If there’s one thing we’ve learned through the first 2 games of the Traverse City Tournament, it’s that the Rangers need to keep a couple of roster spots open for competition this September. Barring a terrible training camp, Tim Erixon is nearly guaranteed a spot on the Rangers’ 3rd defensive pairing for the upcoming season. Many believe that Carl Hagelin will have a genuine shot at becoming a fixture on the Rangers’ 4th line. The one guy who often gets overlooked in conversations regarding prospects who could steal a potential roster spot on the Rangers’ opening day lineup is the one guy whose been impossible not to notice this past weekend.
Following a pair of victories against St. Louis and Dallas’ prospects, several future Blueshirts have stood out. However, no one has looked quite as good as Ryan Bourque, who’s participating in this tournament for the 3rd consecutive year. Bourque’s potted 3 goals thus far, has shown explosive speed, while demonstrating a good sense of defensive awareness and a willingness to engage physically (as evidenced by catching 6’7″ Jamie Oleksiak off guard last night with a great body check sending him to the ice). Bourque plays in all situations – scoring a shorthanded goal in the game against St. Louis on Saturday to go along with an even strength tally as well as a powerplay goal in the 6-2 win over Dallas on Sunday. There’s a lot to like especially considering there’s greatness in his bloodlines, being the son of one of the greatest defensemen of all time.
The biggest knock on Bourque is his size, or lack thereof in his case. Listed at just 5’9″ and 170 lbs, he’s usually the smallest person on the ice (although 4 other Rangers on their Traverse City roster are listed at 5’9″ besides him). At the very least, Bourque can provide what Mats Zuccarello brings to the table minus the shootout heroics. He might lack the creativity and overall skill level that Zuccarello possesses, but Bourque is clearly more reliable in his own end and is someone who could potentially contribute on special teams. Not to mention, Bourque is a better skater than Zuke, which for a player with a smaller frame is arguably the biggest factor in having any success at the highest level.
With seemingly 10 forward spots locked up, there’s probably only 4 spots at most remaining for the likes of Wolski, Christensen, Avery, Zuccarello, Newbury, Hagelin, et al. The odds are slim that Bourque will break camp and remain with the Rangers when they open the season in Sweden less than a month from now. Chances are he will begin the year in Hartford and will be given a hard look for a potential callup somewhere down the line this season. Personally, I would love to see one of Hagelin or Bourque crack the roster if for no other reason than to see even more youth injected into the lineup. Both players have similar qualities – two-way forwards with excellent skating ability, a knack for scoring clutch goals and a relentless work ethic. Hagelin, like Bourque, is on the smaller side (5’11″, 175 lbs) but makes up for it with exceptional speed.
If nothing else, the competition to round out the bottom 6 will be a stiff one. If Bourque and Hagelin can continue to open eyes a week from now, it will be hard for the coaching staff to overlook what each of them can bring to the table. And if neither ends up a Ranger come October, then look out for the Connecticut Whale. I know I sound like I’m beating a dead horse, but I think it bears repeating what an incredible job Gordie Clark, Jeff Gorton and the rest of the Rangers’ scouting staff has done to build a system rich with talent at every level. But as we all know, the Traverse City Tournament is barely enough to whet our collective appetites. Save some room folks because the main course starts on Saturday.
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