FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

bruce mug shot 1BY: Bruce Berlet

Veteran right wing Jeremy Williams, the Connecticut Whale’s leading goal scorer and only AHL All-Star last season, won’t be returning to Hartford.

The 27-year-old Williams wasn’t offered a new contract by the parent New York Rangers and has signed a one-year deal with the EC Salzburg Red Bulls in the Austrian Elite League, where his opponents will include former Hartford Wolf Pack players Craig Weller, Cory Larose, Marvin Degon, Francois Fortier, Mike Ouellette, Burke Henry and Tyler Donati.

In his only season with the Whale, Williams led the team with 32 goals, tying his career high with the Grand Rapids Griffins the previous season, and was second in points with 55, six behind center and close friend Kris Newbury, who is signed for next season. Williams was scoreless in one game with the Rangers.

“We are grateful for his contribution to the Whale and wish him the best in Europe,” Rangers assistant general manager/assistant coach/Whale GM Jim Schoenfeld said via email.

Williams, a seventh-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2003, has usually been a scoring machine but lacking on the defensive end. He had 154 goals and 146 assists in 404 AHL games with the Toronto Marlies, Griffins and Whale and nine goals and two assists in 31 NHL games with the Maple Leafs.

But Williams became expendable after the Rangers signed young wings Carl Hagelin, who performed well with the Whale down the stretch and the playoffs in April after signing an amateur tryout contract after co-captaining Michigan to the NCAA title game; Tommy Grant, a steady contributor in 13 games with the Whale after also signing an ATO deal; Ryan Bourque, the gritty, head-working son of Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque who played well for Team USA on the international stage and the Quebec Remparts, who advanced to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League finals; and rugged Jason Wilson, who had 18 goals, 25 assists and 94 penalty minutes with Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League.

Mats “The Norwegian Hobbit” Zuccarello also showed well in his rookie year in North America while splitting time between Hartford and New York before sustaining a freak broken hand when he caught two fingers in a photographer’s shooting hole in Game 4 of the playoffs against the Portland Pirates. The Rangers also signed high-scoring left wing Christian Thomas and traded left wing Ethan Werek to the Phoenix Coyotes for Oscar Lindberg and left wing Roman Horak to the Calgary Flames as part of the trade for defenseman Tim Erixon, the son of former Rangers wing Jan Erixon. Thomas is the son of former NHL wing Steve Thomas and led the OHL in goals the last two seasons (95) with Oshawa but isn’t eligible to play with the Whale next season. Lundberg had five goals and nine assists in 41 games with Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League.

And the Rangers’ No. 1 prospect, left wing Chris Kreider, their first-round pick (19th overall) in 2009, plans to return to Boston College for his junior year. But he has loaded up on summer courses to get his degree early, so he’s likely to turn pro after next season. Kreider led the Eagles to the national title in 2010, winning the final 5-0 over Wisconsin, led by Rangers center Derek Stepan and defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who started last season with the Wolf Pack/Whale.

Fans 21 and over can watch the Rangers select more future players for the Whale and NHL team at a special draft viewing party June 24 in New York at SNAP Sports Bar, located on 14th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. The Rangers have the 15th pick and six others at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Fans are encouraged to arrive early as there will be giveaways, trivia and other activities throughout the event, which is free and starts at 6:30 p.m., with television coverage beginning 30 minutes later. Former Rangers defenseman Jeff Beukeboom and current Rangers prospects will be on hand. A prospects camp will be June 27-July 1 at the team’s training facility in Tarrytown, N.Y. … Whale officials wanted to get more home dates later in the season in 2011-12, and they’ll get their wish at the outset. An advisory sent to the media Wednesday said there’s a press conference next Wednesday to announce professional bull riding at the XL Center for the first time Oct. 7-9, the first weekend of the AHL schedule and the baseball playoffs. So unless the bulls jump around at noon and the Whale skate at 7 p.m., the Whale will be on the road until the second week of the season.

GOOD TIMES FOR PARENTEAU

Neil Hodge did a nice piece on former Wolf Pack and Rangers right wing P.A. Parenteau in the Times & Transcript in Moncton, New Brunswick, while P.A. was playing in the Moncton Wildcats charity golf tournament this week.

In 2007-10, Parenteau had 83 goals and 121 assists in 184 games with the Wolf Pack and three goals and five assists in 22 games with the Rangers. But like Williams, the Rangers didn’t re-sign Parenteau, who was signed by the rival Islanders and had career highs of 20 goals and 33 assists in 81 games while often playing on the team’s No. 1 line with youngsters John Tavares and Matt Moulson and the top power-play unit.

“After four, five or six seasons in the minors, you start to ask yourself, ‘When am I going to get there,’ ” Parenteau, 28, who spent seven years in the minors, told Hodge. “I knew I had the potential to do it, but it’s a matter of someone giving you a chance to prove yourself.

“I would be lying to you if I said I never thought about going to play in Europe. Everywhere I’ve been I my career I’ve had to show determination and prove myself. I’m proud that I was patient and stuck with my dream for so many years. The bottom line is that I always believed in myself and never gave up.”

Tavares, the first overall pick by the Islanders in 2009, led the team with 67 points, while Parenteau and Moulson tied for second with 53.

“When we got the new coach (Jack Capuano from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers) in November, he put us together and we found chemistry right away,” Parenteau said. “Tavares and Moulson are really good player, and it was fun being on a line with them. They’re both pretty good snipers. I’m more of a playmaker on the line. We worked pretty well together, and we have a good friendship off the ice, too.”

Parenteau spent three seasons in the QMJHL, splitting time between Moncton, Chicoutimi and Sherbrooke. He had 273 points, including 113 goals, in 200 games before being a ninth-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2001. He has 23 goals and 39 assists in 108 NHL games with the Ducks, Rangers and Islanders.

“I talked to (Islanders general manager) Garth Snow, and I felt they really wanted to give me a fair shot in the NHL,” Parenteau said. “It’s a good fit for me there. There’s a lot of young talent. We have a good group of guys, and I really enjoyed myself there this season.

“I signed another one-year contract with them in January. I was happy when they wanted to sign me that early for another season. I figured it’s a good sign.”

The Islanders (30-39-13) finished 27th in the 30-team NHL, second worst in the Eastern Conference and 20 points behind the Rangers for the final playoff spot, but they improved under Capuano, who recently had the interim tag removed.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we would’ve been in the hunt for a playoff spot this season if we had stayed healthy,” Parenteau said. “It was ridiculous the number of injuries our team had to live through. If we stay healthy, I really think we have the tools to make the playoffs next season. We definitely have the potential for that. We have a lot of guys who are going into their third and fourth seasons.”

Sounds a lot like the Rangers with Wolf Pack/Whale graduates such as All-Star defenseman Marc Staal and sidekick Dan Girardi, future captain Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh, who was called up Jan. 3 and isn’t likely to return to Hartford.

SENATORS KELLER NAMED PLAYER OF PLAYOFFS

The AHL announced Wednesday that Binghamton Senators right wing and captain Ryan Keller has been selected winner of the reGen Muscle Recovery/AHL Performance of the Playoffs award for the Calder Cup postseason.

Under Keller’s leadership on and off the ice, the Senators won the first championship in 38 seasons of professional hockey in Binghamton, N.Y. He finished the playoffs ranked second in the AHL in scoring with 10 goals and 15 assists in 23 games.

The Senators appeared headed to an early exit from the postseason when they fell behind the Manchester Monarchs three games to one before winning three more overtime games, capped by Keller’s four-point performance in Game 7.

After the Senators eliminated the Pirates in six games in the second round, Keller scored two series-clinching goals. His overtime winner ended a four-game sweep of the Charlotte Checkers for the Eastern Conference championship. And his third-period goal in Game 6 against the Houston Aeros was the difference in a 3-2 victory in the finals, enabling Keller, as team captain, to accept the Calder Cup from AHL president and CEO David Andrews.

The AHL also announced that nearly $3 million was raised for charity and relief funds across North America during the season by the league’s 30 teams. In addition to money raised, AHL teams gave back to their local communities through numerous activities, including more than 1,900 visits to school, hospitals, libraries and other locations and more than 3,000 appearances by team mascots.

More than 135,000 game tickets were donated to local charitable groups, and items such as food, coats, Christmas gifts and hockey equipment were collected at various drives organized by AHL teams. Charities in all AHL cities also were the beneficiaries of ticket donations by Reebok-CCM, the league’s premier equipment supplier.

Since 2001-02, the AHL and its teams have raised more than $24 million for charity through their community relations efforts. Defenseman Jared Nightingale led the way for the Whale and was named their AHL Man of the Year nominee and received two team awards for his charitable work.

COYOTES ADD PLAYFAIR TO STAFF

Phoenix Coyotes general manager Don Maloney announced the team has signed Jim Playfair to a multi-year contract to be the associate coach.

“We are very pleased to welcome Jim to the Coyotes organization,” said Maloney, a former Rangers assistant GM and Wolf Pack GM. “Jim is a tremendous coach with a wealth of experience, and I am confident that he will be a great addition to our coaching staff.”

Before joining the Coyotes, Playfair spent the last 11 seasons in the Calgary Flames organization as a coach. From 2009-11, he was coach of the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat, leading the team to the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs in their first season. He also was coach of Calgary’s AHL affiliate in Saint John from 2000-03, winning the Calder Cup in 2001.

“Jim is an excellent coach and we are thrilled to have him join our staff,” Coyotes coach and former Hartford Whalers wing Dave Tippett said in a statement. “He has great communication skills and we are confident that he will be able to contribute in many areas.”

Playfair was an assistant coach for Calgary in 2003-06 before becoming coach in 2006-07. He played nine seasons of pro hockey, including 21 games in the NHL with Edmonton and Chicago after being drafted by the in the first round (20th overall) in 1982. He captained the Indianapolis Ice to the 1990 IHL Turner Cup championship but was forced to retire from playing due to an eye injury suffered in the 1991-92 season.

That’s similar to Ryan McGill, who was in the Flames organization for six years after coaching the Wolf Pack for three seasons. On April 26, McGill, goalie coach Jamie McLennan and assistant Rob Cookson weren’t retained by the Flames.

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3 responses to “FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

  1. Horak is gone in the Erixon deal.

    I was surprised to see the McNaught article. I’d thought his rights expired with Maggio’s due to his age – even tho he was drafted in ’10. I’m glad to be wrong.

    Thomas may actually be eligible for AHL play, after 3 full OHL seasons. I am not sure, and I am certainly not saying its the best idea, but I recall it was that ‘loophole’ (3 full years of Major Junior) was what allowed NYR to sign Bruce Graham (who is only 25 now) and bring him into Harftord\Charlotte at 19.

    Not that his example is what we want for Thomas. Graham’s 2 games in AHL this year were his only AAA games in last 3 seasons.

  2. Bruce Berlet

    Good point, Elsie. I was thinking Werek had been traded for Erixon, but he was part of the Lindberg trade. I’ll get Mitch to correct it. Thanx. … Thought someone told me that Thomas wasn’t eligible to play for the Whale next season because he’s 19. I’ll try to find out from Schoeney.

  3. Pingback: Jeremy Williams Leaves Connecticut For Austria | NYRNation