, new recruits, and teeth-cutting rookies.

A time to really evaluate just where the group stands in comparison to the close combatants in their division and maybe sneak a peek at their cross-conference foes' records to see who else came out of the gate flying.

An opportunity for the team to gel and mould into the defining shape it will take by the time the trade deadline rolls around come January.

This should only take, what... a couple weeks, max, right?

Think again.

Early season hype, speculation and months of hockey withdrawal all contribute to frustration, questions, anxiety, and hopeful (perhaps sometimes wishful) thinking when the calendar flips to those early days of fall.

But unlike fans of the NHL, whose general managers, coaches, and owners can put the final stamp of approval of where a player in their system gets to lace them up, fans in the O encounter a plethora of variables that will affect where their favourite skaters land once all the dominoes are felled.

National Hockey League training camps, world junior tournament preparation training, and late-notice call-ups to the big leagues all disrupt the regularly-scheduled programming of life in the CHL.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the first 2-3 weeks of the schedule, typically late September, and early-mid October.

Why? Well because the NHL is doing the exact same thing at the exact same time, teams in the O are doing them. Evaluating new talent and deciding the best place for these players to play typically takes weeks and more than often sends the resulting awaiting minor teams' coaches into a hair-pulling frenzy, having their team wait in "how-good-will-we-be" limbo.

And this is exactly the reason why it's so darned hard to predict and prognosticate just where the heck teams in the OHL will finish the crossing line when all is said and done. And for the sake of 2010-2011, who gets the two tickets to the Memorial Cup in Mississauga in May (the Majors have already locked up one by hosting).

The 2007-2008 London Knights were victims of their own success when both of their star forwards, Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner, drafted first and sixth respectively, showcased their stuff to garner an immediate full season in the NHL. That meant bye-bye London.

The 2009-2010 Windsor Spitfires had their top forwards from a year ago practically fall back into their lap when Scott Timmins, Dale Mitchell, Kenny Ryan, Adam Henrique, and Greg Nemisz were sent to the salivating Spits during their second Mem-Cup winning season.

The question now becomes, will the 2010-2011 Kitchener Rangers become the 2007 Knights or the 2009 Spits? Or will they fall in the middle and receive about half the return when their investments hit the NHL ice this week.

Best-case scenario: everyone comes back, one jolly juggernaut, ready to capture that Memorial Cup that eluded them so bitterly in 2008, plus one; Jerry D'Amigo who may join the blueshirts mid-season depending on his performance in the pro ranks.

The worst-case scenario may have fans, and even coach Steve Spott re-evaluating his gun-ho plans for the season, and the unstoppable train that looked like the 2010-11 version of the Rangers would become at best, a meek Pontiac Sunfire; apprehensive about competing with the big boys, despite looking like one.

The following is a list of Rangers making the trek to NHL camps abroad, the impact they're expected to have, and their chances of returning.

1) Jason Akeson #19, Anaheim - One of three expected overagers to be playing on the team, Akeson is a free agent invite to the Anaheim Ducks' rookie camp. He'll be looking to impress the Ducks' brass with his powerful shot and strong skating ability despite his diminuitive stature at 5'10. The camp runs from Sept. 12-16 and takes place in Penticton, BC. Akeson has not signed a pro contract with the Ducks, and is still exclusive Rangers property. He should be back in time for the season opener on Sept. 24.
Chance of Returning: 95%

2) Andrew Crescenzi #20, Toronto - Another free agent invite, this time by the Leafs, the Rangers' fourth-line centre will get plenty of face time with both former Ranger Nazem Kadri and current public enemy No. 1; Michael Liambas. Liambas of course drilled Ranger Ben Fanelli head first into the boards last year. Crescenzi is expected to use his long stride and reach to his advantage during camp and will try to impress enough for a future contract with Toronto (they have a habit of signing free agents and skipping the significance of the draft). Crescenzi should be back by the home opener since the camp runs Sept. 11-14.
Chance of Returning: 100%

3) Jerry D'Amigo, Toronto - Depending on where Brian Burke sees this guy's ability as of now, the American sniper will most likely see AHL duty this year. The only way this guy will end up in Kitchener is if he bombs out of the minor pros, similar to Dale Mitchell last year. It's not out of the realm of possibility, but still unlikely.
Chance of Reporting: 20%

4) Brandon Maxwell #30, Colorado - Playoff-hardened and seasoned by a year, Maxwell has no excuses not to shine this year for Kitchener. Will he shine for Colorado? The Avalanche's rookie camp runs Sept. 12-20, so theoretically he should be back by the home opener. However, Maxx's pedigree and ability to occasionally shine in big moments could have him invited to the main camp. If that happens, Maxwell could either end up in the NHL as a backup (extremely unlikely) or in the AHL since he was drafted out of the USNTDP. In all likelihood, look for Maxx to be back with the team in late September, perhaps after the opener.
Chance of Returning: 80%

5) Jeremy Morin #61, Chicago - Ah yes, the Jeremy Morin saga. In all honesty I have about as much a chance as knowing where this guy ends up as Spott does at the moment, but here's my 2 cents. The Blackhawks' placement of this guy will come down from an NHL ruling stating where he is eligible to play. The Hawks' depth is solid up front, but Morin is definitely ready to take his spot in the AHL (despite some die-hard Rangers fans telling themselves his speed and skating isn't good enough-get over yourselves, it's good enough). If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say we've seen the last of ol' snipe 61 unfortunately.
Chance of Returning: 10%

6) Tyler Randell #11, Boston - An injury-plagued season for the big guy kept him from being a factor last year, but look for that to change as an (assumedly) motivated Randell should have even more incentive to do well this year to keep his contract with the Bruins going. I guarantee they won't re-sign if he keeps up his play from last year. A bit of a wild-card, Randell could be sent back immediately after rookie camp which lasts Sept. 12-16, or could stay awhile into the main camp, as he unexpectedly did last year. Look for him to be back in early October. If he plays like Milan Lucic in camp, then expect him to stay longer than usual. I'd still place my bets on seeing him in Rangers rags this year however.
Chance of Returning: 90%

7) Jeff Skinner #53, Carolina - Skinner has a more realistic shot at being returned to the Rangers than Morin does, however, Carolina Hurricanes' GM, Jim Rutherford's approach to Skinner's chances at making the big club should worry some. He's stated Skinner will have every opportunity to make the top 6 (if he's not there, he'll be sent back), and the most telling aspect to me is that Rutherford has said "if he plays the way we think he can play, he'll stay with us". Rangers fans know what Skinner is capable of and his strong lower body strength and scoring ability could be enough to make himself stick in the big show. If he's back, it won't be until mid-October.
Chance of Returning: 50%

8) Cody Sol #41, Atlanta - The new face of the D, Sol will join ex-teammate Ivan Telegin at Thrashers' rookie camp Sept. 13-16. Sol could very well earn himself an invite to the main camp as well, as the Defence at the camp could leave something to be desired. Sol may stay a bit longer, but he should be back by at least late September barring any miracles.
Chance of Returning: 90%

Hopefully your uneasiness has been lifted, or at least made more clear by this guide. Now, by no means am I stating these percentages to be facts, simply educated hypotheses on where these guys will end up once all the powers that be have had their say.

Despite a September 23 season-opening date, it won't be until late October where Rangers fans can truly feel good about the assets they have (or lack thereof).


  1. Excellent article. I'll be anxiously awaiting the returen of Skinner and if Santa's giving out early xmas presents I also want a Morin.

  2. Thanks! And I haven't seen the start of a season with so many question marks like this one. Plus, I have a feeling fans will be doing the same think with Landeskog and Murphy... waiting anxiously for weeks at the start.

    Thanks for the comment.